Twenty-first in a series.
"[T]here's a sense of presence, of awareness that, while serene, still holds an element of anticipation, of waiting, of allowing the body in its awake state to be a conduit to the divine." (from my post of June 4, 2012)
I wrote that while reflecting on and writing about Chapter Five of Eckhart Tolle's book, "The Power of Now." At the time, I was headed -- rhetorically speaking -- toward more discussion around the subject of the blog: how chronic pain relates to and is enhanced by and enhances our spiritual lives -- and vice versa. This week, however, has given me a new way to appreciate what Tolle calls Presence and what I have been writing about pain.
It's one of those simple-yet-hard-to-explain concepts, and so I run the risk of over-statement and over-complication; a danger made worse by this morning's migraine and the fact that it has taken me more than 30 minutes just to get to this third paragraph. But I have promised myself to post twice a week, both in order to maintain discipline in my writing life and because that's what blogging gurus say is the minimum to do. Onward.
Living with chronic pain coexists with other difficulties life presents us. And a lot of these other difficulties have an unprecedented aspect: a long-term disagreement with a family member tumbles to new depths; hoped-for political outcomes far beyond our control savagely disappoint us; sudden illness or accident -- our own or of someone dear. Life, is all it is: life layered over our already-chronic pain.
The temptation is to pull the sheets over the head. Yet if we have been letting Tolle teach us about Presence, and using the chronic nature of our pain to be the means of delivery of that lesson, then we have skills and tools that are transferable to life's layers.
On days that are otherwise calm, when I practice Presence because the pain is there and I want to learn from it and with it, I am building skills that will serve me very, very well when a relationship that is dear to me explodes. I have cherished and nurtured a serene awareness in times of physical pain that also works for times of emotional and spiritual suffering. Not that either type of pain goes away or resolves just because I am Present: the migraine is still there, the relationship is still damaged. This is not about easy fixes.
As I said in the previous post, the pain is not resolved, but it is relegated. Another word for it: perspective.
And there is one more thing: Presence also teaches me that the only control I wield is over how I handle, or react to, the pain. The migraine and the relationship are beyond my control, beyond my ability to fix them. They are not, however, beyond my ability to allow them to carve out in me the deep places that then become wells for wisdom and compassion.
Joy and Sorrow // Kahlil Gibran
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in
the potter's oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very
wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your
heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is
giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you
shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.