I want to post an excerpt here from Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book Wherever You Go There You Are. This is a book about mindfulness practice and it has been so helpful to me with my own practice. He acknowledges the cliché-ness of the phrase yet “it is such a powerful inward maneuver that it merits looking into, cliché or no.” (Kabat-Zinn)
“Letting go means just what it says. It’s an invitation to cease clinging to anything – whether it be an idea, a thing, an event, a particular time, or view, or desire. It is a conscious decision to release with full acceptance into the stream of present moments as they are unfolding. To let go means to give up coercing, resisting, or struggling, in exchange for something more powerful and wholesome which comes out of allowing things to be as they are without getting caught up in our attraction to or rejection of them, in the intrinsic stickiness of wanting, of liking and disliking. It’s akin to letting your palm open to unhand something you have been holding on to.
“Letting go is only possible if we can bring awareness and acceptance to the nitty-gritty of just how stuck we can get, if we allow ourselves to recognize the lenses we slip so unconsciously between observer and observed that then filter and color, bend and shape our view. We can open in those sticky moments, especially if we are able to capture them in awareness and recognize it when we get caught up in either pursuing and clinging or condemning and rejecting in seeking our own gain.”
I want to talk briefly about some issues that came up in our SC group yesterday while talking about pain.
First of all I want to recommend Brene Brown, an ‘expert’ on vulnerability. Here is a link. https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability
We were talking about the need to be ‘vulnerable’ with people and it makes me ask what that really means. I think, I think, that people often mean authenticity in relationship and communication with others. When we are suffering illness how do we remain with ourselves and yet still participate in the larger world? How do we communicate truthfully when someone asks “How are you”? So many of us feel compelled to say “Oh fine” when inside we are not fine.
Of course, one way to meet this need is by coming to a support group like this where we can talk about these real things going on inside of us. We feel a sense of being understood and sometimes even find shared experiences. This can be so gratifying and it can really help validate us. When I hear someone speak of an experience that is very similar to mine, and I hear them talk about how they felt during that experience, I feel validated without having said anything. I can feel a sense of – oh. Maybe there isn’t anything wrong with me. Other people feel the same way.
I think the most important thing though is that we are authentic and honest with ourselves first of all. If we can acknowledge our pain and decide how best to deal with it we may find less frustration overall. We have to be willing to be honest with ourselves about our emotions, our wants and needs. Not easy though because it can bring up a lot of shame. Brene Brown also talks about shame.
If we want to be vulnerable with others, we need to find the right people who will respect our boundaries. We need to work through to a level of trust. That means we have to start with the chit-chat, the superficial, and sometimes very boring, conversations then make our way down to the deeper more meaningful levels after both of us are satisfied that we can trust each other – so far. It’s a kind of dance. I say something then wait for your response. My trust will either go up or down with your response and the same with you.
Wanting to be vulnerable with others, to be authentic and to truly connect is all about satisfying a need that every human being has. So when we have a need, we figure out where we can get it met and where we can’t. I know I can’t really talk about my mental health with some friends and I can with others as well as in the support group. And this satisfies my need so that I can go and have ‘lighter’ relationships with others. The important thing is that I get the need met in some way.
A final word – about ‘sadness’. Sadness comes up a lot for many people and often we don’t like it. I have learned however, that sadness can be seen as the act of letting go of something that no longer works. Sadness seems to be a mourning process of something we feel we have lost. I now look at sadness as a sign of movement and moving on and I feel good about it. ‘Oh look I’m sad about that. I must be letting it go. Cool.’ This helps me deal with sadness in a really positive way which means I don’t block it. I allow it to be.
We had our fourth meeting of the SC group yesterday and talked about dealing with pain. I read out an excerpt from Christopher Germer’s book, the mindful path to self-compassion, and I want to print it here again.
“From the moment of our birth, we’re on a quest for happiness. It may take no more than mother’s milk to satisfy us in the first days of our lives, but our needs and desires multiply as we age. By adulthood, most of us don’t expect to be happy unless we have a nice family, a good job, excellent health, lots of money, and the love and admiration of others.
“But pain still strikes even under the best of circumstances. Billionaire Howard Hughes found himself desperate and alone at the moment of his death. And our circumstances inevitably change; one person’s marriage may fall apart, another may have a child with a developmental disability, and yet another may lose everything in a flood. People differ from one another in the amount of suffering they endure over a lifetime, or in the type of suffering, but none of us gets off without any. Pain and suffering are common threads that unite all of humanity.
“Pain creates a conflict between the way things are and how we’d like them to be and that makes our lives feel unsatisfactory. The more we wish our lives were different, the worse we feel. For example, if a car accident lands someone in a wheelchair for life, the first year is usually the toughest. As we learn to adapt, we typically return to our former level of happiness. We can measure our happiness by the gap between what we want and how things are.
“A new approach is to change our relationship to pain and pleasure. We can step back and learn to be calm in the midst of pain; we can let pleasure naturally come and go. That’s serenity. We can even learn to embrace pain as well as pleasure, and every nuance in between, thereby living each moment to the fullest. That’s joy. Learning how to spend some time with pain is essential to achieving personal happiness. It may sound paradoxical, but in order to be happy we must embrace unhappiness.”
I am writing once again about pain. I talked about it a bit in the “SC Group Session 2” post. When we begin to think about the concept of self-compassion and then think about how it applies to us, we often meet some pain that has been buried. When we wake up to the fact that we lack compassion for ourselves it often seems to bring up a painful sadness.
Compassion has two parts to it. The first is to acknowledge that there is pain. Here it is. Right now. It requires us to sit with how we are feeling even though it is not all that comfortable.
“Pain creates a conflict between the way things are and how we’d like them to be and that makes our lives feel unsatisfactory. The more we wish our lives were different, the worse we feel. … We can measure our happiness by the gap between what we want and how things are.” (Christopher Germer, the mindful path of self-compassion)
I have been practicing for a while now, to sit with my pain. When I can. Sometimes I know I’m not able and that’s okay. I think then that I’m not ready to face whatever truth is there. Not yet. But when I am ready I just let myself feel the feeling. I like to try to describe it. Where is it in my body? What does it look like? Does it have a colour? Does it have a form? Does it have a temperature? Does it move, have a pulse or rhythm to it? Does it have a sound?
Doing this helps me step back from the pain and not feel so absorbed and overwhelmed by it. It makes me feel less afraid of my pain as well. I am beginning to recognize specific types of pain in specific parts of my body. When I need to cry a lot and deeply, my upper chest, just below my shoulders grows tight and aches. When I feel anxious that’s usually in my stomach, and very deep fear resides lower in my gut.
Holding emotions back I can feel in my throat as it tightens. As if afraid I might blurt out something that I don’t really want to hear. It’s quite amazing when we look at pain in this way. Pain as information about something. Something that needs fixing or healing, that needs attention, that needs me to do something with it. Transform it.
Really, pain is simply a sensation of a certain intensity. Boredom is painful to me. And it has quite an intensity. Fortunately it happens rarely. But from boredom all the way to deep excruciating grief and loss it is all pain that we must live with. The more we can turn towards our pain, accept it and even embrace it if possible, the more we are liberated from it, the less stuck we are, the more we can move on with our lives.