NOTE: This is Part II in a series on The Dark Night of the Soul.
Whenever I've been in any kind of intense emotional or physical pain, I begin, after a time, to ask the questions, “Why me?”. “What did I do wrong?”, “Where the hell is God?”, “What is the meaning of suffering and why has it landed on my doorstep?”. I KNOW these are common questions for all of us when we experience great difficulty. There have been a few occasions in my life when pain has been so intense, that I've shouted out, “If you weren't already dead, I'd kill you God!...”
Surrender might look like “I'm going to be fearful, pissed off, ashamed, lethargic or grief stricken ENTIRELY, until I'm not.” This falling towards the feelings with a message of tenderness eases my inner picture. I see I can't control, or change or fix my feelings. This conversation could be something like, “Hello pain, I know you are part of me, welcome home. What is your message? What would you like me to know?” I could consider loving myself wholeheartedly while I am in the midst of pain.
Even though I try to avoid pain ferociously at times and I see that my students also do, I believe that pain of any kind is asking to be met, to be seen, to be treated tenderly. When I am kind to myself, while in pain, my awareness of my connection to the Divine strengthens. This pain actually becomes a kind of doorway to the Divine. I might still be ill, stuck in depression, or even in the midst of entering my dying process, but acceptance restores my connection with the Divine. My pain becomes part of God instead of something “other.”
Learning to make peace with pain is so much harder than fighting it. For example,our whole culture teaches we must “fight cancer”. Doctors say the patient can't die “on my watch”. We are a “death phobic” and then a “pain phobic” culture. Turning another direction, towards suffering, is brave. Just recently, I was visiting a sweet woman friend as she was having her hair cut since chemo would take her hair very soon anyway. She stated, “I'm not fighting cancer. I am meeting it.” She is one courageous lady.
Much of the time, I don't understand why pain comes or why a 'loving God' would allow for it. I have discovered that all of my pain, emotional or physical, does,ultimately, have meaning. Through my pain, I become more connected with everyone everywhere and my compassion deepens and blossoms. Sometimes this only happens in retrospect, sometimes I actually see the value in the moment.About two years ago, I had an unusual heart condition called Takotsubo. This is a Japanese word meaning broken heart syndrome. While going through the process of diagnosis and treatment, I LEARNED SO MUCH ABOUT MYSELF. I was able to see clearly, as if for the first time, how many times in this lifetime my heart has been broken. And, I also see how I've used this frequent heartbreak to become broken open. Resting and recuperating gave me a whole new window on what really matters most to me in my life today. I'm so grateful for this perspective that truly supports me to live more in the moment. I really don't mind when my heart starts issuing the signal that it's time to do less and be more... (that's not always true – sometimes I
do mind because I am so utterly caught up in doing that I really don't want to stop.)
I've also learned that I didn't do anything wrong. It's an old, old story to consider that I did something to cause an illness. I don't really have a punishing God today.My God walks beside me through the whole ordeal. I remember a quote from Jesus which says “I walk beside you all the days of your life.” Often God shows up in the kindness of friends, in time alone in nature, in the animals that comfort me and in my husband's arms.
Kim Rosen, author of “Saved by a Poem” wrote a lovely poem called “In Impossible Darkness,” that captures the heart of this blog beautifully.
In Impossible Darkness
Do you know how the caterpillar turns?
Do you remember what happens inside a cocoon?
There in the thick black of your self spun womb
Void as the moon before waxing
(as Christ did for three days in the tomb)
in impossible darkness
the sheer inevitability of wings.
Thank you for listening,