A Healing Impulse: 1 — Introduction

This article was first published in the Fall 1999 issue of Communities Magazine. For more background on the events referred to in this article, see The Lofty Chronicles.


Seven years ago, our daughter Lauren was sexually molested by a man who was both a close friend and a long-time member of our community. Her best friend Myra, who lived in the neighborhood, was also molested. The abuse of these two girls by Adam (not his real name) rocked our community, Light Morning, to its core.

Our immediate concern was for Lauren and Myra. My wife Joyce and I wanted to sweep them up in our arms and hold them until all the pain and confusion went away. This parental impulse was quickly followed by feelings of shock, disbelief, blinding anger, and disgust. We were also seized by a sudden fear of the dark, brooding forces that haunt the human psyche, causing people to do unthinkable things. Still later came another feeling–a strange, aching grief for the irretrievable loss of innocence.

Then we discovered, somewhere in this swirling cauldron, a surprising compassion for Adam. He, too, was suffering. Consumed with guilt, shame, and self-contempt, he found himself facing the terrifying prospect of up to forty years in a state penitentiary.

Our empathy for Adam wrestled with the rage we felt at his betrayal. Lined up on the side of empathy were all the values upon which we had been building our lives and our community for the past twenty years. The inner struggle, however, was fierce. It felt, in the shimmering heat of that moment, as though we were competing in a qualifying event for some sort of spiritual Olympics.

But this is not the story of that struggle, nor of its outcome. Time passes and wounds heal. Yet not all wounds heal completely. The traumatic stress of a severe emotional injury often lingers on, long after the surface wound has mended. It awaits a deeper healing.

Last fall I went to a Vipassana meditation retreat in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, wanting to strengthen the meditative practice that Joyce and I share. Midway through the 10-day course, I experienced a brief interval of bliss. Past and future dissolved, leaving only quietness and beauty. Into this unusual stillness came, for want of a better word, a vision. It arrived unannounced, unexpected, and fully formed. It was the complex choreography of a “dance” that would bring deeper healing to all those who had been wounded by the abuse.

I became aware of a startling symmetry–the girls needed to vent their long-repressed and volatile feelings, while Adam needed a profound exercise in empathy. These two needs, I suddenly realized, dove-tailed perfectly. Accompanying this realization was a visual impression that Lauren and Myra’s “confrontation” with Adam should be the culmination of an inward-spiraling series of encounters that would include the girls’ parents and some of our concerned neighbors.

There was also an understanding that the sessions should be conducted by Daniel Little and Cecile Green (whom Joyce had previously met at a communities conference at Twin Oaks), using a technique that they facilitate called Open Hearted Listening.

Even insights can be distracting to one’s meditative practice, though, and I reluctantly set the images aside. While driving home from Chapel Hill, however, they ripened into a compelling impulse, which soon took on a life of its own. What follows is an account of how this healing impulse unfolded during the late fall and early winter of 1998.