Thinking and feelings will not kill you
MY HEALTH EXPERIENCE:Listening to a deep part of yourself is a way out of despair
I WAS a priest in Nottingham for about three years. Looking back, I realise how important my experience in hearing confessions was. You get to know people, the voices and, visiting them in their homes, you get to know their situation.
At that time in 1968, married couples were having incredible difficulties with the Pope’s teaching on birth control. I began to say to myself, this is crazy teaching.
The theological and psychological understanding of sexuality was rubbish. It was not grounded in reality. It was a burden on good families. Someone reported me to the bishop.
He called me in and told me I must publicly support the teaching, that I was committing mortal sin by disobeying the Pope and I would have to resign. I was scared to death. I had nothing. What would my family think? I also had this fear that, because I was committing mortal sin, I’d get cancer or in some way I was going to be punished.
But I was sure of the goodness of the people. It was either them or the Pope and I’m glad to say, the Pope lost.
The bishop demanded I resign but asked me to wait until after the Christmas ceremonies. I refused; saying to do so would collude in his faulty beliefs.
The controversy opened my eyes to the dictatorship of the Vatican, to the secrecy and the primacy of the organisation, and the enormous gap between it and the people.
With the financial support of many Catholics, I studied modern philosophy and world religions at Lancaster University. It was an exciting time. After that I worked with the London Council of Social Service.
I returned to Dublin in 1976 to work with Combat Poverty. Then, together with my partner, we opened an antiques shop in 1981.
I was involved in a very special and deeply rewarding personal relationship with him but that collapsed in 1990 and my whole world fell apart.
I was shocked at the depth of despair, loneliness, aloneness, helplessness and the total sense of loss. Call it depression or a nervous breakdown but I was wary of, and avoided, the medical route.
Whiskey, big warm open fires and the listening of my friends helped me to keep going. It became a nervous breakthrough.
I was introduced to Fr Pat Murray who had a meditation and growth centre in Athy. His teaching is based on a simple, but not easy, axiom – “know yourself” – your body, your feelings, your thinking and, most important of all, the strengths of your spirit. “Seek you first the power of god(ness) within you, and all else will follow.”
He said, “I will show you the tools – meditation, journalling, nature work, and daily work – and how to use them. You will discover for yourself what is the root of your loss and despair. You must be your own expert.” I began and I discovered a great pain – the mother wound, the father wound. It was and is the great journey of my life.
Two years later, I was in Ballyvaughan with two friends. They left after a few days and I was unable to face the feelings and physical pain, despair and emptiness that emerged. The old wound was back. I felt so completely and totally alone. I felt there was no point in keeping going; I couldn’t handle any more of this pain.