What feels like total despair happens even to those of us who do “the work.”
One of the difficulties of being on a spiritual path is a common belief that this work should handle all of life’s problems. It doesn’t. Pain is simply part of our human condition. What can make pain turn into despair is the demand that we not have such strong reactions to life anymore.
We do. And, the sooner we allow whatever is coming to the surface with compassion, love and curiosity, the sooner we can return ourselves to ourselves.
Personally, as a survival mechanism, I learned to leave my body at a very young age. It felt like a really smart thing to do at the time and it probably was.
As an adult, not being in your body can make an already painful situation much, much worse. When one is literally “beside themselves,” there is no one home. Then, the loneliness, abandonment and desperate fear of the child combines with whatever situation happens to be occurring in life. Whatever rational part of our brain is still functioning can’t make sense of the quite obvious overreaction. As to friends and family coming to the rescue, how does one explain? “Listen, I am not really in my body and my brain has been high-jacked, so could you just bring me back to reality, please?!?”
When one is in this state, “reality” is a foreign, terrifying concept. Part of the belief when in this particular state is “This is reality, and I have been kidding myself to believe otherwise!” A childish superstition can kick in that sounds something like “You aren’t going to trick me again!”
So, we hold on desperately to our defenses, without which we will surly die. This feels so very real because, at one time, it was real. As a child, without the defenses we so brilliantly devised, we would not have survived. A child cannot tolerate the rejection of the beloved parent, let alone the not uncommon physical, mental, and emotional abuse many children suffer. Our defenses kept us alive, literally. And now, this very defense keeps us from life.
The work is to see this, know this, and work though this. The most challenging of all of this challenging work is, when I fall into despair, to forgive myself. Again. And again.
There is no magic, any more than there is a punishing god who will rain terror on us for making a mistake. What there is, is a commitment to bring oneself back, over and over and over again, to this sometimes glorious and sometimes painful life.
Reality. It is not the ideal, pain-free, rainbows and unicorns we once (and sometimes still do!) believe it should be. And, if allowed to be without judgment, without a demand for perfection, without taking it personally, simply accepted from moment to moment, reality can be trusted.
With great love and appreciation to all who have stood beside me, even when I wasn’t home to myself,
Pain is such a relative, subjective term. I have two quotes hung in my office. One is:
I would see these words every day except that my office is a mess. Even if it were not a mess, they would eventually blend into the wall. This is what happens to all things we see every day, we quit seeing them. Unless something reminds us.
I am getting a little reminder right now. After minor gum surgery, I am in pain. I have been watching my relationship to this pain and my relationship to that relationship. If you could hear the thoughts in my head, you would think I knew nothing about transformation, self-care, holistic pain management and so on. I have a feeling I might be in the majority here, and there are always those few exemplary people out there who make we mere mortals, if we are unwise enough to compare ourselves, look like wimps.
I hurt, am nauseated, tired, don’t feel like doing anything. My face is swollen and I have to be very careful about how I eat so as to not disturb the graft. That is all. This will pass within a few days, and I will have a complete recovery. It is no big deal.
Now, let me tell you what is really going on. I feel like I am going to throw up, which has me practically hysterical inside. I am in a panic, emotionally. My mouth hurts and I don’t think it will ever stop. It shouldn’t be this way. What is wrong with me? The swelling was supposed to have gone down by now!
Should I call the doctor?! Hysterics kick in….
Then, “What is wrong with you, you loser?! Quit your bellyaching and make some lunch. Good lord! If there were ever anything really wrong with you, you may as well just call it a day. Get over yourself! There are people out there with real problems! You don’t deserve the time of day. You’re just using this as an excuse to be lazy, which you are!”
After this berating, I fall into complete despair. Now I have completely lost touch with reality. At first I blow it out of proportion, then, I refuse to validate a perfectly reasonable feeling. Pain.
The quotes in my office come to mind. I am in some pain. That is all. Yes, it hurts. No, I don’t have to do anything about it – nor do I have to blow it out of proportion. It is also not helpful, in fact is harmful, to compare my pain to that of another. This only results in more either exaggerating or minimizing and is not at all respectful of the person to whom I am comparing myself.
Watching my thoughts, attitudes, beliefs, and catching my misconceptions, has been quite an education.
All of these patterned ways of being are unconscious, until we take the time to look at them. Unconscious or not, these patterns mold our life substance and determine the creative forces from which we live.
I see the split in my emotional development right here; either I collapse into complete weakness or I overcome with mean aggression. Neither one of these strategies works, and the result is that I am left frustrated and a victim of my circumstances. So, what is the solution here?
I can tell you what it is not, which is to by-pass the pain using the already developed strategies. What most people do is to develop a “more mature” character to play the role of the person we think we should be.
She would sound something like, “Yeah, I had a gum graft, but it’s OK. I have friends who are really sick, so who am I to complain, I’ll be fine, it just hurts, that’s all.”
Meanwhile there is a voice inside screaming “HELP! I am hurting here! Why doesn’t anyone care about me?!” This voice I silence by changing the subject and making a show of being more interested in the other person so that I “look good.” All the while, the internal wailing goes on.
The real solution is to stop and be with whatever is there in reality – in the present. Yes, it does hurt. Ah, poor sweetheart. Let the tears flow, let the rage express itself, let the one who feels life is unjust scream her head off. Let the sobbing, wailing, stomping, kicking, hating life as it is right now, let it all be there.
Experience all of these fully in your body. Make no judgments and do not stuff anything down. It is vitally important, however, that you express these emotions with an adult part of you present as a witness to your own grief. Otherwise, these emotions can just take you over and you forget that this is just a part of you expressing itself.
Watch yourself allow the waves of various feelings simply go through you. Do not stop any of them unless it feels too overwhelming. If you pay close attention to yourself, each feeling will come and go, just like a wave on the beach. With each feeling, the invitation is to breathe deeply and allow, with curiosity, whatever comes.
If you catch particular thoughts, stop and question them with honest curiosity. Something like, “I just had the thought that something has to be wrong here or the swelling would have stopped by now.” If I just let my childish emotions take over here, I go into a panic. Using my adult consciousness, I can assess the situation and determine if there is actually cause for alarm or not. In this particular case, I really don’t know. This is another slippery slope. “I don’t know” brings up more panic. I remind myself that as a child, not knowing was dangerous, but today, this is no longer true. I stop, validate, soothe and reeducate the part of me that goes into panic when faced with not knowing.
Catching each and every thought, feeling, sensation, reaction, and, with interest, curiosity and compassion, performing a reality check, does take a tremendous commitment, and we all fail time and time again. This habit, however, once in place, gives us access to a deeper, wiser and more loving and caring part of ourselves. From this place, pain is just pain.
This is not something another person can just tell you. Had my loving partner reminded me that “we create our reality, and all pain is relative,” I would have given him some real pain to mull over.
This is an experiential learning. I have had those quotes in my office for years, and their meaning only got deeper today.
It is my intention to, bit by bit, organically and over time, catch each of the parts of myself that was not honored and respected over my 62 years. Our work is ours to do. There is no hurry because time, too, is relative. And, wouldn’t it be lovely to spend the rest of your life, fully alive and present to each and every gift of feeling that offers itself up to you, to be expressed through you.
There is pain and there is joy, just as there is life and death. These cannot be separated. The more we can be with pain and the eventuality of death, the more joy and life is available.
Whenever we make the choice to commit to something, large or small, we sometimes forget that this commitment will, most likely, come at a cost.
We may have to feel some withdrawal, some pain, a bit of deprivation, overwhelm. These pains can be any and/or all of the following; physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. It is when we go into a commitment blindly and these discomforts hit us unawares that we suffer – and hence, usually fail to follow through with the commitment.
There is a part of us, and it is vital to realize that this is, that has zero interest in any pain or discomfort, let alone not getting exactly what we want and right now! This part makes us cringe. We hate to admit that we are so weak, or demanding, or dependent, or lazy or greedy. Instead, we rationalize our needs and our behavior. Things like “I work so hard, you couldn’t possibly understand, I had to eat a piece of cake just to get through the day!’ “I need to smoke; it’s the only way I can get out of the office for a breath of fresh air!’ “I am not like you; I am too busy to exercise all of the time!’
This making up excuses is way too much fun, I could go on for hours. Which is the point. We actually get some pleasure out of our excuses. It is negative pleasure, and for the part of us that wants what we want when we want it, any pleasure will do. This fulfills a real need!
In order to stay committed, it is necessary to go in and through our negative beliefs and negative intentions, and actually catch ourselves indulging in negative pleasure. This can be painful and challenging. It requires courage and honesty, which if taken on, leaves a profound sense of respect for one’s self – a respect that is based on an internal knowing that cannot be taken away.
Contrast this to a reward from the outside, or another person, which can be fleeting. When we count on that reward from the outside and it doesn’t sustain us (because it can’t!) we use this as an excuse to indulge in the very behavior we said we wanted to change. We rationalize (ration out lies) that “it wasn’t that important…” or “I really didn’t want that after all….” or “I just couldn’t, it was too hard.”
Commitment is a huge topic about which much has been written. There are “12 Tricks…” and “10 Ways…” and “Seven E-Z to Follow Steps…” up the wazoo. Most of these dance around the actual pain that is involved in commitment, because we don’t like to feel pain. No blog post that includes a bitter pill ever goes viral. We have such a negative association with anything that smacks of anything uncomfortable, and we strive constantly for a world where we all have what we want and no one has to suffer.
We do not do this consciously, of course. If you are willing to sit with yourself for a minute and listen into yourself, you will hear the protests, the demands, the pleas for help, the refusals to be responsible, the desperate cries for attention. We usually live life on top of these, pushing them down, pretending not to notice.
The key to a life where a commitment actually is fulfilled, where anxiety is seen as something to pay attention to, where we are living with a rhythm consistent with our best self, is to stop and feel whatever there is to feel.
Listen to the protests without making yourself wrong. Soothe the part of you that is crying out for attention. Stand up to the inner critic who says that you will never succeed. Feel the pain of what it is to be simply human rather than pretending it is all “just fine” or “too hard to bare.”
Commitment requires that we see ourselves and life in reality. We do not get to be perfect here and that does not give us an excuse to act in a way that is disrespectful to ourselves and/or life. We cannot cheat life. We cannot receive more than we are willing to give.
We can only experience the abundance that life is when we are willing to see ourselves as we really are. The imperfect, pathetic, demanding, hateful, fearful, grasping that we all feel is not all of us, but it is a part of us. And, the only way to find out who we really are is to see all of these parts and welcome them, courageously. By taking this level of responsibility in the matter of your own life, commitment ultimately fulfills us.
What would happen if you broke your own heart wide open?
With courage and humility we can allow our deepest fear, our most awful rejection, our greatest pain, to simply be. It is only when we identify with, and/or defend against, our worst nightmare that we suffer in an unproductive way. This suffering only creates more of the same. When we tell ourselves we cannot, or should not, or in any way rail against what is happening to us, it is we who reject and punish ourselves.
If, instead, we look with curiosity and wonder, with patience and compassion at the “worst” of who we think we are, can we transform our pain and darkness into vital creative life substance.
If something, anything, is in our lives, it is of us. Any rage, hate, vindictive grudge, any rejection, refusal, sorrow, loss, any sadness, emptiness, longing, all belong to whomever may be experiencing the emotion.
We, in our ignorance of this, and our refusal to tolerate the momentary discomfort, fling our inner experience out and blame our pain on the other, or on life.
This … whatever it may be, is only showing itself so that it may be seen, felt, listened to, held. This suffering is productive, life-changing, and healing. Identify the pain, the hate, the fear, as what it is and, when possible, investigate from where it may have arisen. Do not make the mistake of judging, refusing, running away from whatever may come up. The feeling is not who you are, nor does it prove anything about you, which is a most common mistake. This is the mistake of a child. Whatever piece of yourself you are not willing to be with cannot grow itself up, which is the true pain.
This process can be quite confusing at times. Pain hurts and it makes perfect sense to avoid it at any cost. Except that the cost of avoiding pain is the very life we were meant to live.
By embracing, with tenderness, ourselves while in our weakest moment, our most awful hurt, our greatest fear, we embrace all of life. We develop courage, honesty and a profound respect for ourselves. We see that others may only be acting out of their greatest pain and have compassion instead of judgment.
By being willing to break your own heart wide open, life can be more joyous, rewarding and meaningful.
Life can be, with a heart that has been broken, a most loving, exquisite experience.
We are all one and the same. The energy that is the stars and the moon and beyond, all, are one and the same. This, if you allow this to penetrate your being, changes your relationship to the small, petty differences that you experience. This separation that you insist on keeps you small.
At one time, before you knew any better, this separation felt like the only safe alternative to annihilation. Now, if you are willing to pray into the part of you that recognizes the substance of the universe as “home,” and be with, rather than separate from, you will experience the bliss and joy that life, as it is in reality, has to offer.
This is a powerful choice.
The part of you that trembles at the possibility of this choice is the ego. The ego is not evil by nature, although it certainly can be. It is evil by intent. Your intention is everything – as long as you follow through with it. Intention alone, with no action, is meaningless. And action with no intention is praying for trouble. Without intention, life is action followed by one re-action after another.
This substance that is the universe in which you live, and of which you are a part, is completely neutral.
You can project onto this substance anything you can imagine. The worst pain and the greatest pleasure are yours for the asking. The choice is yours. This is not to say that there is no pain on this planet; pain comes with the territory. And, your reaction to whatever is gives you the experience, not the actual event.
The joy that you feel deep in the core of your being when you see the moon, or a waterfall, or a baby, is not something that comes from outside of your being. The sorrow you feel when loss occurs is not caused by what was lost. We are, by our nature, emotional beings. We are here simply to enjoy the physical pleasure of emotions in our bodies … and unite these emotions with the universal existence.
Imagine, if you will, all of the human beings on this planet simultaneously tapping into the highest vibration of bliss. Can you? Even two people, together, sharing an orgasmic moment is hard to hold for long. This union is the creative force of our universe expressing its existence. It is our right, our calling, our nature, to have this experience. It is what we live for, what we all long for. It is we who want this with every breath and it is we who turn away from this love in fear.
The separation from the other wants to be healed. We can each do our part. Be with the part of you that rings true with the universal vibration as often as you can. Live every day with intention. Take actions that are in line with the intention of going towards rather than away from. Allow all of the creative union and bliss that we were born to feel. This is our birthright as beings of this universe.
You need pleasure; this is a fact of life. How you get this pleasure is irrelevant when you are just a child; you have to get it anywhere you can. When your home is a war zone, war becomes pleasurable.
At some point you have realized the folly of this tactic and have strived and strived and strived to find another way, with some success. And, when life fails you, which it does because it is life, you resort to your old ways. War.
It is easy to find an enemy. “They” are everywhere. Human beings, in all of their imperfection, give you plenty about which to hate, complain, attack, perseverate. This energy system takes on a life of its own and travels the well-worn paths of your system.
The fact that you now “know better” makes the ammunition more brutal. You hate with a new passion. You have abandoned yourself and you know you are the cause of your misery. This has you ramp up the attack of the other.
The words you have learned to soothe yourself seem to inflame the situation. They do not ring true.
Meditation feels like torture. Another reminder of what a failure you are, what a farce all of this is, how there is no real solution.
A “real” tragedy occurs somewhere in the world. You look around and see the many, many blessings that have been bestowed upon you, and you wail in even deeper despair. The fear that, if you are not grateful for what you have, then it will all be taken away, has you pray even harder, more feverishly.
Your prayers are met with an emptiness that feels so real, familiar, painful. You have convinced yourself that you were a fool to have believed, even for one moment, that you could be different.
Resigned, you go cold. It doesn’t matter; nothing does really. We live, we die, the earth is being destroyed, what difference does it make? Get what you can while you can.
The face of Elie Wiesel, peering out from his bunk in the concentration camp, comes to mind. A roar from deep within clears your muddled brain. The courage to live a full life requires something of you. It is not just handed to a random person here and there like a lottery ticket. The courage to face your selfish, pathetic, scared, demanding, hateful self and carry on with kindness, compassion and forgiveness is the work.
Spirit travels on the vibration of feelings. All are welcome. The pain, hate, love, loneliness, courage, powerlessness, longing, fear, vulnerability, each has its place at the table. It is only when we abandon ourselves that these expressions of life stop moving through us and become the vicious cycle of hopelessness.
The key is to stay open, no matter what shows up. A child has to defend against pain; this is a matter of survival. It is our work to grow ourselves up by experiencing the feelings we told ourselves we could not tolerate. This is where life has gotten stuck, frozen, unable to grow.
The freedom to allow “even this,” and not recoil, brings a new energy, creativity, curiosity, faith and willingness to live life on life’s terms.
All is one with the ocean, the consciousness. We are all here to see that we are not separate by first separating. It is painful only to the degree that you believe the lie that you are not of life. You are life doing what life does. Create.
Human beings are here to witness consciousness separating itself from itself. The greater consciousness is on the path as well. The path being to see, witness, experience oneness.
By not rejecting anything in yourself or others, by loving the parts of you that, until now, you have kept hidden – as if you could hide anything from life! There is no hiding your thoughts. Thoughts are energy. They exist as vibration and ripple out into consciousness, where they become form. The thought is the masculine. The feminine births whatever experience has been created by the thought.
It is vital to see, witness, allow your thoughts so that you may clear them, not make them wrong. This internal war of right and wrong, better and worse, good and bad, constantly vying for attention, is what is to be healed.
The great Spiritual Laws are working constantly. Your mind does not yet know them all; they are more of a feeling than a knowing. When you are not resisting life in anyway, you are one with life. When you are not reacting, and therefore creating, from your negative belief, you are one with life. When you are not rejecting part of yourself but also not buying into the lies you tell yourself, you are one with life.
Your feeling body Knows Truth and Reality. Your brain does not. Your being recognizes itself when and only when you are One. You then feel clear, without judgment – a deep sense of peace exists. This is true even when outside circumstances are not to the liking of your personality.
Stay with this peace, as best you can, take non-rejection into your day. Pay attention when you feel yourself tighten against what is wanting to be felt today. You are loved. Stay with this peace. As best you can. You can trust this, it is obvious. You continue to leave this at your door; your path is to bring it down the mountain.
With great love and appreciation
The defense mechanisms with which we operate today were established in childhood. We actually quite needed them as children. A child, with the emotional and psychological development of a child, could not possible withstand some of the pain inherent in being human. The defense is, truly, life-saving.
As we “grow up” these defenses become established and we begin to recognize ourselves as and through them, rather than as part of us which may or may not serve our highest good. At some point, our higher intelligence may begin to whisper.
We begin to see that one aspect of our lives or another seems to repeat the same negative cycle over and over. Self-responsibility begins to dawn.
It is here that some get stuck. We do not want to be responsible! “It is not my fault, I had a horrible childhood and this is just how I am!”
Guilt comes in to play, just as we begin to know that we are actually responsible for our own lives. Rather than suffer this guilt, or heaven forbid, to do the work to see who we really might be under our defenses, we learn to rationalize our behavior and wind it ever deeper into our nervous system. Self-hatred, fear and anxiety about being found out all wear away the courage that it takes to merely stand in ourselves and be willing to witness ourselves as we really are.
The undefended self is miraculous! We are all, at our core, loving, vulnerable, alive beings, searching to be expressed and connected. It is only the fear of the child, and the demand from the child that life be perfect, that inhibits our true nature.
Feeling the remorse that is natural from realizing a mistake made is a pain that sears through and leaves the heart open. Guilt is a prison from which one can never escape.
Yes, we all make the mistake of identifying with our childhood wounds. Some very brave souls are willing to simply see and relax around this misidentification and begin the process of reclaiming what has always been there, waiting for us to see.
Someone looking on would have assumed I was having a lovely time. I was, on one level. Underneath, however, I was seething. A simple comment, one not in line with my experience and belief system, turned this woman into an enemy. I had never met her before. The conversation was light, non-political or religious; she simply expressed her opinion about something that I did not agree with.
Rather than stand up for myself, I made a joke and moved on. That is what it looked like I did. Internally, I started picking this woman to pieces. Every single thing she did annoyed me. I built a case against her.
When I came home to my sweetheart and shared my evening out with him, what had been a mostly a lovely night, I had turned into a nightmare. All I could think about, talk about, was this woman! The thoughts kept me up late and woke me up early. Because I am working a transformational program, I knew something was off in me, but I couldn’t see it. The more uncomfortable I was with myself, the more wrong I found in her. It was brilliant! Brilliant because I can see now, thanks to my willingness and my studies.
Instead of standing up for something that was important to me, I made a joke and let the conversation drop. I could not stand that I did that, so I made her wrong. I built such a case against her that I could not experience anything else. I had separated from myself – and then chose to separate from the other.
This is what human beings do. This is the underlying cause of violence and racism and war. It is difficult, in the face of another, to stand strongly in one’s self and allow the other the same freedom. It is difficult unless one is willing. The problem is that we get a charge out of the negative pleasure we feel when attacking the other.
This charge can be much stronger than the whispering voice of a higher consciousness. In the light of day, I feel the presence and connection that is truth. I see how I made the mistake of not holding onto myself.
That is all that happened. More than likely, I will never see this woman again. I will, however, be in many, many more situations where I forget to hold onto myself. This habit is strong in me, as it is in most humans.
It is our core work, to hold into our own truth, and not make an enemy of the other who may have a different truth. This can be accomplished in the most mundane situations as a practice.
Hold onto your own truth, and be willing to hold it lightly. Go in peace. So simple. So difficult. From this place, joy and true pleasure are available.
Headaches are a daily occurrence, but I just pop a pill and call it a day. I blame them on the bad Pittsburgh air. Funny how the air isn’t so bad when I take a rare day off. I have spent more time lately frantically trying to get everything done. Who among us ever gets everything done? To this point, I wrote most of this blog while sitting in the Liberty Tunnel.
I remember, occasionally, to be grateful.
I preach health and well-being for a living. I have a very successful business. I’m my own boss, living the American dream. I have a beautiful home, a wonderful partner and am mostly healthy. I look the part I play in this life of mine.
By most accounts, I am a lucky person. I live in a country with amazing material opportunity. I won out in the genetic lottery pool – I am thin and fit and have great hair. I work out and eat right. I look like someone who really has it together. The missing piece is that I all too often feel like I don’t. A big part of me still feels like a phony – and that anything less than perfection is unacceptable.
What I most want to teach, I am still learning. What I yearn for is to return myself to myself more regularly. Without a relationship to the self, nothing else really matters. Fitness level, nutrient intake, core strength, the size of your biceps, mean absolutely nothing if done without soul.
I write regularly, as any of you who read my posts know (thank you, by the way). Over the summer, I experienced a writer’s block. My most recent post about neighborly pain took weeks to complete. It only occurred to me this morning (sitting in traffic) that what was lacking was my connection to Self. Once again, I’d gotten caught up in life – the doingness of life rather than the beingness. It happens. This is why it is important to have in place a way of returning yourself to yourself.
For everyone, this habit will be different, and the way we return ourselves changes and morphs naturally, as do all creative processes. This is not something to be taken for granted, because it then loses power.
Prayer, meditation, writing, walking in the woods and spending time in my yard with my beautiful landscaping are just some of the ways I return myself to myself. Other people play music, draw, write poetry. Still others paint or ride horses. It is not the doing of these things that is important; it is the allowing of life force to flow through your entire being that enriches the soul.
This practice, whatever it is, does not necessarily have to be time-consuming. Nor does it have to be done perfectly, or even well. It is, however, vital for the quality of life.
When I have myself in my own arms, life becomes rich again. I am not just a drone, going through the motions. I am touched and inspired by humanity. I find meaning in my job and am truly grateful, rather than just saying the words I know I am supposed to say.
My life is my creation if and when I am willing and able to be responsible for that – or pay the fine again and again.
Thank you all who contribute so richly to this book of mine.