An adaptation from the book Thriving Through Uncertainty
Life is the art of facing what you don’t want, on the way to creating what you do want. The moment you chase the blue butterfly of desire, it’s likely that you will move through the wastelands of disappointment, rage and self-criticism. It’s just the nature of transition. You are always passing through uncomfortable territory on the way to expansion.
I’ve also noticed that the more conscious I’ve become, the more sensitive I am to pain. In the past, I might have been numb or unaware. But now, no such luck. It’s like when your foot falls asleep. As you wake up, you suffer the pins and needles of becoming more alive.
So, let me tell you this, my precious, conscious chickadee. How you deal with pain will determine your success and joy in this life.
Years ago, I discovered a courageous and profound way to deal with myself when I’m in pain. It does not involve tequila, Percocet, or binge-ordering cubic zirconia jewelry from the Home Shopping Network. Nor does it rule anything out.
This happened some years ago, but it’s not like I’ve never dealt with pain again. I’d been “triggered” again by a nasty bout of self-comparison. “It’s not fair!” some part of me cried over and over. I slid into a funk of deprivation and frustration.
Let’s just say I’ve been here before. It’s the same sorry broken record of “I will never get to where I want to be.” I don’t want this agony to return. It has come to my house so many times and broken the dishes and kicked in the walls. But when it comes I feel as though I have little say. All my years of therapy, spiritual practice, and even teaching do not protect me from this vulnerability — which really, really makes me want my money back.
I know some spiritual leaders say that this pain is “optional.” Well, let them walk on water in stilettos; I’m drowning. My pain is the only dish on the menu — the only menu in the only diner. Basically, it’s what’s for dinner. You may find yourself here sometimes. You’re hurting. Yes, you know you’re making yourself miserable by what you’re thinking. But you are so far beyond finding that helpful right now. You just want a helicopter out of your despair.
Ironically, I was at a beautiful retreat center when this experience happened. Yes, life does have a sense of humor. There were ongoing workshops on meditation, yoga, and healing taking place. I paused by a still pond blossoming with water lilies. Barefoot and bald meditators walked by me, smiling with serenity. I wanted to trip them as they passed. I am not well, I tell you.
Powers of the heavens
Heal my mind, I pray to any God who will listen. Take these thoughts away. I stomp my foot, a princess calling upon the powers of the heavens as though they are disobedient maidservants. Nothing happens. Evidently, in this pain I cannot even pray right.
That night, I talk to Nancy, a woman I have just met. Nancy is a healer by trade. But more than that, she is a healer by the way she looks at me. I am hoping she will give me some Sanskrit mantra or insight to make it instantly disappear. I am hoping she has some kind of talisman tucked up her sleeve. But she says something I am not expecting. When I ask her, “What should I do?” she says quietly, “I guess there is nothing to do — but feel the pain.”
I guess there is nothing to do but feel the pain. These words slow down time.
Part of me wants to say, “Come again?”
But the wise part of me, the one that instantaneously recognizes truth, wants to giggle and toss jelly beans at her feet. That part understands and claps its hands.
To feel sorrow
I feel her recognize my sorrow and suddenly I recognize it — and I recognize that it’s okay to feel sorrow. The moment Nancy says, “Feel the pain,” I don’t feel lonely or separate from my life anymore. I feel as though I can be in this exact moment, in this exact state of mind. I feel as though she is asking me to allow Divine Genius, the eternal lover of the present moment, back into my heart. I’m being asked to allow myself to experience the medicine and message of the moment.
Suddenly I realize I don’t need Spirit to take away the pain. I only want Spirit to sit with me while I feel the pain. I need to sit with this part of myself. She needs to be heard. This is maitri, a Buddhist practice of loving-kindness. With acceptance and love, the poison will move through. This frightened part of myself will know how to move forward from here.
In the end, pain opened my heart to myself. It’s always that way. I feel the love of the Infinite when I feel my own love. I feel that love when I stop running away from any part of myself or any experience I am having. I am willing to feel my pain. I am willing to feel my love.
Resistance to pain
An inspired life is not a life of avoiding pain. It’s not negative to feel pain. No feeling is ever wrong. I am not weak or limited for feeling pain. This life is one of impermanence and change and demands a great deal from all of us. My spirit remains invulnerable. Which means it’s safe for me to feel vulnerable. It’s not pain that makes me feel isolated and frightened. It’s my resistance to pain that closes my heart to myself and my experience.
I invite you to sit with yourself in the middle of a feeling that is uncomfortable — and bring in self-compassion. You deserve this grace. Feel the pain.
I have faith in your ability to heal yourself.
I have faith in your ability to allow and absorb and find comfort with the truth of exactly where you find yourself in this moment.
I have faith in all of us.