Counseling Services for Individuals, Couples, and Families

Rita Berglund, MA, LPC~Psychotherapy: Care of the
7600 East Arapahoe Road, Suite 315, Centennial, CO 80112


Planting Peace in Intentional Mindfulness

Article for The Clergy Journal, April 2006
Topic of the Issue: grounding the work for peace and justice in prayer
"It is all my fault," he cried, "it is always, always all my fault. I am such a shit-head."
I said, "How old were you when you were first called 'shit-head'?"
He responded, "I don't remember. My parents always called me that when they were angry."
"Curious," I said. "What if your parents were wrong? What if you are not a shit-head? What would it be like to be a non shit-head? What else might fill your head?"

This is a familiar conversation for a psychotherapist and spiritual director. Many times introjected comments carried from childhood are filled with cruel, demeaning dehumanizing language. The message gets repeated for a lifetime, fueling inner and outer violence. The self that is mirrored back in relationships becomes grounded in failure, shame, and guilt.

Three core aspects of Jesus' ministry carry antidotes. When there was guilt, he gave forgiveness; when there was failure, he gave compassion; when there was shame, he gave open hearted connection. Forgiveness, compassion and connection permeated all of Jesus' life and ministry. One way to internalize these qualities is to use them in re-training the messages we give ourselves, re-praying the truths that we want to make manifest in our lives.

"Would Jesus call you a 'shit-head'?"
"Of course not," he replied.
"What would he call you?" Silence filled the room for a while. Then he smiled.
"Friend, I think he would call me friend."

All peace is grounded in relationship. The relationship we have with others, with ourselves and with our environment. Changing the relationship we have with ourselves is often the most difficult. Prayer, particularly repeated or chant forms of prayer can be helpful. Prayer can be used to retrain the brain into new patterns of thinking. This takes keen awareness, wakefulness, and perseverance. Brain research and practical experience continue to reveal the plasticity of the healthy brain. Neurology is discovering that throughout our life our brain continues to adapt and grow. Prayer is an ideal brain- nurturing skill.

My client's work continues as he makes a list of all the negative self-messages he habitually repeats and responds to each by writing a new Christ-centered message. These new messages are recorded into a cassette tape that he plays each day to and from work. Instead of 'shit-head,' the tape says, "I have a mind inviting friendship. I am a 'garden-head,' a place of growing life." When the old thoughts return to beat him down once again, he now has an automatic prayer response of compassion and connection that creates room for gentle forgiveness and new creativity.

"The first thing I noticed was the new space it created when I messed things up at work. Instead of drowning in my self-loathing and despair, I could 'garden head' some new ways of looking at what happened and what alternatives there might be in my response. Then one day I noticed a change when I arrived home from work. Instead of feeling beat-up I had new hope, even in my marriage. I find I am more aware of the messages I pass on to others. I want to heal this wound of self reproach so that I don't pass it on to my kids. I want this new awareness to grow deep in my inner most being, to make manifest a truer truth about who I am, who I am in Christ."

You may say that this is all too simplistic for deep seated patterns of inner conflict or you may say it is just more abstract fruitless naval gazing and self-absorbtion. Can forgiveness, compassion, and connection really touch our inmost needs and reduce violence?

The primary function of prayer as I see it is not to change God, rather it is to change ourselves. To move from unconsciousness to consciousness, from unawareness to awareness, to move into taking full and intentional responsibility for all we feel, do, and think in such a way that we act as a transformative catalyst for the healing of ourselves and others.

Our culture is riveted with messages that we have the right to blame others for all our suffering. Messages we should take the offenders to court, get what belongs to us, demand the good life that we deserve. In addition, we are surrounded with marketing approaches that tell us that happiness, self-fulfillment, attractiveness and security are only a product purchase away. Restlessness and a lack of peace can easily keep someone locked in an economic treadmill searching for security beyond the next pay raise or product purchase.

Changing self-messages through repetitive prayer is not just about helping someone to feel better about themselves. If an individual cultivates inner forgiveness, compassion, and connection in their own inner self-relationship, they will be more likely to cultivate forgiveness, compassion, and skillful connection in other relationships. From the moment we are conceived, our living and growing is supported on a matrix of relationships. The healthier the relationships, the greater the resources for developing a maturity that will allow peace making and human connection to grow to deeper levels of understanding, relatedness and non-violence.

Jesus had a powerful affect on people's self awareness. By making personal contact at the deepest point of people's personal pain he was able to forge an entire new way for people to view themselves and each other. The woman at the well became an evangelist, a fisherman became a preacher, a persecutor became the liberator. I have a growing respect for the power of loving contact as the greatest of peace-making acts.

New research is beginning to reveal why some individuals go through traumatic experiences and come through with healthy stability while others struggle with significant post traumatic stress. One of the factors that seems to be a powerful predictor is the presence of others who do not break contact during the traumatic event. In the days coming, as we watch those who survived Hurricane Katrina, I wonder if it will be a determining factor that those who best heal and rebuild will be the ones who experienced ongoing supportive non-violent contact throughout the crisis and afterward and that those who were most isolated with the fewest inner resources will risk be scarred in some life limiting ways.

With forgiveness, compassion, and connection, Jesus seems to create a value higher than the Old Testament structures of law, cleanliness, and hierarchy. A new social order of loving each individual as a member of a kingdom family ignited the imagination of the Jewish people of Christ's day. May it again call us to the renewal of our own minds and relationships. May we all become "garden-heads!"

Author's Bio:
Rita Berglund is a psychotherapist, spiritual director, retreat leader and adjunct professor based in Centennial, Colorado. She is also the author of An Alphabet about Kids with Cancer. You may contact her at

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