August 2, 2020
I could have easily titled this post “Pain and More Pain.” There’s so much of it these days. Physical, emotional, mental. It’s both individual and collective. It’s in the news and in my nightmares. One of my first yoga teachers told our class that “desire = suffering.” I heard that and thought about my desire for stuff, for approval, for thicker hair. I understood that desire meant longing for something you didn’t have. But what about wanting to get rid of things you already had and most definitely did not want? Like physical or emotional pain? As far as I was concerned, pain = suffering. You couldn’t have one without the other.
That was then. And it was a “not-so-distant” then, if I’m being honest. Trying to push my pain away only made that pain more potent when it either exploded on the scene a short time later or corroded my daily existence as I tried to pretend it didn’t exist. Oh how I suffered. It makes me a little nauseous thinking back to how hard I worked to swim upstream, against the current and approaching the rapids- not with goggles on, but with blinders.
My Wayfinder life coach mentor Martha Beck makes a distinction between “clean pain” and “dirty pain.” Clean pain is pain caused by circumstances or events. It is exquisite, and it can take your breath away. Dirty pain is pain brought on by our thinking, by our thoughts that surround, distort, or disguise our clean pain. That’s where true suffering lies- where the desire to escape or prevent our feelings of pain rises up. Have you ever tried to numb your feelings? Or deny their very existence? What is the point of putting on a brave face when that’s just a lie you are selling yourself and those around you? The real bravery comes from feeling your pain, your sadness– owning it, and admitting it. Grace happens when you accept your humanity and allow your body and mind to experience these feelings. Your blinders are replaced by goggles, and though the rapids do a number on you physically and mentally, you WILL come out on the other side. It will pass. A shady spot on the shoreline is waiting for you- along with a deep sense of knowing that you are not alone. You are human. And it’s okay.
Why is it that pain is easier to imagine and talk about than joy? It feels somewhat like a betrayal to even write about joy when so much of our world is sick and on fire. Joy can be hard to come by (and hard to last) if we try to look for it outside ourselves, even though there are countless little moments provided by the kindness of others and by the wonders of our natural environment. Stuck in our pandemic bubbles, I’d like to encourage you to look for joy within– through the use of your imagination. I don’t know if it was the fact that I was an only child, or if it was my love of science fiction and fantasy books- or a combination of the two– but I practically lived in my imagination as a child. Even when I played with friends we created imaginary scenarios and delighted in just how “real” they felt for us. As an adult, my imagination shrank way down, and it wasn’t very, well, imaginative. I wasted a lot of it on pretending and wishing things were different– the energy behind those fantasies was negative and came from a place of fear. Talk about suffering. . . .
There’s quite a bit of science behind the benefits of using your imagination (see “Richard Boyatzis,” “positive emotional attractors,” “intentional change theory,” “positive psychology,” and “Martin Seligman” for starters). I don’t want us to get bogged down in the details, or overly concerned with following any format. Instead, I want you to do what Martha Beck encourages her coaching students to do and “imagine your success– not to the point of delusion, but to the point of joy.” Can you find the joy in imagining all your dreams came true? What does that feel like in your body? How do you treat yourself, and others, when you come from this place of utter satisfaction? What do you notice? This is nothing like a formal meditation– this is more like lying on your bed and daydreaming. Try it for five minutes, or ten if you’re feeling up for it. This is joy that you can access at any time, regardless of your surroundings. Joy that is imagined in the future but has a noticeable effect on our bodies and our minds in the present moment. It creates a spaciousness, a place of possibility, a respite from tight muscles and shallow breathing. The more we touch that joy that is unique to ourselves, the easier it becomes to recall. You might even start seeking that feeling out as you go about your daily living, edging your reality just a little bit closer to your heart’s desire.
Joy and Pain. Hope and Humanity. The child in me honors the child in you- let’s imagine ourselves (and our world) into a boundless place of possibilities, five minutes at a time.