Despair

DespairWhat 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,
JoAnn

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