Being with our pain, holding ourselves tenderly

Just as suffering is inherent in the human condition, the capacity for transformation through suffering is inherent in the Sacred Self. In fact, when we attempt to avoid adversity, we relinquish the opportunity for the transformation that adversity presents to us. Whatever we choose to call it growth, higher consciousness, or spiritual evolution – each pain, frustration, fear, conflict, disappointment, or loss offer a teaching moment, perhaps many of them.

Carolyn Baker

(When we find)… willingness to stop pushing our experience away and demanding that life be different, hen we learn what it is to say yes to a difficulty, to be curious about what life is, our whole world turns right side up; it allows us to experience life more as an adventure than a nightmare.

Ezra Bayden

Last night on one of my nocturnal wakings, which are a constant feature of my Post Traumatic Stress experience, it was a particularly tough night : there was a lot of body pain. It’s a difficult situation to describe but the feelings is of one of the three main symptoms of traumatic stress – intrusion. In this situation my body is being pierced, I am being held in place and squeezed, just as I was when in the crash I could not escape the entrapment of my vehicle which was cut into pieces and stuck in my body in parts while my lung was pierced and collapsed, making breathing hard.

As I do at this times I used mindfulness practice to enter into and be with the pain, naming it, holding still in the centre and focusing on my breath and in my mind something came to me.

Suffering = pain + resistance.

It is something I had been reading about this week and something that made sense to me. During the years of my isolation when I was working through grief from years past and doing a lot of channelled writing these words would come to me Resist not Evil, in fact that piece of writing gave me a lot of advice from my intuitive self into how to handle the pain I was experiencing at that time.

I have been inspired by the writing of Scott Peck whose wonderful book People of the Lie is on the subject of evil, the point being that the evil he experienced as a therapist was of parents who would not allow their children to live as themselves but demanded either consciously or unconsciously that they be something else. In his book he makes the point that the world evil is the word live spelt backwards.

Now that I am writing it occurs to me that there is a suffering that comes from a refusal to live and in our resistance towards life’s necessary pain. It’s not common to resist life when life is giving us experiences we enjoy but more when we are going through painful things, much resistance can come. What we can also engage in in this situation is the story line that we make up around the experience or the feelings. “Why is this happening to me?”, “this bloody well hurts” and “its so and so’s fault, if only he/she didn’t, hadn’t, wasn’t etc” or “if only I hadn’t, didn’t wasn’t etc”, all of which takes us away from the hurt and pain of the experience that we are undergoing in the moment.

I’m not trying to say that we should not make sense of our experience, the point I am trying to make is about allowing the experience to be as it is, rather than resisting it or amplifying the distress and pain around it.

There is a kind of gentle leaning into when I work with my PTSD pain in this way. It is also a kind of gentle embrace of what hurts without driving the wound in deeper.

I am also not talking here about escapable pain, such as the hurt we experience when we realise we are in the situation of being abused. In this situation we can take steps to leave, but we can also allow the words of the abuser to pass through us without the necessary reaction once we have become aware of the truth of this person and what is happening. There are many times I have been with people and felt like I was pinned to the spot. I wanted to leave but felt I could not. That is a different experience and issue.

What I am talking about here is the unavoidable suffering that we encounter just being alive on planet earth. Take for example the experience of a betrayal in a close relationship. Someone we trusted has let us down badly…David Richo addresses this issue in his book Daring to Trust, Opening Ourselves to Real Love and Intimacy.

We who are betrayed are confronting a radically adult choice. We can follow the well trodden path of lamenting our woebegone state, sinking into self pity and despair, or licking our ego’s wounds by nursing blame, self hatred, and plans for revenge. Or we can choose a path of courage and compassion : we can feel our grief and let our feelings of sadness, anger, and fear led us to examine our past and how similar betrayals happened to us before. As we stay with our feelings without blame or the need to retaliate, we are healing ourselves and acting with integrity. Then a path can open for us to finish some of our unfinished business from other relationships and to get on with our life.

The situation Richo is addressing here is different to my PTSD situation but the point made is the same, it is in allowing myself to be with what hurts without resistance that I am best able to move through the pain and from suffering to peace. Certainly last night after some time I did fall into a deep sleep. And when I woke this morning I felt the desire to reflect on my experience and share it. When I get to move about in the morning my pain disappears. The key for me rests in not getting stuck in the paralysis state. As a recovering addict I have struggled with resentment and pain over hurts. And have had to learn how not to resend that pain back within my system on a closed circuit feedback loop. It has taken some time, but the bad days are lessening. And at times I am so grateful to find peace.

I opened this blog with a quote from Carolyn Baker which stated that suffering is a part of life.  I do question that.  I know pain, loss, sadness, injury and difficult and challenging experiences are part of life,  The question I ask me and you is how much suffering is really a part of that and how much is generated by a resistance to what is.  Certainly resistance too, is part of the human condition, there are things we can and do resist,  perhaps the things we can change. The things we can’t well as the serenity prayer says, we find serenity through not arguing with those.

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