Dark Passage


Suffering and the Quest for Wisdom

March/April 2013


There’s something about healing from the deep emotional suffering that feels like death and rebirth—not the quick kind that some claim to receive in religious conversion. It’s the kind that asks us to be open to changing our contract with life.

When I was 15, my father gave me a sailboat-making kit. This wasn’t a snap-together-in-a-day project. It involved many months of meticulous work: cutting and sanding imported marine plywood, applying multiple coats of epoxy, and creating watertight joints with fiberglass mesh. When I began, I had no idea what I was doing, and I continued to feel that I was just on the edge of incompetence as I progressed through each new phase of the project. Slowly the boat began to take shape, but when I hit a step that was beyond my abilities, my progress stalled. Tired of the thick sawdust that covered everything in the basement, my father decided to hang the unfinished boat in the rafters of a shed belonging to the company he co-owned. Thirty-five years later, a decade after my father’s death, I received a call from the company’s manager: “There’s a boat hanging in the rafters of our shed. Someone says it might belong to you. Do you want it? If you don’t, we’d like your permission to burn it.”

“Burn it,” I said.

From the hundreds of hours I put into that unfinished boat, I’ve salvaged a metaphor for my personal and professional life that also describes the lives of lots of people, both inside and outside my practice.…

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6 Comments

Tuesday, April 2, 2013 5:47:05 AM | posted by Karen Cooper
The insights Kevin Anderson shares in this article about his growth as a practicing psychotherapist and patient are profound, priceless, and appropriately portrayed as unobtainable through personal choice. His engaging, vulnerable and reassuring writing style gives his readers the closest possible proxy understanding of what gifts can be gained through genuinely grappling with unbidden suffering and struggle. Anderson's genuine reverence for his hard won new therapeutic skills and his tender and mighty respect for his clients' experiences authenticate the wisdom he gleaned and generously gives to us.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013 7:08:16 PM | posted by Steve
Brother Kevin: thank you for your courage and honesty in sharing some of your experiences in passage thru the Dark Night. I am on a similar voyage now and so many of the landmarks and sightings you describe are familiar. Thank you for describing them so heartfully. It is encouraging for me to know that mine is not an altogether solo voyage. Steve

Thursday, April 11, 2013 10:48:16 PM | posted by Ryan OMalley
Thank you for sharing this well articulated thought that helps to pull the veil back a bit for the lay person to peak behind. It is at the same time inspirational and challenging to consider engaging in an unfinished work. You have provoked me to action!

Friday, May 10, 2013 8:42:35 PM | posted by Karen Hagen Liste
Thank you for a very encouraging article. It is good for me to see that others also experience that sharing their stories, their depth of suffering, gives those who are seeking our help confidence that we can see them through and tolerate their pain. I also consider myself a wounded healer and have experienced that it is that very quality that connects me to those with whom I share stories. Being personal, rather than alienating, often allows others to glimpse their own humaneness and connect again with the world.

Sunday, August 11, 2013 9:16:11 PM | posted by Sherry Reaves
Thank you so much Kevin for sharing yourself and your journey to a greater depth of compassion for those you help. I honestly never thought in terms of letting the patient know that we are willing to go into the darkness with them. Some see it anyway through our compassion, but mostly I think, it is only known by me and not my patient. I'm now more focused on letting those I work with know this without any uncertainty.

Through this past year, I've come out of my own dark journey and I've used what I've gained to help my patients, but I haven't necessarily let them know where this wisdom has come from. I'll likely, where appropriate, use more self-disclosure. Thanks again.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013 12:15:32 PM | posted by Bette H. Boddy, ACSW, LCSW
THis article came at a dark passage of my life. As a therapist I was thinking of leaving my practice as I was falling into the abyss again. Still, I know my clients (I only see five at the moment.) have strong relationships with me because I have been honest with them about my time of darkness. Someone told me I was just working out my own problems through my clients. I never felt that way and now I feel that I have used my own experiences to help my clients climb out of their own abyss. Great article.

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