The Opportunity of Pain
The Universe-Creator-God-Infinite-Spirit-Mother-Nature-Life has thunderstruck me to my knees. I am left humbled and questioning. Last week I endured yet another 3-day nerve-pain headache with nausea. And when I think about it, I still well up. I try to find the meaning of it all. Even if none exists inherently, I want to invent it. I want to make sense of what seems like torture. Why am I here? What is my purpose? What is the point of any of it if everything I create gets interrupted or stopped in its tracks? There must be a reason for sickness and pain. The mindbody signaling something, asking for help or handling a healing crisis. Nature is not redundant. There are no useless bits or functions, even if we don’t understand it all. Meaning is made up, but functionality is not. What is my mindbody trying to tell me?
It had been 3 months since my last episode, so I could call that progress. Yet it was one of the most intense. Perhaps that too is progress. A last vestige, a final eruption, a “re-tracing” my chiropractor would have called it. I’d like to think so, but I don’t want to indulge in wishful thinking, only to add disappointment to the strain of a possible future headache. I’m very tired now. Is it the subject? Do I put down my pen and give in to it? Is it my body’s gentle voice telling me it’s time to stop pondering? Or is it my mind confronted by the enormity of it all? Coming face to face with all that pain can be intimidating.
Coming out of it, I felt so far away from my life. I just wanted to swaddle myself and cocoon in my house. I’m back and forth between my inner life and outer life. Home and work. Health and wealth. Somewhere in my mind, I remember that I can have both, but my dark days of pain put me into a paradigm of black and white, this or that, presence or absence - pain or no pain. It is not an archetype of abundance. It is not a world of choices, only choice. Pain. Choose it or resist it. And resisting would only lead to madness. In those moments where it is so intense that I can no longer accept the pain, I break down. I feel as if my defenses, my resolve, my calm are all crumbling. I hold my head in my hands and sob, crying not for help, but out of hopelessness. Perhaps this is a good place to start. I’m slowly studying Pema Chödrön’s book, When Things Fall Apart - Heart Advice for Difficult Times. The book occurs like an ontological slap in the face. It is that rare oxymoron of brutal honesty doled out with loving kindness. Hope, along with it’s flip-side of fear, robs us of the present moment, she explains. But why would I want the present moment when it is too painful to bear? I would stare at the TV, wanting it to take me away from the here and now. Conversations with my husband resulted in more tears, when questions as simple as how are you forced me back into the present to face the pain. “We think that by protecting ourselves from suffering we are being kind to ourselves. The truth is, we only become more fearful, more hardened, more alienated.” Slap. “...if we primarily try to shield ourselves from discomfort, we suffer. Yet when we don’t close off and let our hearts break, we discover our kinship with all beings.”
This is the nugget I’ve been mining for. This kinship. Not despite but because of the solitary hardship of illness, exhaustion, and pain, I have softened and gained compassion for myself and for others. I see that Life is a force to be reckoned with, not reckoned against. We do the best we can with what we’ve got. I will continue to do everything I can to be well, but resisting what is happening now is akin to punishing myself for my lack of progress. It’s like saying that I’m not enough - and my life has been a sequence of punishing judgements that I am not doing or being enough. Perhaps this is the lesson I need to keep learning. We are always enough in the present moment. Real progress is not getting from here to there, but being here, over and over and over again.