When we are on the path of creating the work and life we love, we will encounter pain. That’s a given. Yes, we will follow our bliss, and then rejection, fear, and confusion will find out where we live. How we deal with the pain will determine our success and joy. But most of us don’t love dealing with pain.
Recently, I had a fit of insecurity, a bout of self-comparison, and then a melt down. It’s the same sorry broken record that plays again. I don’t want this pain to return. It has come so many times to my house and broken the dishes and kicked in the walls. But when it comes I feel as though I have little say. All my years of therapy and spiritual growth, and even teaching, seem like postcards from a foreign land. I know that this “pain is optional.” But in the moment, it’s the only dish on the menu.
Ironically, I am at a beautiful retreat center when this experience happens. There are ongoing workshops on meditation and healing taking place. I pause by a still pond. Barefoot meditators walk by me, smiling with peace. I want to trip them as they pass. I am not well, I tell you.
Heal my mind, I pray to any God who will listen. Take these thoughts away. I say the words, begging and demanding. I stomp my foot like a princess calling upon the powers of the heavens as though they are disobedient maid servants. Nothing happens. Evidently, I cannot even pray right in this pain.
“Try focusing on something positive,” I demand of myself. It’s almost embarrassing how much good there is in my life, and how I choose to lie down on a bed of nails instead. Seeing this makes me feel worse. There are children starving in Africa, and they’re probably singing, says my suddenly “spiritual” inner critic. Now I’m in more pain, thinking how wrong it is to be in pain.
That night, I talk to Nancy, a woman I have just met. She is a healer by trade. But more than that, she is a healer by the way she looks at me. Her face is as open as a window in springtime and her eyes have seen it all, yet look at me with burning interest. I feel the air slow down around her. I swear she is charming the molecules into sacred space. I start telling her about my situation, strategically inserting only the details that validate my cause, and make me look pretty good, not at all like the ragged and hostile character at her table. I ask her how to deal with the pain of the situation.
I am hoping she will give me some mantra or insight to make it instantly disappear. I am hoping she has some kind of talisman tucked up her sleeve. I am hoping she will say something to prop up my wounded, terrified ego, maybe something like— you’re obviously a rock star who deserves better treatment. Or better yet, here let me waive my magic wand, and don’t worry, just for you, I’ll waive my fee. Or worst case scenario, but still fine with me, I expect her to say, I know a woman who can tell you which mother in which past life did this to you. I know a guru, a therapist, a lobotomist, a drug dealer, I’ll get you connected. But she says none of those things. She says something I am not expecting. When I ask her “What should I do?”–she says quietly, “I guess there is nothing to do— but feel the pain.”
Part of me wants to say, “Come, again?”
But the wise part of me, the one that instantaneously recognizes truth, wants to giggle and toss jellybeans at her feet. That part understands and claps its hands.
“Feel the pain,” she says, and she says it with the kindness of a thousand years like water that has loved a jagged rock and smoothed it into shining. Her healer’s voice surrounds me with spaciousness, as though she can wait forever for me to take in this message.
I feel her recognize my sorrow and suddenly I recognize it–and I recognize that it’s okay to feel sorrow. I don’t need to deny it or make it wrong or try to sweep it off my doorstep and scrub away its shadow. The moment she says “feel the pain,” I feel as though the broken sorrows of the whole world are laid before me, the raw hearts of everyone, everywhere, meeting me in this single moment with knowing. Somehow we’re all in this together, and I would not make them wrong for anything–and, finally, I do not make myself wrong either.
This is what whispers to me in her words: stop running and come in out of the rain. Wrap your little girl in a warm woolen blanket. Let’s put on a pot of soup. Forgive your ego, your frightened one for its tirade, for demanding the moon as proof of being loved, for needing things to be otherwise, for taking offense because the wind blew a certain way—not your way. Take those tight shoes off. Why, you’ve been running away from your truth for so long, you must be tired. Here, let’s soak those feet in lavender oil.
The moment Nancy said, “feel the pain,” I didn’t feel lonely or separate from my life anymore. I felt as though I could be in this exact moment, in this exact state of mind. I felt as though she was asking me to allow God, the Eternal Lover of the Present Moment, back into my heart. I felt as though she was reminding me of my Real Nature, a presence so beautiful and vast, it could sit with pain of any sort, frustration, anger, betrayal, and welcome every wasp, spider, or aphid into the garden. She was asking me to give myself over to the medicine and instruction of this moment. Suddenly I realized I didn’t need Spirit to take away the pain. I only wanted Spirit to sit with me while I felt the pain. I needed to sit with this part of myself. I needed to hear her story, not to fix it, or agree with it, push it away, or try to change the circumstances that caused it. I needed to sit with this frightened part of myself. She needed to be heard. She would know how to go forward from there.
In the past, I have envisioned the Presence of Love sitting down by my side. It’s the Holy Spirit, Jesus, Buddha, the Hebrew Shekina, or the spirit of ten thousand sequoia trees. Strong Love sits beside me. Strong Love sits behind me, before me and above me and below me. Strong Love can contain anything. Strong Love can absorb the sting. Strong Love doesn’t want to be anywhere else.
In the end, pain opened my heart to myself. It’s always that way. I feel the love of the Universe when I feel my own love. I feel that love when I stop running away from any part of myself or any experience I am having. I am willing to feel the pain. I am wiling to feel my love. I am willing to feel my life.
This month I invite you to sit with yourself in the middle of a feeling that is uncomfortable. Feel the pain. I hope you can hear me whisper this to you, with the love of the ages in my voice, a strength and gentleness that wraps around you. I have faith in your ability to heal yourself. I have faith in your ability to contain and absorb and dance with the truth of exactly where you find yourself in this moment. I have faith in all of us.
With my love and blessings,