Category Archives: Pain

By the Numbers

Credit scores, housing prices, size zero jeans, 21 point evaluations, numbers on a scale, or in a bank account, all these things  seem to define what it means to be human. Your stats, if you are an athlete, SAT scores, if you are a young college hopeful, the dollar amount of your salary, if you are working person, all press hard against the windows of the soul. Menacing enough, that a mortal might just wonder if they matter to the world in which they exist, if the numbers don’t line up.

These days the numbers aren’t so good for me, and I have to ask an age-old question: Just what is my value? I am also, rarely, a member of any group or committee of note. My voice is not sought after. I don’t have a post-graduate degree. I haven’t written a paper or had my name associated with a big project. I am an observer, but I rarely know what is going on. And I have to admit, that often I am happy in my matter-not-one-bit-ness. But I would also be a liar to say that there is not a tiny, overly sensitive part of me that wishes I could better play the numbers game. But I am not even in the running.

So what do I do with my digitally-challenged self. I don’t know right now. I feel sad. Still a bit like the school girl who was always chosen last for dodge ball, the one never invited to parties. I do know one thing for sure, though. Isak Dinesen said it best Babette’s Feast, “An artist is never poor.” I have my words and the way I see the beauty in life. And I know another thing, I can love and be gentle. For I get what its like not to be number one.  I can give grace for I understand deeply what it means to be at sixes and sevens. I can accept that I may just be known as a social security number on some record one day, but there are sublime things in a human, sweetness that cannot be calibrated or measured. These little, inconsequential things, like the heart-felt connection between two souls, can’t be counted, but do indeed count.

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Filed under "The Journey", Pain, Perspective

Kahlil Gibran and the Dead Fish

Soft sobs emanated from my daughter’s room this rainy morning. Her beloved Beta lay on his side at the bottom of the tank. We knew he was old. We knew he wasn’t well. So we were “prepared” like our culture says we should be…like expecting a loss would somehow make it better.

As I held my daughter in my arms, as she cried, I thought of what I could say to make it better. Again, it feels like that idea is more a cultural norm. For what could anyone say that could ease the pain of loss. A quiet presence is needed…coupled with a willingness to do something hard: enter into the silence of sadness, even if it is just for a few minutes. Just be there. Let it penetrate the heart, like a storm surge over the emotional boundary levy of the heart… the one that most of us have constructed against the pain and horror of this world. But that is not what usually happens. We raise a hand to suffering and say, “You shall not pass.”

But what does keeping out this metaphorical sea actually accomplish?

For me it has, ironically, kept me from life. I was raised to avoid the sad and the tragic, even though, right within my immediate family, there was heart-breaking dysfunction.  I am not sure why this seems to be the way of things. Maybe when there is so much incomprehensible woe, you just disassociate from it. However, regardless of the emotional content of my childhood, the result was that I interfaced with life quite superficially. Life on the surface is not much of a trip. The deep is where the wonder is.

Just think about it, if a person’s guiding, albeit unconscious, philosophy is to avoid pain at all costs, look what is lost. Relationships with others are most definitely on the block. For there is no other place fraught with more suffering than the commitment to love someone in all their imperfection. Also what about risk? It is the essential element  in having a dream. What then? Can great things be accomplished if risk is reduced to a background buzz? Yes, it is true that there is safety, but what kind of life is safeguarded? Is it something transcendently beautiful, like the soulful strains of a cello, or the orange-pink of a morning sky? No, it is a life of  protected routine  that never allows for the sweetness innate in every soul to emerge. Kahlil Gibran said that our capacity to feel joy in life was directly proportional to our capacity to feel pain. I wonder in our society, if some of the great tragic sweeps of serious psychological hurt might be displaced, somehow, if we as a culture, made some  sacred space for sadness, instead of always trying for “happy” all the time?

Kahlil also says:

Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.
And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;
And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.
And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.

So back to the dead fish. As I held my sweet girl, I thought of this to say:  “He was probably the most loved fish in the world. Most people don’t even care about a little fish, but you did, and he knew it.” When my daughter would place her finger on his tank, he would come. There was a connection between two living beings. Life happened. It wasn’t safe, for as Antoine de Saint Exupery says in The Little Prince, you risk tears when you love. But it was life because there was depth and meaning present…”mattering” was there. It was one of those Gibran daily miracles. That fragility of loving something, knowing consciously that it is indeed ephemeral, that it will die, or leave, and then defiantly loving it all the same, is life. And it can hurt. But it is also sweet…it is poetry…it is the heavens touching our plasticy, costumed existence with such luminous beauty.

Who would have thought there was so much in the little life of a fish.

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Filed under Children, Dreams, Healing, Joy, Loss, Love, Pain, Perspective

Mystical Warts

Okay…this might be a little weird and a smidge gross…but welcome to my brain. I have my morning chores…stuff I have to do so that  gluttonous trash cans and dirty socks and their bad-boy friends stay within their territory. I do hate these boundary disputes and right now my laundry room is threatening to become a new state. Anyhow, sorry for this upcoming TMI (too much information), but  I have this wart. Not one of those white bumpy ones with more tiny dry relatives on the surface, but one that could be blessedly mistaken for a callous. I have been assaulting it with a pumice stone and I do believe it is on its last leg. But, again sorry for being graphic, but when I do this, it bleeds. And this morning whilst I was changing out the sheets et al, it still hadn’t coagulated. So I muttered something about it to my husband while digging around for another band-aid. He coolly reminded me that warts spread through all the layers of the skin and that is why, when you get them burned off, they hurt so much.

And that was all it took for me to get thinking. You see I have been on a spiritual journey for a long time and I do have a guide…not an audible voice (though that would be so cool) but there is presence, a teacher in my head, that points out analogies in the most odd subjects. So today it was the wart metaphor. You also should know that I have had a running, often intense, dialog with God about why it is taking sooo damn long to get me “done.” That is, why is he taking his sweet time getting me healed and moving me forward? Well, the wart offered an answer.

You see the physical world informed my spiritual world today. A wart is caused by a viral infection called the human papillomavirus virus. I also know that they can exist more often if an immune system is not strong. The virus enters through a weak or moist place in the skin and sets up shop, sending its tendril deep…just like the pain of some severe emotional experience. And I don’t know about you, but I have had this funny thing that has happened to me over and over again. When in the past, I have experience something terribly traumatic, I have often acted as if it was “no big deal” and have gone on like nothing ever happened. Some people have called me resilient. But I think that I have just been in some permanent state of shock and my personal gyroscope has been disconnected. I have also thought, again in the past, that dysfunction was normal. These events are both like the way warts function. They cause weakening in the skin of the soul and then they download a program, for want of a better word, that insures a permanent pattern of pain and even implants a homing beacon of  sorts that sends out a message that you are, albeit unconsciously, open for more abuse. I see it all the time in others. The little girl rejected or not protected by her father is spreading her legs for anyone as a teen. Everyone is appalled. But I know that she has just been profoundly hurt and is trapped, like a cursed princess in a dismal fortress of pain.

So the wart is the wound. So back to the analogy and what my guide was saying: all pain is not the same, that is, there is a difference between the pain of just being unconscious of your need for healing and the pain that results from the process of healing. You know the first kind well. It comes in scenarios like these…when you are asking yourself why, for example, do all my boyfriends reject me or why are all my bosses so disrespectful. This is the wart acting upon you. But there is a different kind of pain…and that is like my I-know-it-is-gross bleeding wart analogy, which is the pain that comes through healing. And it has dawned on me, that this is why I often give up on any kind of projects that would move me out of my wartiness. It hurts. Just like the searing of the skin to expunge the virus, so my spiritual innards throb. They are tender. Vulnerable. And a little weepy. But I must not be confuddled here. This pain is the layers of my spiritual dermis healing and it takes time and I won’t like it.

So my little meditation on warts has helped me to be a little less whinny about God’s timing and little more willing to be grateful for the gift of pain.

” Pain is the touchstone of spiritual progress.”

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Filed under Healing, Pain, Perspective, Recovery

Confessions of a Mask Wearer

Not a great title. I know. Kinda of clunky, like me right now. Tough day yesterday, and nobody knew it. We have some unrealized twenty-two year old dreams that we have not been able to bring out of the misty realms of hope, imagination, and wonder into the physical world in which we dwell. And to be honest, they are a heavy press on some days. Like a troubled child that you adore and cannot abandon, are these offspring of our souls. And yet like some corrective brace for unruly teeth or a twisted limb, they have shaped us by the hardship that naturally comes with off-road travel. What I am saying is that if we had not obeyed this inward vision and created a more conventional life, I probably wouldn’t have healed and grown up. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t wish for breakthrough…for some inkling of a crack in the wall of impossible.

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Filed under "The Journey", "Tough Days", Dreams, Healing, Pain

Out with the Old, In with the New

Out with the old, in with the new

The stuff we throw away

Why do we do what we do?

That pair of designer denims

Pretty much looks like

It’s ten or so kissing cousins

In the closet pile

Readied for export

To the Goodwill

The truth is

Material stuff soothes sadness

For a moment

Like a shot of tequila

Away slips the insipid

Shadowy

Chilly

Taunting voice

Of the hole in

The heart

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Filed under Materialism, Pain