Embracing Pain

What should we do with our pain? Should we ignore it? Crush it? Curse it? Hide it? Flaunt it? Cling to it? Medicate it? Mask it? Drown it? Drown in it? Beg for it to be taken from us? I don’t know that I have any answers, but I have been contemplating the questions. We’ve all had pain…whether we’ve acknowledged it or not. Some of us are deep in the midst of it right now. A poem I posted last week, I’ve been told, was “worrisome,” “disturbing,” “unpleasant,” and “hard to read because it is so painful.” Good. That was part of my intent. Read something and feel something. Really feel it. See something. Really see it. But then what? Walk away? Forget it? Decide to never read it or feel it or see it ever again? Promise yourself that’ll be the last time you read this blog? Maybe.
I posted the poem also as a sort of place marker and a reminder of my own journey with pain. The poem is about 13 years old. One of the earlier poems I wrote in suburbia. Clearly, I wasn’t dealing with the move or life changes well at all. I became afraid to speak and completely anxiety and panic ridden about going outside. I was stuck to the floor. Inside. Agoraphobic. Isolated. I didn’t go outside much, and never without extreme fear, and I certainly never went outside of myself. I wasn’t doing much to help the pain either. I was writing about it occasionally, but mostly I was hiding it, medicating it, masking it, drowning it and drowning in it, begging for it to be taken away. It took me about 10 years to end all of that and just acknowledge and embrace it. Only in embracing it have I been able to begin to know it, to name it, to change it, and to finally turn it into something else. I am in the process of turning it into love.
For me, knowing the pain was key. Meditating and resting in it. Letting it introduce itself to me. Letting it tell me its name. Becoming familiar with it and really feeling it. Yet I knew I couldn’t cling to it as it was. Become victim to it. Make others victims of it. So embracing the pain and knowing it was only a first step.
This Richard Rohr quote helps illustrate the necessity of taking the next steps, whatever they may be for each individual:
‘You can take it as a general rule that when you don’t transform your pain you will always transmit it.”
For me, next steps included an intense year and a half with an amazing beyond words Catholic body-oriented psychotherapist, self-treatment with Bach Flower Essences, reconnecting with my love of music and poetry, and putting into practice different forms of Catholic and interfaith meditation. I have since found my voice again, it seems, as well as a beautifully loving and transformative church community where I am able to learn and practice how to turn my pain into love.
I sometimes still feel some anxiety and fear, but I embrace it, acknowledge it, and turn it into compassion. I forgive myself for feeling afraid and I go outside anyway…outside of my house, outside of my comfort zone, outside of myself. Doing for others, being with and in the pain that someone else is feeling and living in, being compassionate to this pain in each person, being compassionate to the pain that we are all in together in this world, and holding that pain in prayer to turn it into love…this is an important part of my practice and process. If I fall out of practice, I feel it quickly. When I forget or neglect to have compassion for anyone else, I have also lost compassion for myself, and I suffer. But returning to meditation and stillness, even for 15 minutes a day, will help to bring me back to wholeness and peace…connection with all…with love…with God. I try to do this gently. I am a child, a beginner. I am still learning.  Aren’t we all? I hope you are gentle with yourself as well.

Paradox No. 7

In this there is a clue.
Watch. Watch.
See how the bindweeds cling, 
their blue trumpets 
spiraled closed, 
waiting for the daylight
of the next world.
I pull the petals
from my mouth.
I am I am I am.
See. I am silent.
I am rattlesnake. I am still.
The glass is emptied.
The vine groans its silence.
There is light.
Shadow light.
I am still. I dance 
like burning glass.
I am rattlesnake.
Two women fill me.
Two women
sharing a cut tongue.

Practicing Patience

This song has really been getting me through lately. I like how it helps me to practice patience. When I’ve been down it has reminded me to rest in the sadness, but not dwell in it. Even through some tears, it has made me laugh at my own self-centeredness. And when I’ve been feeling joyous it has added to that joy by getting me up and dancing and singing it at pretty high decibels.


She thought there would be space–an hour here, an hour there–someplace to put the things, the words, the blankets that belonged to her. She tries to greet the mornings with pleasant indifference, but still all that comes is the burning anger of slammed kitchen cabinets, broken light bulbs, and more and more maple oatmeal down the garbage disposal, all diluted among the milk, the thrown away mashed peas and carrots from the burning night before, the soured orange juice, and the grit of wasted coffee grounds.  What a mess she makes.
When the cries come, something falls in her throat. It is her voice pushing its way closer to the center of her. Some words are rooted in love. Some words are stolen. Some words are trapped in her. At least this way she does not scream. She cannot. She is, as they all know, quiet. She does not lift herself from the floor. She cannot. The crumbs fester on the counter like all the specks of leftover ground beef that cover the stove like all the dead cockroaches under the dishwasher. The putty knife could not scrape them away. They are thick, and layer upon layer, immovable.