…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…
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.
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.”
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?