Wednesday, March 26, 2014
A Tough Teacher
I once saw a Youtube video of an “Enlightened Teacher” who said that if we are fully in the present moment we will never feel any pain. I admit, I muttered at the screen, “Oh yeah, put your hand on the table here and let’s see what happens if I just give it a little rap with a hammer.”
Most of us understand the difference between pain and suffering. Pain is the searing agony that has ripped me out of sleep for ten nights in a row between two and six am, a silent scream from nerves in different parts of my body. It’s not new, although I admit it has been awhile since I’ve had the acute pain that is sometimes part of the chronic illness that has been part of my life for thirty years (CFS/ME/FM.)
As with other times the particular precipitating cause is a mystery, which is both frustrating and hopeful- presumably it could end as unexpectedly as it began.
What surprises me is how- even with all these years of experience (some years being much better than others)- pain can still be a challenge. It wears me out, muddies my thinking, makes me grumpy and scares me (particularly by Day 10.)
Sometimes pain- emotional or physical- can be useful, can point us toward something that needs to be tended, healed. But after three decades my faith in the usefulness of these periods of inexplicable and acute agony has waned. When it feels as if muscles are being pulled from bones or a heated ice pick is being inserted into an eye socket, all spiritual aspirations go out the window. I just want the pain to stop. So I do the things I know sometimes help (and believe me, there really isn’t anything I have not tried- and some things do help to some degree, some of the time,) and I wait for the pain to diminish.
But the real challenge is to keep the suffering in check. Suffering is the fear-fueled-speculative-stories that pain stirs- that this will never end, that I will not be able to bear it, that I've done something "wrong" to cause this, that the pain will stop me from ever doing the things I love (like writing and studying.) These kinds of frantic mental meanderings pop up and create suffering when my guard is down and the pain is high- often just as I wake up.
This is all I really know about stopping suffering: I have to be simultaneously firm and tender with the franticness that arises if I am to cope with the pain in this moment and not drive myself over the cliff of unbearable agony.
So I speak to myself as I would to anyone I love, whispering to the inner voice that is hypothesizing unending anguish and predicting imminent disaster: “Shhhhh. . . .breathe. You cannot know what the next hour or day will bring. Stay here, stay with your breath. What do you hear?. . . . The breath moving in and out of the body, bringing life; the children in the park; a lone robin singing spring into being. Soften around the pain. There. . . . let it be as it is. . . . do not pull away . . .Another breath. . . and another. . . . one at a time. . . each one softer. . . . . lean into the breath and the pain. . . . . let it be. . . ."
And I pray, I call on the ancestors who love me, the powers of Love and Goodness and Healing and the divine Presence that is called God, the Sacred Mystery, the Great Mother to hold me, to help me. And I keep praying, tears streaming down my face, slowly feeling myself held by something larger, a Love that can help me bear all pain and turn away from suffering.
Pain is tough teacher. It can stir frantic suffering or teach boundless compassion. Most often I find it creates some of both. But the fact that the compassion can ease the suffering is what cracks me open to the blessing of being human, is what opens the door to an impossible gratitude that carries me to the next breath and the next. . . .
Oriah House (c) 2014