Yesterday was fierce and troubling – my emotions stripped back exposing me to an intensity of feelings that disturbed me all day. Involuntary feelings descending and sweeping across a vulnerable landscape creating a storm cloud disturbance that affected me deeply – but not today. Sitting here, looking out on the garden bathing in the afternoon’s sun, I’m engulfed by a presence of silence and peace. A stillness has settled in my life, a peaceful calm and I feel extraordinarily at ease, relaxed in a space of security and refuge – a shelter from the maelstroms of life.
Why are we taken through these different terrains of emotions and feelings? Where do they come from? Where do they go? Do we really have any real control over their presence? If we are so solid and powerful why do we allow them to affect us in such fundamental ways?
Thoughts on oscillation and the possibility of eventual transformation dwells in my mind today….
An entry in Thomas Merton’s journal mentions a novice monk at Gethsemani Monastery who increasingly laughed until he reached a point where he could not stop. “ I am told that once, before one of the singing classes, he laughed so much he rolled on the floor.” This may seem an extreme case to many, but I can tell you I spent many months, on and off, weeping. It just welled up inside me and spilt all over the place. The accumulation of so much emotional charge – built up over an exceptionally traumatic year – that had to find release. There were tears of grief and loss, tears of joy and celebration and tears of gratitude and deep appreciation for all that I had been given. A defining period in my life that helped to shape me for a better future. A supreme reconciliation of shifting and contrasting life forces that led to a profound healing of all that had gone before.
It’s good to feel these emotions and feelings, to let them course through our bodies to find eventual release because if they are blocked in any way, denied access then we will undoubtedly suffer. I’ve often thought about the laughing novice; what had happened to him? Where he is now? Is he OK? Why he laughed so much? I can’t help but think he knew something special, that he had gained some insight which he couldn’t express to others; that his laughing was close to enlightenment – I like to think so anyway.
Jung once stated that our emotional problems: “ …can never be solved, but only outgrown ” and I think these are wise, thoughtful words. They counteract the more mechanistic views of some schools of psychology which see the inner energy of emotions and feelings as a ‘ problem ‘ that needs to be ‘ fixed.‘ Good psychotherapeutic practice recognizes the energy force within us and seeks, through a process of inquiry ( engagement and listening ) to work with it. Thus, gradually we can start to move forward, to outgrow our current difficulties. But not too quickly because it takes time to heal. We can’t be too hasty in our need to bring a reconciliation to our plight. Modern life-coaching language about closure and finality are too simplistic – “ Get over it ” we are told, “ Move on, “ we are advised but what is the point in trying to be too dismissive, too soon when our deep seated, feelings tell us of something quite different – a full narrative that needs our undivided attention before we can acquiesce into a mutual, curative holding.
My period of weeping did come to an end, but it took time….Time to be quiet, time to listen, time to accept, time to reconcile……
LESSONS IN LIFE
A profound learning came to me soon after this healing when I suddenly realized that I wasn’t in charge! Not in charge of my life, not in charge of the universe!! Up to this time I think I secretly haboured the notion that what I did was of vital importance, that the universe should somehow order itself around my desires and aspirations ( however noble they may have been ). Plans, objectives, aims and goals were laid out in regimental fashion awaiting final inspection, implementation and completion. Feeling that nothing would stand in their way I assumed all would be done – how deluded I was! Life just isn’t like that. All the best laid plans can go wrong. We just simply do not have control over the external forces / circumstances that can dramatically shape our lives. Terrible things happen in our world, tragic, heart breaking events that can affect so many lives in so many undeserving ways and all we can do is tend to the wounded – ourselves and others.
Another lesson that crept into my life, quietly and un-noticed but still needing my attention, was that of service. I suddenly and quite dramatically realized that something outside of myself had to be served and that something was other people which reinforced the biblical imperative that states: “ Let him who is greatest among you be your servant. “ We are not here to serve ourselves exclusively, although many may believe this so. A full, inspiring, noble life always reflects the ability and willingness to help others, especially those less fortunate than ourselves. This is at the core of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu teachings. We are all an integral part of an interconnected human family and we must never allow that to fade from our individual and collective memories.
SUFFERING IS UNIVERSAL
Many years ago I meet a psychiatric nurse who told me that in his professional work he had encountered many difficult and disturbed patients. Individuals who, at times, displayed severe, traumatized behaviour. He was philosophical about his work and didn’t bring any apparent judgement to bear on it. He was just a professional carer, in a difficult job, trying to look after peoples’ pain. After he spoke for twenty minutes or so he paused in silence. Then, turning around to face me fully, so that I would not miss a word, he told me that the psychiatrist who had been in post at the regional psychiatric hospital was himself admitted as a patient….. We ALL suffer. No one is exempt from the pain that accompanies life. It is like an encircling shadow that descends to spread its darkness upon us. And all we can do at these challenging times is seek refuge in the healing light of a spiritual practice which will ground us in understanding and compassion.
PAIN IN OUR LIVES
Despite all the chaos, fragmentation, erosion and disintegration that pain can bring there still remains, surprisingly enough, a holding that we can seek out. A very gentle and tentative gathering up of our hurt. There is a reason why pain has come to visit us and we need to understand this. We just cannot go chasing off, trying to avoid what it is try to say because it will come after us, hunt us down with its full presence and voice. The pain is requiring our attention and so we must listen deeply, like we have never done before, in a space of acknowledgement and acceptance. Then, at this point of stillness we can start to be transformed; we can open up to healing…..
We must remember that healing can only come to a mind that is able to release its built up anxieties and fears, resentments and illusions in order to clear a space of receptivity. We must also remember the important point that healing isn’t something outside of us, a ‘ treatment ‘ externally given to alleviate our suffering. On the contrary, it’s very much an internal process, an inner practice of listening, evaluating and reconciling. At its very heart, healing is simply changing ourselves, our perception and attitudes in a continuous, process of attentive living.
“ Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers, but to be fearless in facing them. Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain, but for the heart to conquer it.”
If life went exactly as we wanted, pain free, there would be little scope for learning. For the reality is, we can grow through our pain if we make a commitment to open up and allow its presence to speak to us. It can liberate us, take us away from a life spent half asleep and make us stronger, more alive, more aware and appreciative of what is happening in our collective world. To experience life fully is to experience pain.
Everything, absolutely everything that arrives in our lives is here for a reason and our journey of adventure is to discover what that reason is. Paying attention, witnessing and reporting on the vicissitudes of life is our mission. Not shying away, ignoring or denying them. They are our spiritual masters here so that we can experience the full, far reaching dynamics of what is to be human and so we must commit to engaging with them in the full and vital knowledge that we will be allowed to grow – to develop the deepest powers within us.