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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An unexpected Christmas post

Blogger’s Note: I’m re-posting this blog from last year. And yes, in many ways, Christmas still feels hard to me. But thankfully, dad is still here to celebrate another Christmas, a reminder for me to stay in the present moment.

May we have times of celebration and stillness, solitude and joyful festivities during this “holy” season. And may we open our hearts more deeply to the greatest gift of all — love.

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I hadn’t intended to write another blog post until after the New Year.

Then, this one kept calling me. It’s about how hard this Christmas feels to me. Not soft around the edges, or even warm or cozy or jingly. I got to thinking that this might be the last Christmas with my dad.

For those who may not know, he had a stroke almost three years ago. It’s been a rough, long three years.

heart in snowIn many ways, his care is something I thought I could never do, the endless medical appointments, the physical and compassion fatigue, the sadness of losing the dad I once knew and learning to love the new dad I now have.

As to this being his last Christmas — I know, I know. Stay in the present moment. I try. Still. He is 88. And the thought of no longer having dad next Christmas lingers on the edges of my mind and heart.

And then, there’s what to buy him. Why is it so hard this year? Didn’t I buy him something last year, and what was it? He can’t have the things he once enjoyed like his thick-rolled cigars (although I hated them, the stinky things) or his Bailey’s Irish Cream or even his spiritual CDs because he wouldn’t comprehend them.

So I sank into a heap of despair this past week, all that weighing on me.

Then I ran into a neighbor who lost her husband two weeks ago. I saw her in the driveway, loading up the back of her station wagon with cardboard boxes. I asked how she was.

“Oh, I bawl my eyes out, but I keep going. Right now I’m packing up a lot of his clothes to give away.”

I listened a bit more, watching the sorrow seep out of her eyes. Her grief triggered my own anticipatory grief.

Sometimes it just seems like there’s too much sorrow in the world and not enough happy, especially during this season designated as the “happiest time of the year.”

And yet, while at the mall the other day, I saw a child’s face light up like an angel’s at the sight of the red-suited man himself, and her peppermint-striped leggings and pink cheeks made me smile.

And I thought of a woman who has become a friend, a speech therapist who helped my dad while he was in the hospital. She gives of herself with love, always asking to be placed where she is most needed. Her goodness touches me.

Then I had the thought: Is it possible to hold the sorrow and the happy at the same time?

Yes. Of course it is, because this is the paradox of life itself, to accept the sadness and the joy and everything in between. It is the exquisite price of admission to this journey we call human.

So I finally asked dad the other day: What do you want for Christmas?

Sometimes — despite his lack of cognition and inability to speak coherently — he said:

Your love.

I clutched his hand and caught my breath.

christmas-heart-treeSome things in life we can’t wrap in shiny paper or put a big red bow around them. But when the sadness of life comes calling, sometimes we need to remember — as The Little Prince said:

“It is only with the heart one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.”

And when we see “rightly” then life isn’t so hard. In fact, glimmers of joy spark through the sorrows.

So, dad, it may be a pair of comfy sweat pants this year, but the “real” gift will be the one you asked for. You’ve always had it.

This Christmas. And forever.

 

 

The border country

I saw a recent cartoon on Facebook that seemed to be a collective voice these days.

A stick figure was standing beneath a hovering UFO, pleading, “I’ll pay you to abduct me.”

I laughed, but the deeper meaning stayed with me.

Today, for many reasons, we want to run away. To leave behind the world and all its miseries. To escape from the woes that beset us.

I know I’ve done it quite a few times in my life. But sometimes — short of our own personal injury or that of others — we are called to stay put, to “be with” the suffering in our lives and in the world.

pain and sorrow womanWhy? Because the truth is, we share in this journey of sorrow. Life will have its way with us. Suffering will visit us — individually and collectively — and may have already visited. A death. A divorce. An accident. A diagnosis of terminal illness. A child lost to addiction.

And in the world at large, we don’t have to look far. Wars, hungry children, mass shootings, a political system gone amuck, a 24-hour news cycle that feeds society with a culture of death.

Sadly, I grew up watching a world sucked up in killing. I was in seventh grade and I remember coming home after school and watching the evening news. The Vietnam War was raging in black and white on the TV screen. It was the first time that cameras had filmed the carnage and my sensitive soul felt the wrongness of this.

Even at that young age I sensed the connection of each human being in our world. I knew this war was wrong, but on a deeper level, my heart knew it was beyond that. We were killing our collective soul.

Today, more than ever before, our collective soul is being challenged as we dwell in a “border country” — a tipping point that is filled with uncertainties, that is inviting us to ask new questions and to envision new possibilities that are not yet named.

sorrow-julie-fainIn Living on the Border of the Holy, L. William Countryman writes that this border country is one we all carry within us.

“The border country … does not so much draw us away from the everyday world as it plunges us deeper into a reality of which the everyday world is like the surface … to live there for awhile is like having the veils pulled away.”

In her book The Artist’s Rule, Christine Valters Painter expounds:

“Borders and edges are the places of transformation that call us to something deeper. Pulling away the veils means seeing the heart of things — which always demands a response.”

When we see the “heart of things” and life challenges us to the core with suffering or tragedy, we can either deepen in compassion or numb ourselves to the pain.

Today, I fear we have numbed ourselves. Again and again. Perhaps we are already begging that UFO to take us away from it all.

But it is only in “staying” — in being present to the pain and allowing ourselves to become vulnerable, that we can then be moved to do something.

And what is that? Perhaps, as difficult as it may be, we must first allow ourselves to deeply feel and connect with the suffering around us and within us. Poet and philosopher Mark Nepo writes:

“Each time we suffer, each of us is broken just a little, and each time we love and are loved, each of us is beautifully dissolved, a piece at a time. We break so we can take in aliveness and dissolve so we can be taken in.

“This breaking and dissolving in order to be joined is the biology of compassion. The way that muscles tear and mend each time we exercise to build our strength, the heart suffers and loves. Inevitably, the tears of heartbreak water the heart they come from, and we grow.”

sun in handsWhen we grow into compassion, we can then move into action from a grounded space in our souls. We become activists of the heart, whether it’s offering a hello to a stranger, volunteering at a soup kitchen, visiting a shut-in, writing a letter to our Congress person.

The ways are simple. Not hard. I know I tend to make them hard, but they’re not.

When I was a little girl, I remember my mother giving food to strangers who knocked at the door. Visiting my elderly aunt. Caring for her bedridden mother-in-law. All these needs were within her small space of life and being, but she responded. With love.

As Nepo writes, there are always things that we can do in the face of suffering. “We can share bread and water in the storm,” he says.

And perhaps we need to pray. As never before. However you pray. In whatever ways you connect with a Higher Power.

There is a quote about Franciscan prayer that says prayer “is not an escape from the world, but an entrance into it. We become conscious in prayer of how much the world is with us and we are in the world.”

And while we are in the world, as Nepo writes, we arrive at what suffering does to us and we find only compassion … “the genuine, tender ways we can be with those who suffer.”

So then. Can we stay? Can we honor the pain in our personal lives and in the world? Can we be compassionate? Can we open our hearts to each other while living in the uncertainty and sorrow of the border country?