The idea for this book began to take shape many years ago when I was working with people in a therapeutic context and I was often struck by the ways new clients described their decision to seek help. With little hesitation, most people identified themselves and their current worries using images afloat in popular culture. They borrowed images from the self-help industry, the pharmaceutical industry, the personality testing industry—images reinforced by television ads and Internet displays.
America, a Nation of Victims
An interesting thing happened during the latter half of the nineteenth century. For the first time, the word trauma took on a psychological meaning. Prior to that time, trauma referred to a physical injury or blow, a wound that required physical repair. Of course, this way of understanding trauma is still with us: At hospital trauma centers throughout America, medical personnel repair broken bones, stop blood flow, patch gashes, run CAT scans, and do all sorts of other things to mend damaged bodies.
Prepared for the Journey: From Patient to Pilgrim
Until now, I have been trying to make visible certain features of our world as twenty-first-century Americans. I worry that we have become impoverished. We long for happiness, peace, and perfection, but in our willingness to accept diagnoses, pursue self-fulfillment, and maximize self-esteem, we’ve lost our existential and ethical moorings, our grounding in vast realities larger than ourselves. We’ve distorted our connection with Others. We’ve shrunk our capacity for awe appropriate to the majesty of the natural world. We’ve tended to neglect the realm of the imagination as well as all that is disclosed when words are allowed to open worlds rather than shutting down experience. We’ve become so literal minded in our efforts to nail down experience that we forget “tenderness,” for example, might open up exploration of a relationship shut down by the supposedly obvious dynamics of “codependence.” And, yes, we’ve lost touch with the sacred in whatever ways it can be encountered here and now.