Haven’t got time for the pain

We each have a story. Perhaps you are young and your story is feeling lost and asking What do I do with my life? Or perhaps you are older and you are asking the same painful question.

Your story might be an ugly divorce, a break-up in a relationship, wayward children, financial constraints, ill health or death of a loved one.

Then again, your story may be “and they lived happily ever after.” If it is, wonderful. But I doubt it. Chances are good you had to kiss a few frogs along the way and you got warts and it wasn’t pretty.

The truth is, life will always be filled with sadness and struggle. Now, don’t mistake me. I don’t actively seek out sorrows as you’ll read in a second. Life seems to present them whether we want them or not.

I’ve always realized that life is hard. On some level of my intellectual being, I got that part. But a new layer of awareness has entered front and center on the stage of my life, bowing like some Zen Buddhist teacher and asking with patience, “Got it yet?”

So here’s what I’ve learned of late. And it’s no great revelation. All the great spiritual teachers have taught and lived what I’m about to say. But this time, I got it to the gut-wrenching core of my being and I thought, “Oh, sh—. Really? Go away.”

You have to go through “it” – whatever “it” is in your life – to get to the other side. No escaping it. Accept it. Or not.

Not easy stuff. And the deeper insight I’ve had is this: I’ve been pretending to accept this pain in my life – putting on a good show – while secretly praying, “Please make it go away!”

When I was a little girl, I hated going to the doctor, especially for shots. I’d throw a tantrum and tell my mother “I’d rather go to the moon.”

So I find it one of the great karmic ironies of life that the last five years since dad’s stroke and other health challenges, I’ve been pushed headlong into the medical community, baptized again and again by a tsunami of doctors, drugs and you-name-it.

And I’ve wanted it all to go away. I’ve wanted dad to be healthy. I’ve wanted things to be the way they were.

But I’ve come to realize that’s the “little girl” speaking. She’s afraid. And in those moments, I try to connect with my adult-self and comfort my inner child. I tell her we’ll get through it. Because we always have.

The spiritually mature me has entered that new depth of being where I’m finally marching heart first into the sorrow. Soul first into the pain.

Not because I am masochistic or prone to melancholy. But because I realize that when done with love – and only love – this is the path to transformation. To new life. Perhaps to mysteries yet to be discovered.

Jesus was getting ready to trek off to Jerusalem and his death. But Peter would have none of it and said to Jesus, “Hey, man. You go there it means crucifixion. Let’s get out of here.” And Jesus’ reply? “Get behind me, Satan.” Jesus knew that Peter was like that scared little child who wants us to play it safe.

But Jesus also knew that the only way to the Resurrection was through the cross. Did he want it? Hell, no. Who would? But he did it with extreme love, knowing it was the one and only way for his resurrected body to shine forth, showing us, “This is how it’s done, folks.”

So right now, I’m frightened of all the pain now and ahead — in my own life and in the world. Many times I want to hide under the covers. Some FB friends recently told me I’m “fierce” and “invincible.” Their kindness has given me hope. But I rarely feel this way. Often I see myself as a dandelion puff being scattered in the strong winds of life.

But in the end, I feel we are all fierce and invincible. We just forget at times. We fail to recognize the courage always living inside of us, especially when we summon it with a powerful “yes” and march forward into whatever the sorrow may be, whatever the story may be.

If we don’t, we lose much. We become like the caterpillar that remains safe in its cocoon, that doesn’t want to go through the agony of breaking through its shell to become the butterfly its meant to be.

Like I said before. Not easy stuff. Here’s what Buddhist nun and author Pema Chodron writes:

“Most of us do not take these situations as teachings. We automatically hate them. We run like crazy. We use all kinds of ways to escape – all addictions stem from this moment when we meet our edge and we just can’t stand it. We feel we have to soften it, pad it with something, and we become addicted to whatever it is that seems to ease the pain.”

Am I there yet in fully accepting the sorrows in my life? Hardly. Sometimes I still run from the pain. But I am learning. And the more I can stay and embrace it, the more whole I – and all of us – become.

As Glennon Melton Doyle says:

“Your pain is meant for you, and there is no glory, except straight through your story.”

So forward. Take a deep breath. Move straight through. You’re not alone.

 

 

 

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The grace to remember

I went to the Garden of Reflection in Yardley today. The park commemorates 911 and the lives lost — in the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, Shanksville, Pa.

The energy of the space belies the horror and evil we all felt and experienced. The memorial exudes peace. Two fountains spurt upward, an ethereal remembrance of the towers, and a circular wall lists the names of those who died.

Surrounded by vast green farmlands and thick, sweet woods, the garden is surrounded by an other-worldly silence. Today, many came to walk there, as I did. And remember.

The weather was much the same was it was that day in 2001. Deep blue skies without a cloud, bright sun, a temperate breeze.

I read the names. These people came to work that day, perhaps were thinking about meetings, phone calls, what they would be doing later that evening — dinner with family or friends.

And then.

I kept walking the circle. Some family members had placed vases with roses, or a single rose, beneath their loved one’s name. Many who died were from this area, including one of the pilots.

As I took in the energy of these names, I was reminded: Each was loved. Each had a mother, father, sister, brother, aunt or uncle, daughter or son, a friend — someone who cherished them.

I sat on a bench beneath a shady tree. I thought of all that has happened in our world since then. All that is still happening. Those suffering from hurricanes Harvey and Irma, an earthquake in Mexico, wildfires and excessive heat and droughts, the threat of nuclear war.

I thought of my own personal situation, how each day dad declines and his care becomes more difficult, and how so many in our world are struggling and suffering in even more horrendous circumstances.

In his book When Bad Things Happen to Good People, Harold Kushner writes:

“Pain is the price we pay for being alive. Dead cells—our hair, our fingernails—can’t feel pain; they cannot feel anything. When we understand that, our question will change from, “Why do we have to feel pain?” to “What do we do with our pain so that it becomes meaningful and not just pointless empty suffering?” 

I’m still struggling with that question.

I have met those in my life who have transformed their suffering — those who have lost spouses or children who end up helping those in similar situations, or those who have been addicted who get into recovery and then become drug and alcohol counselors. And some, who because of the pain they’ve suffered, open up to others with more compassion and love.

And I’ve met yet others who have sunk into their grief or sorrow with bitterness and despair.

Many times we want it all to go away. Or we pray to God for miracles. Kushner says:

“We can’t pray that God make our lives free of problems; this won’t happen, and it is probably just as well. We can’t ask Him to make us and those we love immune to diseases, because He can’t do that. We can’t ask Him to weave a magic spell around us so that bad things will only happen to other people, and never to us.

People who pray for miracles usually don’t get miracles, any more than children who pray for bicycles, good grades, or good boyfriends get them as a result of praying. But people who pray for courage, for strength to bear the unbearable, for the grace to remember what they have left instead of they have lost, very often find their prayer answered.”  

I left the park, praying for all of us — for courage and strength to bear the unbearable, to remember with gratitude what we have left, instead of what we have lost.

As I offered the words up to the heavens, I watched a child escape from his mother and run with abandon through the grass, laughing.

A small joy amidst the sorrow. I smiled.