Do you feel the pain?

…and then the unthinkable happens.

Cancer knocks on your door.  While you slept an invasion of cells stole away your peace and now chemotherapy rules your days and nights, even though you swore, didn’t you swear?, that you would never ever radiate yourself, that you would never fight for life with poison and hope singing in your bloodstream.

You’re running in the Boston Marathon and suddenly an explosion rocks your runner’s high and you’re falling, falling, to the pavement and blood runs instead where your legs once pumped in delightful anticipation of that finish line which never arrived.



Your house burns to ashes.  You jump out of an upper story window and break your foot and–how many years later?–you’re still learning to take baby steps, your life shattered with those orange hot flames of unexpected leaping.

You open your mouth and unexpectedly voice an anger which burns beneath the surface of consciousness and in an instant everything changes.  The world rocks and rolls and you cry wanting to take it back but knowing it needed saying.  Your heart won’t stop quivering, will it?

Bombs explode.  Hundreds die.  Just like that.  You watch on TV in between bites of your sandwich.  You sip coffee.  You take another bite.  Just like that–all those lives–gone.  You want to turn the channel but where’s that damn remote?

Your precious loved one, your heart, keels over, not breathing, life slowly draining from those dimples which once whispered sweet nothings, he’s gone, he’s gone, he’s leaving me all alone, he’s never coming back…

After the wildfire...

After the wildfire…

The unthinkable.  It happens.  Your co-worker laughs with you all morning, and dies before 3 p.m. at her desk.  A depression fills you–a depression that refuses to be tamed and healed except with numbing drugs–and you wonder why you’re alive, how you can limp through another day.  Your daughter is born with Down’s syndrome.  Your son loses his job.  Your friend won’t speak to you anymore.  The planet’s raped yet again.  You’re hungry, oh so hungry, and where is the food that will save your soul?

When the unthinkable happens what do we do?  How can we react?  Pain arises, doesn’t it, that pain which we humans hope to push away, to keep at bay, to enslave anywhere except consciousness.

Anna, dear Anna, why did you leave us so soon?

Anna, dear Anna, why did you leave us so soon?

Sometimes we move from pain to anger, lashing out at the *goddamn* other, the violence outside ourselves, the terrorist, the rapist, the economy, the politicians, the cancer, the unthinkable, the horror.  Other times we drift in a sea of sadness, nursing our hurt day and night, telling story after story of poor me, poor planet, poor Universe, why don’t we all just hang it up right now?

Pema Chödrön, a Buddhist monk admired by so many, shared this:

Prayers to those suffering in Boston, and all beings everywhere.

“Anxiety, heartbreak, and tenderness mark the in-between state. It’s the kind of place we usually want to avoid. The challenge is to stay in the middle rather than buy into struggle and complaint. The challenge is to let it soften us rather than make us more rigid and afraid. Becoming intimate with the queasy feeling of being in the middle of nowhere makes our hearts more tender. When we are brave enough to stay in the middle, compassion arises spontaneously. By not knowing, not hoping to know, and not acting like we know what’s happening, we begin to access our inner strength.

Yet it seems reasonable to want some kind of relief. If we can make the situation right or wrong, if we can pin it down that way, then we are on familiar ground….But staying with volatile energy gradually becomes more comfortable than acting it out or repressing it. This open-ended tender place is called bodhicitta. Staying with it is what heals. It allows us to let go of our self-importance. It’s how the warrior learns to love.”

Reflections of life and death

Reflections of life and death

I hear her words.   I try to stay in the uncomfortable tenderness of pain, of hurt, of not knowing what to do.  It’s hard.  So often it seems easier to just eat chocolate chip cookies or aimlessly check email or do–anything–which eases the discomfort.

What has pain taught you?  Have you any advice for your fellow humans who suffer?  How do we stay with our painful energy until it transforms?  How do we not turn away?  How do we live with pain as a companion–ah, here you are again, come in, shall we share a cup of tea–instead of a leech or terrorist?  What have you learned?

About Kathy

I live in the middle of the woods in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Next to Lake Superior's cold shores. I love to blog.
This entry was posted in April 2013 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to Do you feel the pain?

  1. Fountainpen says:

    Life is such gift. Life is such fragile gift.

  2. Kerry Dwyer says:

    Beautiful Kathy.
    I have no words of wisdom to help people who suffer. Words are so inadequate and can mean so much. The right word here lifts us high, the wrong word there drags us to the bottom. And so when people suffer I prefer touch – I am hoping I can’t go wrong with touch.

  3. bree1972 says:

    Through all the pain, hurt, anger, fear, bitterness, tears and helplessness, my faith in God allows me to continue on,

  4. jeffstroud says:


    As I stated on your FB page where I first saw Pema Chodron’s quote! Finding the middle, embracing the pain, the discomfort, but finding its middle. Asking of self, how do I deal with this? What do I feel? What does this have to do with me?

    And then I read another blog that someone posted, this person suggested doing minor task, take a walk, do some chores, garden, make a meal, minor distractions, until the moment passes so to speak, so we can be with the situation.

    I wrote on some post that I shared, that these events happen to awaken us up, to move us to another place if we are awaken, deepen our consciousness. Asking how do I love through this? It doesn’t have to be a huge thing, set with your pets a little longer, tell your loved ones you love them no matter how uncomfortable it may seem.

    This is all an awakening for me personally as I tend to my mothers aging, dementia/Alzheimer’s. How I saw up, what do I feel, I know How I am over reacting… etc. So finding a middle is a practice I need to create and be part of!

  5. Karma says:

    I wish I had wisdom to share. All I have are a jumble of feelings. Meghan and I were 45 miles away from the finish line of the Boston Marathon yesterday, having a happy day visiting the college of her choice for the fall, getting information and buying shirts to show our pride. Shortly after our arrival home, we heard the confusing, then tragic news.

  6. Joanne says:

    I heard it said once, and once was enough to for me to remember this, when my word came crashing down around me a time or two ~ God never gives us anything to cope with in life that we are not capable of handling and what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. I’ve also learnt that pain can give you more compassion for others who are feeling pain.

    The news about the bombings in Boston has stunned us here, and I have to wonder, how many more trials must God force people to face?

  7. Kathy says:

    This comment comes via email from Nicole who has trouble posting from her Blackberry: I learn so very much from pain. I learn what it is to be alive. I learn compassion. I learn gratitude for the light and easy times. I learn more about what it must be to be another person (always such a mystery but one gets these glimmerings of insight).

  8. Brenda Hardie says:

    Dearest Kathy,
    Thank you for sharing this beautiful message from Pema and yourself. In the midst of such angering grief, it is difficult to find tender, loving words. And especially for me right now since I am in the midst of pain and loss of another sort. I am reminded of my therapy years and the life skill of acceptance. It’s the closest thing I can recall that feels like Pema’s message. Her words are much more beautiful. My prayer these days, is for the softening of hearts….so many have become hardened. And, I’m tired…”deep in my soul” tired. Pema’s message is like a soothing balm.
    Sending hugs and love to my compassionate friend in the northwoods—been missing you Kathy ♥

  9. A wonderful tribute to life and living with pain, death, sorrow and loss. Time passing helps, however, with so much happening the brain becomes numb, not a good place but perhaps a safe place for preservation of self and what is left to deal with in the world.
    Wise words and a wake up call. My daughter and son-in-law have sometimes participated in this event; they were in St. John and selfish me is so very glad that they were not at home in the suburbs of Boston. They, too, might have been there.

  10. Kathy I wish I had something wise to share but I shall simply lean into the Pema Chodron quote. My focus will be to feel as fully as possible and release these feelings with loving kindness. I give love and light the universe to be used where needed.

  11. lucindalines says:

    Oh Kathy, though I don’t know all your details, your words are universal for pain and suffering. Sometimes just printing it helps to release, though the pain fades, it never disappears. Never, not the loss of a sibling or parent or God forbid those who buried children. God alone can help us through.

  12. debyemm says:

    I became aware of the events of yesterday, just before stepping outdoors for my daily hike through the forest. My mood was somber and I chose music that feels both sacred and might restore peace to my soul. Senseless violence is hard to understand, even though there is always a reason, that whatever has happened has happened. It may still not make sense to our own heart.

    Even so, it surprised me to find myself weeping. I recognized in that moment that I was feeling the enormity of pain and fear. I had to ground myself by hugging a good solid tree. I began to calm. These things are part of the reality of the physical world that we live in. Our human bodies are so fragile.

    Terrorism wins, if we give in to fear. Terrorism wins, if we seek to do violence, in response to violence perpetrated. My compassion is complete for victims, family, responders, witnesses, bystanders, indirect participants, and for those who felt such an extreme need, it compelled them to do such a thing. “May all beings be safe. May all beings be free from suffering.” My heart sends out ripples of such yearnings, until the day that I see that it is now so.

  13. lisaspiral says:

    In that kind of pain all you want is for the world to stop turning for a moment and hold you. It doesn’t seem like much, but the act of stopping in the moment and holding loving compassion in our hearts for those who are hurting is an act of healing for the world and for ourselves.

  14. cderozier says:

    Thank you again, Kathy. My heart aches for those immediately affected by the Boston tragedy. I appreciate Pema’s words, and try to implement her wisdom in my life. Many people tell me, “distract yourself, watch tv, or something” when I find myself in that queasy middle ground. But I have found that being comfortable with being uncomfortable actually helps me deal more compassionately with tough situations. Your words as always touched me deeply today, and I wish you love and light.

  15. Kathy – Thank you for providing this sacred space where one can rest their heart today.

  16. I wish I had answers to your questions, but today all I can seem to feel is the pain, the anger and the sadness.

  17. Stacy says:

    You know what I have learned through all the pain, Kathy? Live. It is the only answer to all the unasked questions. This is all I know. ❤

  18. anaturalfire says:

    a quote from Mother Teresa speaks of love, love and more love, which truly is the answer…
    “I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.”

    Kathy, thank you, thank you all ❤

  19. susanblake says:

    Hi Kathy,
    Pema is the best – helped me thru some really rough patches in my life. It seems odd to embrace the pain but that, to me, is the only way THRU it. I think the media has us over-exposed by running the stories over and over, the film clips over and over. I turned it off and said a prayer and sent out love.

  20. Pat says:

    Very beautifully written, Kathy. You sure know how to weave words together.

  21. I read the answer on another blog, where another blogger gave a quote from Mr. Rogers: Look to the helpers. As senseless as these bombings were, it did my heart good to see that a lot of people went to lend whatever aid they could right away — EMTs, police, even bystanders. I hope that’s a bit of comfort, Kathy.

  22. dawnkinster says:

    What have I learned from the pain that has crashed through my life? I’ve learned it’s not all about me…it’s made me a better listener. And I’ve learned that the worst thing can happen and you can survive it and grow from it and take that pain and use it to make something better.

  23. Thank you dear Kathy for this post.
    I like Pema Chödrön approach and can relate to it.

    I also think the way we experience and deal with pain is not only different for everyone but also each occasion has a different context as well as it’s own layers of impact on us and thus how we react. I believe each time it will carry it’s own answers.

    I just got hit by some heartbreaking news that my first love, who’ve I known for 40 years, eventhough our lives took many different directions, was told he had only 4 more months to live due to an inoperable cancerous tumour. Perhaps double if he chooses to have radiation,

    He’s a brilliant rock muscian and we’ve always had a soul connection although the relationship we once had was always off and on and very trying.

    I hadn’t seen him for many years when he visited me again a few years ago and I won’t get into the details of what happened then but I would like to share that he just told me yesterday he already “knew” back then but didn’t tell me and that was the reason he was leaving for the USA. And what comes to me now is if I had only known, I might have reacted different on things then instead of “assuming” a whole lot of stuff based on past experiences. .

    So what this sadness is bringing me is also a great lesson for which I am very grateful despite the situation:

    Don Miquel Ruiz # 3 Agreement
    has never hit home harder than now.

    So it seems to me in each experience in life, no matter how painful, saddening and devastating always also lies a gift, an opening for greater compassion, love, awareness and forgiveness.
    But we have to be willing to listen, and yes to somehow indeed stay centered amidst of the heartbreak.

    Much love,

  24. Pingback: Look For God In The Midst Of Your Pain | Joaynn510

  25. dorannrule says:

    Your words and this post are breathtaking, and of course, the Boston Marathon debacle is beyond understanding. We can only hold the unknown hurt and harmed in our hearts, and in our arms if they are ours. We can only deal with loss by striving to fill in the spaces while holding the memories. We can only deal with pain and fear by smothering them with love and joy. How lucky we are, that life takes over where it is given half a chance, and most often, the will to live is stronger than the urge to give up.

  26. Heather says:

    I’ve learned that pain doesn’t go away just because you turn away from it, not really. Sometimes just acknowledging it and working with it – like the marathoners who donated blood after the race and the first responders – allows one to process it and move through it.
    Also, like Dawn said, it isn’t necessarily all about you. Remembering others and their struggle with pain is something I’ve watched close family members have problems with, and so keeping this in mind is key for me.

  27. Witness. Hold a hand. Bear a tissue. Sow beauty where ever possible. Keep striving for patience, understanding, compassion. Accept and embrace the void even as I reach for the light.

  28. Pingback: Our struggle to accept | clearskies, bluewater

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