Sunday, June 17, 2012

Experiencing Pain

Life is beautiful and full of pain. When we feel something painful in our hearts, our instinct is to escape. We can be like little kids, seeing a bee and running away in terror. But we could aspire to be more steady than that, a little more courageous.

When I was on retreat in April, I took a hike up to the purkhang where Chogyam Trungpa was cremated. It's in a grassy meadow, surrounded by pine forests and mountains on three sides that reach straight up to the clouds.

I was looking at the purkhang, taking in the space, when another woman on retreat, who was circumambulating the purkhang, suddenly broke out into tears. I knew what was on her mind because she told me one of her closest friends was dying.

She and I were the only humans in this vast space. I felt her sadness, but I felt helpless too. I wondered what I should do. I wondered if I should comfort her. I wondered if I should tell her everything would be fine, but I realized that might not be true.

Then I asked myself, "what is the most compassionate thing you can do right now?" I sat and contemplated that for a while, felt the sun, felt the sadness in my heart. Then she walked around the purkhang in my direction. I looked at her and smiled. She smiled back with tears in her eyes. Her smile was like sunshine.

I realized that she didn't need me to comfort her. She needed to do what she was doing. My instinct to to stop her sadness came out of my own discomfort.

This weekend I was hiking in the Shenandoah Mountains. I had to hike past a bee hive, but instead of walking past quickly, I stopped. A bee got stuck in my boot and stung me. Ouch!

Holding sadness, anger, or any other painful emotion is like getting stung by a bee. You can curse and cry about it. You can jump up and down or try to take your mind off it. But, the pain inevitably comes back and you can't ignore it.

The best way to deal with a wasp or bee sting is just to feel the pain, accept it and let it go. Once you go into the pain, it might seem workable. Something beautiful and enlightening might come, if you stay still.

By facing painful feelings and working with them directly, we develop strength, wisdom and tenderness in ourselves. We could hold our ground rather than bolting in terror, touching the tender spot in our hearts. We could be curious about it and hold the feeling. This is saying yes to life.

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