So, October has been a challenging month for me.
Unexpectedly so, because I had really believed it would be full of good things and easy progress (the pay off for the hard, hard work of past months?!). Ha! That mythical straightforward path of progress and reward. We’re brought what is needed, and apparently what I needed in part was a very personal lesson in suffering.
I want to share with you some of what I experienced and learned from it (though to be completely honest a lot of the learning I can’t really share in words).
I think most of us who inhabit this earth are not strangers to suffering. We most of us feel it at some time or another, sometimes for long periods of time. I’m no exception to this. But this particular suffering really caught me by surprise. It was painful, hard, sometimes all-consuming. And I was given an opportunity to observe myself though the process, which was useful and enlightening, but didn’t alleviate the feelings or the pain.
I was angry. Really angry. Really, really angry.
Anger isn’t typical for me (aside from that evoked sometimes by my children I must admit!!) My focus and engagement with life had been pushed into a part of my life that I didn’t want to see or engage with. In the final phases of this time, the spark of enjoyment and connection felt extinguished, not only with that part of life, but also with other parts of life that had previously been great sources of joy and pleasure to me. And it felt as if that spark, that joy, might conceiveably never return.
Now intellectually, objectively I knew this wasn’t true. I know that life is a constant state of change, and that ultimately, even despite myself and all the resistance I might muster, there would be change. But it felt like that. And in life, like in labour, you never know quite how long it’s going to last or where it’s going to take you.
I saw that within this time there were some things that I needed to do, needed to respect within myself.
One of these was that I couldn’t keep up with what I’d been previously doing, even those things that were really beneficial to me. And actually it was okay not to try. It was okay to stop in my tracks, to let myself do the absolute minimum. My energy was consumed in restriction, in just being where I was within myself. And that was where it needed to be.
Another thing I observed was how alone I was within this experience. Pretty much in parallel with that African proverb about birth that so many of us know -
Being pregnant and giving birth are like crossing a narrow bridge. People can accompany you to the bridge. They can greet you on the other side. But you walk that bridge alone. -African Proverb
Interestingly, to me, as things finally shifted and I came out the other side, I suddenly found quite a few people suddenly becoming again visible and available. It was like the flip of a switch. Kind of funny actually. And enjoyable too.
There were some things that were really not helpful to me in this time. The idea that I should feel grateful for or bless my suffering. The idea that some (all?) aspects of this suffering were self-generated, and that there was something in me that needed to change before my situation could change. These things may have been *true* but they didn’t feel helpful at the time. Reading inspirational quotes about gratitude on Facebook was a sure fire way to piss me off even more, and make me feel even more like crap. So I turned off Facebook.
Now I want to stress that actually I am a big believer in gratitude. Practicing gratitude is one of the five daily habits in the Heart Healing for Mothers programmes. So I have some awareness of how incredibly powerful gratitude can be.
I also have gotten to a point in my personal journey this year – after many, many years – of truly accepting and valuing (and yes, even blessing!) some of the worst experiences of my life. (Part of the first steps of this was reading Tara Brach’s incredible book Radical Acceptance, which I can highly highly recommend to anyone reading who has experienced suffering from what feel like ‘unforgiveable’ acts or experiences – but what really brought me to a place of genuine gratitude and understanding was deep personal healing that restored a lot of what had been lost to me).
I also do very much believe that we have a capacity to live our experience according to how we respond to it – and that we have the capacity to attract certain experiences. But I also believe that life is often bigger than what we think it is or expect it to be. And sometimes there is pain, and, yes, suffering, that may come to us as a part of our journey and personal growth.
For many of us, when we are in the midst of suffering, we may not actually feel gratitude for it…or even want to feel gratitude for it. That was my experience. I’m going to take a risk of sounding totally limited and unenlightened, but my personal opinion is that it is actually okay to admit that sometimes suffering is crap and painful and not be grateful for it in that moment.
I mean, if you can genuinely in your heart feel grateful for it, absolutely that can bring transformation.
But if genuinely in your heart you are not feeling that gratitude, is it really helpful to burden yourself with the feeling that you *should* be grateful? Actually that can become a way of distracting ourselves from what is in that moment.
To me, the place to find gratitude when we are in this kind of situation is in other things and places around us – in the things that are not a part of that suffering but which might otherwise be lost as we are consumed by our experience.
For instance, I could feel real gratitude for my daily morning dog walk – every day, I walk the same small loop. I can observe small changes but so much is so reassuringly the same however I am feeling and whatever I am experiencing in my life.
I could be grateful that within this period of suffering that there were times when it receeded, coinciding most fortuitously with times when I needed to be very available and present for my work.
I could be grateful for the healing and transformation that came to me within this suffering, the fact that it changed me in very tangible ways that I welcomed and very much wanted.
I could be grateful for the meditation practice of tonglen that I began in this time of suffering – how it connected me with the suffering of others, how it removed the fear around suffering, how it gave me permission to feel that pain in my heart and my body, and how it left me with a feeling of expansiveness and connection each time I practiced it.
Now that this particular time of suffering has passed, I am very very grateful for that absence of pain and suffering – how good it feels (like when we’ve been ill, and it passes, how good it feels to just be healthy again – in that time when the pain of illness receeds, we don’t take that feeling of being well for granted, but really feel it).
Perhaps I may come to bless this time, to feel deeper gratitude for it. But honestly that’s not really where I am right now.
As things started to shift for me at the very end of last week, I came across this on Oriah Mountain Dreamer’s Facebook page.
Three steps forward, two steps back seems to be the way we often progress on our journey. That’s how it can feel but I wonder if the steps back aren’t just the way we integrate what we are learning, bringing all aspects of self along. When we try to plunge forward at a speed we imagine or idealize as “better” we may do so at the cost of abandoning aspects of self that need time to truly “get” & trust a new way of seeing & being. It can be discouraging, can make us want to just go back to sleep, back to old ways we were taught, to living by a clear set of “rules.” Won’t work. The human spirit longs to grow, the embodied soul aches to inhabit this precious life fully. So I pray for patience & trust & continued faith in what we are & that which holds us. -Oriah Mountain Dreamer
Yes, this has been what it’s been all about. It was such a validation that being right where I was was absolutely okay and that these times of constriction or suffering may have their own purpose and reason.
Mine has been about coming more fully present, where I am right now. And for that I am grateful.
Now please share below - what has been *most* or *least* helpful to you when you have been caught up in suffering? And please share any favourite inspirational tools or resources you’ve used.
The Heart Healing for Mothers 40 day group programme will be starting a new round in January 2013 – join my email list to be the first to hear when it opens (and to access an offer only for my email subscribers).