If you haven't yet seen the movie, Philomena, starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan, you might not want to read this blog, but if you have, and you found your heart strings tugged by the young mother's pain in having her toddler ripped away from her and adopted out against her will, then you might find this blog useful.
I went to see the movie a few days ago with my mother, and we were both deeply moved by it. As films go, it's well constructed, brilliantly acted, and beautiful to watch. As a true story, it's all the more poignant. A teenage girl who becomes pregnant out of wedlock in the 50s is shunned by her family and sent to an abbey to give birth, after which her child is raised by the nuns – the young mothers are only given one hour a day with their children – and soon adopted out. Philomena loves her child fiercely but has no say in any of this because she has 'sinned'. Near the end of the movie she – spoiler alert! – expresses her forgiveness to the 'evil nun' who orchestrated the arrangement.
As we drove home from the cinema, my mother and I discussed the movie and how we felt about it. I explained that the concept of forgiveness that inspires me is not so much the 'superior' position where we forgive someone who has wronged us, but the appreciative position where we can genuinely say, 'thank you for giving me this experience' – because we recognise the divine order at work.
That's my philosophy but I felt a bit wobbly declaring that because my own heart strings/attachment to my children etc. had been pretty vigorously affected. As I reflected on the film in the hours afterward, my emotions settled down and I saw the core principle at work.
Firstly we have to remember that 'divine order' isn't equal to 'human order'; it's not about 'happiness' or human concepts of fairness, it's about evolution.
The principle at work in Philomena is that dictators arise where people are disempowered. We can say that this isn't nice but the point is for the people to empower themselves and subsequently unseat the dictator.
In this case the dictators were the nuns and society's narrow-minded thinking, and young Philomena played her part – she gave her power away to her parents, society's voices, and the nuns. Granted, this was because she was ignorant – she literally didn't know better, but this is the whole point of evolution: we begin with a certain set of limitations and we grow beyond them.
The order is here: Philomena's pain, which she felt every day for over 50 years, slowly erodes her blind faith in the church and society's rules, empowering her to make her own decisions. We see this crack in her belief system when she reveals her conundrum – she believes she has been rightfully punished for her carnal sin in having pre-marital sex, but gradually she realises she is also sinning by lying about what happened. This internal conflict comes to a head when she walks out of a confessional without speaking and doesn't make the sign of the cross as she leaves the church. She is taking her power back from the church but it has taken her 50 years to grow into being able to do so.
This growth is the divine order at work because her soul needed to grow in this way more than it needed to keep the baby… who had a much richer life with the adoptive parents – i.e. more opportunity – than with a stigmatised, single mother in the 40s who had no means of supporting them. There's no guarantee he would have been happier with his biological mother even though, watching the movie, we might all nostalgically think so because she clearly loves him so much. My own mother has rejected one of her daughters in adulthood – there's no telling what might have occurred in Philomena's relationship with her son as their lives together unfolded.
Another form of growth for Philomena in this story was her character growth. She didn't indulge in bitterness or revenge, and she developed quite an extraordinary degree of poise and self-control. I recently watched a TED talk featuring a lesbian woman who daily receives a flood of hate mail. Her poise and centeredness and self-acceptance in the face of all this hatred is incredibly inspiring, and herein lies the divine order: our challenging experiences offer us profound opportunities to grow.
NB. It's worth recognising, however, that while the son avoids being brought up by a stigmatised mother, he then recreates this dynamic in his own life because – spoiler alert! – he becomes a homosexual who eventually dies young of AIDS.
Also emerging out of this prejudiced 50s scenario was social welfare and more enlightened attitudes. Where people are disempowered dictators arise to frustrate the people into reclaiming their power:
"In any area of your life that you don't empower, you will attract people who will overpower you. You are not a victim of their over-empowerment. You are just attracting over-empowerment by your very nature, to get you to raise the value of that area and empower it. The so-called victimisation is actually giving you the opportunity to realise where you are not empowered, to frustrate you enough to get you empowered." - Dr John Demartini, The Values Factor pp 383-4. [My bold.]
I arrived at this realisation spontaneously some ten years ago when I realised that my partner's depression and lack of involvement in our family were valuable agents provoking me into valuing myself more and taking action on what was important to me.
Another example is that we perceive slavery to be cruel and horrible but slaves have inevitably devalued themselves and given their power away, so they are co-creators of their situation; as they reclaimed their power in the USA, they have risen to the point where their (previously) prejudiced country elected a black president.
Healing is never complete until cause and effect are united; until we see our role in creating the problem and respond responsibly.
Did you read or watch Peter Pan when you were a child?
I remember being captivated by this story about a youth who is perpetually young and can do all sorts of magical things (like fly), and who lives an adventurous life battling crocs and evil pirates and looking after a band of lost kids!
As with most classic tales, there are a few profound truths being communicated despite the childlike surface story, not least of which is the fact that a one-sided, only-positive life is an illusion.
Most of us crave that kind of a life – and world. We want things to be nice for us (and everyone). We want a Golden Age, an era of plenty, of love, of peace, of ease… We want to cast off our negativity and flaws and aggression and our experiences of lack and hurt. We want to lose our shadow, just like Peter Pan – but, as that classic tale suggests, if we do lose our shadow, we’ll be destined to live in an illusion, ‘Neverland’, where one never grows up.
Elegant, huh? If we want to mature, we must embrace our shadow side. If we want to cast it off, like young Peter Pan, we’ll be stuck in a world of illusion and separation. You might recall that Peter Pan must not be touched, and while a reason isn’t given, this suggests that his immateriality will be revealed; i.e. we can only be touched if we are human/alive/‘real’.
That statement, in itself, reverberates with meaning. We can only be ‘touched’, whether physically or emotionally, if we are real. So what does being ‘real’ entail? The dictionary tells us that ‘real’ means ‘true or actual’, ‘not imagined’, ‘not imitation or artificial; genuine’. Being real means being here and now in ‘the real world’, authentic; it means growing up, facing and dealing with things, not running away to a dreamy Neverland. It means being whole.
Our shadow, according to Jung, is everything of which a person is not fully conscious, and may be positive or negative; it can include aspects of oneself that one finds undesirable, and it can also include positive aspects that one denies, perhaps through a lack of self-esteem. Our shadow is effectively our disowned self.
I used to be all for disowning parts of myself! I wanted to cut off anything that wasn’t positive and supportive, calm and wise. I wanted to be only good. I wanted to be like the spiritual masters I had read about who seemed to have no fear and appeared to perfectly control their lives. I wanted all of this because I often felt small and insecure and at the effect of life, and because I didn’t like that darker side of life. (And I wanted everyone else to be happy too.)
The last few years have taken me on a confrontational journey into the heart of the Yin/Yang symbol, that Asian sign that represents a harmonious interaction and perpetual balance between light and dark, good and bad. The Yin/Yang symbol shows us that these opposites belong together and together form a whole. Everything exists in polarity; nothing in universe is one-sided. As Bob Proctor has famously pointed out, if we cut a magnet in half, we don’t end up with a piece that is only north pole and a piece that is only south pole; we end up with two pieces with both poles intact.
The Yin/Yang symbol, and the writings and programs of Dr John Demartini, have finally convinced me that there are some benefits to darkness, weakness and negativity; in fact, I’ve thrown myself so deeply into this research that my latest book is all about the ‘hidden order’ in apparent chaos and injustice. I’ve gone from craving happiness to recognizing that mastery, as Dr Demartini says, is the ability to find divine order in every event, to instantly recognize that every crisis is simultaneously a blessing.
Masters, I have found, understand that mastery is not about cutting ourselves in half and tossing away the ‘bad’ bits; it’s not about condemning half of life. Mastery is about the centrepoint, the balance. It’s about appreciating both polarities equally, and consciously, deliberately, bringing oneself back to centre. By valuing and appreciating our shadow we ‘bring light into the darkness’ but we simultaneously come to see that without the dark, we wouldn’t even seek the light.
I also used to think that one could be strong and brave and kind and all those positive traits without going through the mill first; I’m coming to realise that it doesn’t work like that. We develop our strengths through being challenged.
Yvonne Chamberlain is the author of a book called Why Me? Kicking Cancer in the Guts & Other Life-Changing Stuff, in which she reveals the shock she experienced when diagnosed with black melanoma and given six weeks to live. Instead of giving up, Yvonne embraced the challenge and has transformed her life and health in the process. The cancer was not a death sentence – the process she went through in dealing with it was, in fact, profoundly healing; it healed her relationships with herself and her family, and, subsequently, her body.
I read the following anonymously written story in her book:
‘A man was sleeping in his cabin when suddenly it became filled with light and God appeared before him. The Lord told the man that He had work for him to do, and showed him a large rock, explaining that he was to push against the rock with all his might. This the man did, and for many days he toiled from sunup to sundown, his shoulder set squarely against the cold massive surface of the rock, pushing with all his might. Each night the man returned to his cabin sore and worn out, feeling his whole day had been spent in vain.
‘Seeing that the man showed signs of discouragement, Satan decided to enter the picture, placing thoughts in the man's mind, such as “Why kill yourself over this? You're never going to move it!” or “Boy, you've been at it a long time and you haven't even scratched the surface!” thus giving the man the impression that the task was impossible and the man was an unworthy servant because he wasn't succeeding in moving the massive stone.
‘These thoughts discouraged and disheartened the man and he started to ease up in his efforts. “Why kill myself?” he thought. “I'll just put forth the minimum effort and that will be good enough.” And this he did, or at least planned on doing, until, one day, he decided to take his troubles to the Lord.
‘“Lord,” he said, “I have laboured hard and long in Your service, putting forth all my strength to do that which You have asked of me. Yet after all this time, I have not even budged that rock half a millimeter. What is wrong? Why am I failing?'”
‘To this the Lord responded compassionately, “My friend, when long ago I asked you to serve Me and you accepted, I told you to push against the rock with all your strength and that you have done. But never once did I mention to you that I expected you to move it. At least not by yourself. Your task was to push.
‘“And now you come to Me, your strength spent, thinking that you have failed, ready to quit. But is this really so? Look at yourself. Your arms are strong and muscled; your back sinewed and brown. Your hands are calloused from constant pressure and your legs have become massive and hard. Through opposition you have grown much and your ability now far surpasses that which you used to have. True, you haven’t moved the rock. But your calling was to be obedient and to push and to exercise your faith and trust in My Wisdom. That you have done.
‘“Now, my friend, I will move the rock.”’
This is clearly a Christian story and perhaps there will be aspects of it that don’t sit well with you. But it clearly demonstrates the benefits that lie waiting for us in challenging experiences, and the truth is that we can’t always judge, from the little piece of the puzzle that we have, what the purpose is behind such experiences. So often things occur and we ask, ‘Why? Why me? Why did that happen?’ The situation might look exceedingly grim, as in Yvonne Chamberlain’s case, or merely disappointing, but perhaps that is only how it appears.
Perhaps the situation is a gift in disguise, offering us the opportunity to transform ourselves and our circumstances. Besides, as the ‘punchline’ of this story suggests, perhaps God/Intelligence/the Universe has a different set of values and purposes than we have. Perhaps we are busily assessing and evaluating our efforts on the wrong scale altogether.
We often feel that we can strive for perfection all we like, but, being human, it is unattainable – we are incomplete and need improvement; God is perfect but human nature is a blend of perfection and imperfection. Perhaps. And perhaps perfection to this Grand Organising Design/er is not one-sidedness but wholeness. Perhaps it’s our very balance of traits that makes us perfect, rather than attaining a state of being only-kind, only-patient, only-positive. Perhaps some unkindness occasionally serves. Perhaps impatience has a role to play. Perhaps negativity can sometimes generate an important insight…
Besides, if God is omnipresent, then where is God not? God must also be in us, exactly as we are, here and now. Just because we are judging ourselves through the filter of our finite human values doesn't mean God sees us that way… In God’s eyes, in the sight of Divinity, we are perfect exactly as we are, warts and all.
The Peter Pan Principle is that we will never escape darkness, just as we cannot eliminate our shadow – a very nice ‘touch’ from G.O.D.! (i.e. the Grand Orderly Design). Or perhaps you prefer the Peter Pan Principle expressed this way: Cast off your shadow and you become eligible for an unreal, illusory world where you will be untouchable… Hm.
What I have found, paradoxically, is that the more I embrace and appreciate life as it is, the less fearful I am and the more smoothly my life seems to unfold. Which suggest that perhaps a Golden Age might unfold not through seeking a one-sided, shadowless world, but through embracing and appreciating our wholeness and the wholeness of life. Perhaps such an Age is not marked by only-happy experiences, but by a reverence for and non-resistance to any of our experiences, by a willingness to find the Divine Order in every life event.
In that case, it’s not a world for Peter Pan.
This article was first published in Balance Online: http://www.balanceonline.com.au/article/the-peter-pan-principle.html
 The Breakthrough Experience – a Revolutionary New Approach to Personal Transformation by Dr John Demartini, Hay House, 2002
 Pennon Publishing 2008