Updated: Jun 29
I want to slam things down and make noise because of the pain in my heart. It’s easier to disrupt quiet instead of express my sadness. Too many people around me are suffering with terminal illnesses, incorrigible situations, challenging struggles. I feel hopeless and helpless.
I worry I’m next. My spouse is next. A family member is next. My friend is next. Racing thoughts abound. We are all seasoned with fear after Covid. We are all seasoned because life is hard.
Then I’m reminded of more. I raise my view to a treetop level. There’s more here than suffering people. I see spiritual beings in human bodies breaking open and discovering they are more than their illness. Yes, there is pain and suffering. Yes, life is not easy. Who am I to judge their breaking open experience? Who am I to wish them ease instead of an opportunity to the inner gems from their current life experience? Who am I to wish away their dis-ease when it may very well lead them to ease?
I’m remembering a time when I was suffering from intense muscle spasms and deep, biting pain, a healer pressed into the spasm and asked me to breathe—breathe into the pain, stay steady with my focus and blow out slowly. I experienced the spasm easing its grip. Instead of denying the pain, I went into it, breathe through it and out again until ease happened.
I focus on the higher understanding of breaking open and ease through it. There’s so much more happening on so many levels than the human level.
It takes courage to feel pain in myself and in others. Breathing through denial allows me to be fully present for myself and for others around me. Life is full of change. Life is full of transition, every day breaking down and building up.
Breaking open is a righting of imbalance. Breaking open is ascension. Breaking open leads to clarity. Breaking open is the storm that leads to clear skies.
An excerpt from
for a friend, on the arrival of illness by John O'Donohue When the reverberations of shock subside in you,
May grace come to restore you to balance.
May it shape a new space in your heart
to embrace this illness as a teacher
who has come to open your life to new worlds.
May you find in yourself
a courageous hospitality
towards what is difficult,
painful and unknown.
May you use this illness
as a lantern to illuminate
the new qualities that will emerge in you.
May the fragile harvesting of this slow light
help you to release whatever has become false in you.
May you trust this light to clear a path
through all the fog of old unease and anxiety
until you feel arising within you a tranquility
profound enough to call the storm to stillness.
May you find the wisdom to listen to your illness:
Ask it why it came? Why it chose your friendship?
Where it wants to take you? What it wants you to know?
What quality of space it wants to create in you?
What you need to learn to become more fully yourself
that your presence may shine in the world.
May you keep faith with your body,
learning to see it as a holy sanctuary
which can bring this night-wound gradually
towards the healing and freedom of dawn.
May you be granted the courage and vision
to work through passivity and self-pity,
to see the beauty you can harvest
from the riches of this dark invitation.
May you learn to receive it graciously,
and promise to learn swiftly
that it may leave you newborn,
willing to dedicate your time to birth.
Thank you very much for this. With my hand wrapped up after surgery, I’ve learned to ask for help. I don’t usually do that. Your reading made me think of an article in the New York Times this morning (accessible here from CBS News) about a high school valedictorian sharing his pain in a powerful story about being broken open and about walking the walk. It’s not an easy thing to talk about.
Thank you. Your question ‘who am I to try and take away their pain and dis-ease.’ I have been rewatching the Korean drama It’s Okay to Not be Okay. I learned the butterfly hug from that, which is a way for PTSD patients to self-soothe. In this drama, the main character draws very dark fairy tales. In the first one, a boy can’t sleep because he has nightmares. A witch takes away the memory of the nightmares in exchange for his soul. He no longer has nightmares but he is not happy. It’s because without the memory of our nightmares, we stay children. We don’t grow, we don’t learn flexibility. There’s truth in that for me. But I struggle with feeling like a fly caught in a spiderweb of disease and I can’t move and make a choice. Where is the tipping point that individuals have where they can’t deal with it anymore? I need to resolve this, resolve the feelings around my mom because I was a mean person yesterday and I didn’t like myself. Either I dislike myself because I’m not what she wants me to be or I dislike myself because I’m selling my soul. I feel caught. A clue is to love myself more, but where is that tipping point? I was thinking if I don’t do something, I’ll make myself sick because that’s where disease starts, holding things in our bodies.
Your pain has gotten your attention. That in itself is a tipping point. How much pain are you willing to put up with? Some people can put up with a lot of pain until it becomes catastrophic. We have these opportunities that give us reasons to learn and they aren’t fun.
Thank you very much. That was helpful to me. I had a hard time during the meditation pondering what I am struggling with which is the ability to appreciate differently what it means to me to be aging and what my husband is going through and the impact of that on me. I realized I’m asking the wrong question. I switched it to what’s in it for me not to be able to move in that direction? What is it that I can’t focus on? Usually, it comes to me. Now I can’t even focus on it. I think it’s because I don’t want to face it. What will it mean for me to face it? I’m trying to move too quickly. It’s such a process. It takes so long to get through what I need to get through in order to be in another place. I have this expectation which then becomes a criticism if I’m not moving. I guess my sense of what’s moving is changing a little bit. That’s what got stirred up in me. I could hear your struggle and I saw it as there is one way or another way. I expect to take the direct way, but, in reality, it’s messier, with backtracking.
Thank you. When my mother was in a nursing home, I’d leave with her crying and my crying. I wrestled with the fact that no matter what I did, I could not make my mother happy. I was not responsible for my mother’s happiness. So I changed it to how could I meet the image of me as a good daughter. I didn’t always live up to my own image. That’s the richness. Now I am the matriarch and I still reflect on that. Those younger people who aren’t responsible for my happiness will be around. They already make me happy.
I know many years ago I trained in shiatsu. When working with someone on the massage table, it’s important that they go into the pain. During the meditation, I reflected on your words ‘we have to breathe into the denial.’ When that pain is so deep, there’s something to be said to honor that so completely and breathe into that even if it’s emotional pain. It’s a bit like what our country is doing around racism. We are finally having to go in and breathe into that pain. It made me think of the Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway program. I think there’s something more to it. Like feel the fear, breathe into the denial of pain, and then do it anyway. We are pressuring ourselves to get it right and do it immediately, forgetting the gentleness that must be necessary to feel and breathe into that pain. There’s nothing in society that encourages us to breathe into the pain. The time it takes is the time it takes. That’s the only way to heal. The way I held my friend last night in her incredible pain.
We have had all had so many experiences that are meaningful and we can relate to. We break open with each other. A phrase keeps coming through in everyone’s words is stop and ‘trust the process.’ We don’t understand the process but just trust it. At the same time, when we are caring for other people, to stop and take care of ourselves. As compassionate and empathetic that we can be, many people practice self-examination. When I was caring for my mother, I don’t think she ever self-examined. When we as self-examiners are dealing with those who don’t self-examine, it’s like a foreign language. I never came out to my mother. There was no soul-to-soul conversation with her or anyone in my family. My sister-in-law is on the edge of it. I’m going to trust the process. We shall see.
With my daughter who lived from birth to age of 32, I struggled with the process of how it could resolve in the way I expected which was me dying first. Through the process, I wrote a book but I didn’t have an ending. I felt like a failure because I put so much effort into sharing the lessons I had learned and how I coped with caregiving. I abandoned the book and put it on the shelf. It wasn’t until after she died and after I grieved so deeply, that I realized this is what I was waiting for. I could finish the book at that point. How can one trust the process through that? It takes time. There’s a greater wisdom than what my brain knew in the process of the suffering that we went through. There’s no right or wrong, it is a process and a journey as long as it needs to be. It’s a hard thing to accept.
One of our friends just received a bad diagnosis. She hasn’t shared at that soul-to-soul level. Life has her attention. She is listening. Things can change very quickly for someone in crisis because of a terminal diagnosis. They can find meaning in their life even at that point. No matter the tendril one feels, there is something bigger than you can imagine.
I visited my parents after I read Gail Godwin’s A Mother and Two Daughters. I identified with one of the daughters who sacrificed herself for her dysfunctional family. I asked my mother ‘why didn’t you ever say you loved me?’ She answered that ‘you didn’t need it.’ It was a wonderful opportunity to right the wrongs of the past and it hit me like a ton of bricks. When she was dying, she was at a nursing home nearby. I walked out of the room at one point and she died while I was out of the room. It felt like maybe she needed to die by herself because she was so solitary. I don’t know if she ever reflected on her life. I’ve decided to share with my sons my love for them and make sure they carry that on.
Thank you so much. This is a profound topic. I read an article in The Guardian this morning about chronic pain. They’ve identified a third type of pain nociplastic pain that can be anywhere in your body for no reason at all, not muscular or nerve damage. A point that struck me was that chronic pain is more common among people who suffered childhood trauma or emotional abuse. It reminds me that Western medicine is not using a complete model of what we are. It’s like looking at the tail of an elephant to explain what an elephant is. We are an energy body as well as a physical body. I look at my own physical problems as I put myself into a positive energetic state believing I am okay. But it’s too easy to reach for a stethoscope and see that I am not okay. I am stuck between Western medicine and Eastern philosophy—between belief and instruments. I believe there is another way to look at disease, but in the process, I am not able to cure myself at the moment. We saw an incredible movie about healing we want to share. I loved the line in the poem ‘to call the storm to stillness.’ That’s what it’s all about. To have gratitude for my heart, lots of it. It will right itself because of my belief.
Thank you to all of you. Thank you for the reading, for the poem. Thank you for the past months I’ve been coming here. I don’t have words. I feel so much strength from all of you. The strength you give me, I was able to give my son this weekend. I was able to be there for him. It was really healing for both of us. So thank you so much.
I agree about the medical model in our country. My family member is suffering terribly and I feel so helpless. I had to detach from my mother at the end because it was either her or my kids. I could think about what people would think of me, or I could remember the high regard other people had for me. I never said the negative types of things she said to me.
Quite a discussion. Thank you for listening to my words. Thank you for being present with your own memories and pain in your life. And witnessing your breaking open process and holding it as a time of learning because that’s what we are, we are all learning. The key is to do it gently as I remind myself. I hope you all have a gentle day.