jonah whitely




OCCUPATION: Journalist

AGE: 49





JH: In your healing your intellect was a door opener for you--it was a threshold. And the rest of you could walk through that doorway?
JW: Yes, but I don’t want to make it sound easy. I had to continue to work with my emotions to create a spaciousness inside. With that, I could engage my mind with new ideas.
My childhood was a bit like growing up in a concentration camp, though I don’t want to compare myself to the six million Jews who suffered torture and death. But the camps were a real metaphor. And when your childhood has that tone, it’s difficult to feel settled. Shame lurks in every corner. Feelings are denied. Trust of others is eroded. Even now, I work at feeling okay in my body because I could never relax in my home growing up.
Sacred stories have helped too. I guess that’s the influence of mythologist Joseph Campbell and psychologist Carl Jung. One of the most important stories has been the Old Testament tale about Jonah. Using active imagination, I’ve let myself enter the story, rewriting Jonah to highlight my stages of death and rebirth. When church members learned I was doing this, they invited me to perform my "midrash" in our Christian education class.
To me, Jonah has a traditional sort of hero’s journey. He is called by God to preach to his enemy. Yet he resists by running away. Of course, with God there is no escape from the call to claim your powers , and Jonah confronts that truth when he is swallowed in the darkness of the monster, much as I was swallowed by my dark memories. Jonah is released through prayer and surrender to a higher will. I was released in a similar way. In the myth, Jonah continues to struggle, even with his new consciousness , even when he accepts that he must preach. For him, the act of ministry is a challenge. Over and over, he must confront his hatred.
And that’s how I experience transformation. Epiphanies are useful, but I must continue to do my best to be conscious—to reclaim my relationship with something beyond the glittering maya of life.
So each day I struggle to love myself and the people around me. Out of that struggle comes a devotion to mercy, rather than judgement. And I can only be humble, knowing how flawed I am.
JH: Back when you began your healing, you speak about wholeness. What was healing for you?
JW: I initially thought that I would get to a point where I wouldn’t have to experience any more pain. I guess I thought I would dwell in Nirvana. That was one of the promises of The Primal Scream. Arthur Janov theorized there was a pool of pain that could be drained and turned into a flower garden. But that was never my complete experience. Pain has diminished but not ended. That’s where the Eastern perspective has been useful: Happiness and pain are two sides of the same coin. Both are infused with divinity, not just happiness. So healing has meant that I must confront concepts that keep me from breathing in peace and breathing out love. Healing has meant many shifts away from old corrupting attitudes.
In the world I grew up in, sex was equated with love. I needed to let go of that and find something more mystical—to know love is the energy that pulses through the universe. In time, I no longer dreaded the evil from my childhood . . . . I suppose you could say I found a beauty in sorrow—in the yearning to view evil in a new way. The urge to make sense of suffering propelled me through heaven’s gate.
I think that the big "aha" occurred when I realized how a fundamentalist rigidity, like mine, can block an awareness of holiness. Over the years, I have come to appreciate a schema offered by writer and mystic Andrew Harvey. Harvey says that we come whole into the world. We’re awash in a unified field, when we’re in touch with our bodies and feelings. Then there’s childhood’s socialization and we develop a false self. We use that self to negotiate our way in the world. But Harvey says, if we’re lucky, we get broken open and the false self is questioned. And that’s what happened with me.
In one sense I was fortunate. I broke open at a young age and so I was never able to walk la-de-da into the world. There was always anxiety. There was always fear. There was always a questioning of how the hell I could get out of bed and face the day. And so, I could not take anything for granted. I felt a lot of depression. But, as I studied mythology, I realized it’s not such a bad thing to have these struggles. Heroes are wounded. The crucible of pain forges the soul.

JH: Jonah, you speak of a wholeness that you experienced even though you were in pain?
JW: Yes, the marvel of something like Primal Therapy is that you can be immersed in the most gut-wrenching experience and be in awe that you don’t disappear or go insane. There is a center that holds. You may feel like you’re dying, but that’s the false self dissolving. No matter how much pain I experienced, God would not destroy me. I might feel crucified, but that’s different from murdering the soul. I believe, whatever the curse, the soul can be reclaimed.
JH: You broke open but you didn’t shatter.
JW: That’s why I say breaking open can be a form of grace. It sends you on the road towards a higher integration. It creates a longing to reconcile with all that’s been buried through the years. In my brokenness, I turned to storytelling, dream work and the world religions. In all my gnashing of teeth, I would come upon moments of integration. Like Jung, I can say I don’t have to believe in God. It’s a presence I know.
JH: And that presence is trustworthy?
JW: And trustworthy. But I would not have known that so powerfully in my body if I had not confronted my rigid concepts of good and evil. Having decided that I’m not essentially evil, it’s easier for me to be a Big Brother, to lead a dream group or to teach Sunday School. I’ve been able to do these things because I confronted the notion that I had to be evil because I took part in strange things when I was a child. I could never heal if I thought I was the devil’s child.
JH: Could you say that the split between good and evil was healed for you? Do you consider that healing—realizing that you weren’t a conduit for the most horrible things?
JW: There has been a great deal of healing, though I still have work to do. I still have an immense amount to learn about love and compassion, especially in everyday life with others. It’s the age-old problem: How do I chop wood and carry water with an awareness of the goodness in my village?

JH: Are there places in your story that are still mysterious to you?
JW: Yes. When I was a child, I felt assaulted by sex and criticism. But one day, when I was 12, I got out my mother’s typewriter and wrote a letter to the editor of our local newspaper.
What was that? Was it some sort of rebellious act? Was there a quiet voice saying, "This family will only let you be smart on paper. Follow this route to freedom."? By writing that letter, I found a career that provided me with a voice on paper. Then as the years went by, I was able to claim a speaking voice and have a presence in a room of strangers.
Noticing this, I’ve come to believe that our defenses are an important part of who we are. When we’re wounded as children, cynicism and bravado are necessary at times. As a very young boy, I was probably an extrovert. Early on, I talked and talked in school. But under a barrage of criticism and hostility I withdrew. Quietness was my mask. As an adult, I discovered I didn’t have to keep this mask when I wanted to speak my truth. I learned to open my mouth and sing. I guess you could say therapy for me was emotional education as well as catharsis.

JH: Now, having heard your responses to these questions, and reflecting on your healing journey, how would you now define what healing is?
JW: No matter how much we try to understand healing, I believe it will a lways have a different meaning for every person. Somewhere inside we carry an image of what it would be like if we could feel more whole. When we yearn to become that image we set our life on a new path.
That’s the hero and heroine’s journey. We wander into dark places and meet magical beings who become our teachers. We are like Odysseus and, if we are lucky, we arrive home, in this life or some other—surprised that we’re closer to wholeness than we’ve ever been. I think that’s when we’re able to say in wonder: I’ve been healed.
It doesn’t mean that pain and struggle end. To me it means we’re living more from our very best selves. And that’s our gift to the earth. What’s been healed in me? I no longer wonder about the existence of the Divine. That’s because I have been borne up in my own free fall. And I can say that in addition to all this pain there is joy in knowing the depths of life. There is wonder in recognizing that there are mysteries calling me on to new adventures.
JH: In what way, do you incorporate your experiences of healing into your work?
JW: In a culture that can be very shallow, I seek to write about experiences that illumine the depths. Sometimes I achieve that and sometimes I don’t. When I’m with people I attempt to be aware that there’s always a possibility of going deeper. There’s always a possibility of being kinder. There’s always the possibility of my seeing something in the other person that they don’t recognize.
And when I see it, I try to reflect it back. I want to be a mirror of love.





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