I have an adversarial relationship with suburbia. I’ve been referring lately to the inner realm of our suburban subdivision as “the belly of the beast.” Sometimes I say it with a smirk, sometimes with a scowl, and sometimes with a bit of laughter at finding myself inhabiting this utterly strange and unfamiliar place. Often I don’t even have to say it. I just sense it deep within my core as I make my way out of the District, onto the Beltway, into the suburbs, and then deep into the center of my subdivision. My soul sinks. My heart catches. There is actual physical pain as I pull into the driveway. This can’t be healthy. My home should not be my enemy. How can I transform this relationship into one of peace? I’ve been considering the idea that I don’t have to see living in suburbia as a long, agonizing sentence to the deepest dungeon in the “belly of the beast.” Perhaps it is possible to see, to visualize, living in suburbia as an extended, intensive spiritual retreat in an “our enemies are our greatest teachers” sort of way. If suburbia made me completely content every single day, I would not have the opportunities that I currently have to practice compassion and love. I have been given a gift of 13 more years in suburbia. What do I need to cultivate in myself to make this relationship one of peace? In suburbia I become most distraught, hopeless, and hostile when confronted by the irrational conformity to mainstream everything, the adherence to uniformity, the love affair with the violence of consumption, the mindless cultural hibernation, the obsession with the tiniest details and minutiae of the accepted norms of childhood development, the environmental degradation, and the thoughtless overuse of fossil fuels that is taken as a matter of unquestioned entitlement. What can I learn from my reactions to these elements of suburbia? How do I grow to create love, peace, joy, wisdom, bliss, and blessings even as I live in relationship with this enemy known as suburbia? Can we change suburbia? It is possible, but not entirely, at once, in this very moment. But in this very moment, I can change my consciousness. I can change my energy. It is perhaps even more radical to strive to transform from within, to foster an inner revolution, right here and now. I can recognize in my reactions to my enemy that I have much work to do regarding my own arrogance, rigidity, complicity, fear, anger, and lack of faith in the choices of others. Now, thanks to suburbia, I see where my compassion must be focused. I see where the intention of my meditation must rest. Without my enemy how would I understand the ways in which to become peace? Instead of railing against the enemy, I must slow down, be still, be love, be mindful of each moment’s reactions, and make it my intention to transform those reactions with loving kindness and compassion.
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. Peace.