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With a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction degree (Goucher College, August 2014), I am looking at a new phase in my life. From 1992 to 2009, I served as Founding Executive Director of Miriam's House, a residence for homeless women living with AIDS. I left this position when Chronic Migraine Disease overtook my ability to do my job. Now I hope that a writing career will both accommodate the migraines and give me a creative, productive outlet. And soon, September 4, I will launch my Inkshares author page in a bid to hit the 1,000 pre-order goal in 90  days. The book I want to publish is "Nowhere Else I Want to Be," a memoir of ten of my years at Miriam's House.

18 January 2013

Reading Mariechild Together: What Remains is Love

"When the mind is no longer trapped by conditioned response, what remains is love."

The topic of Diane Mariechild's daily meditation is anger. I hope that some readers will share their responses to how she treats Audre Lorde's poem. I am going to reflect on how releasing our conditioned response to pain brings us to love.

There are many aspects to how we react to pain: physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. It is my belief, based upon my own work with the chronic pain of migraines, that when we allow our physical, mental and emotional reactions to teach us, our spiritual lives are enhanced and deepened.

The physical response to pain has to do with adrenaline, tightening muscles, and survival's basic fight-or-flight response. These automatic bodily functions are beneficial for acute pain: they make us become alarmed and energized so that, for example, we jerk our hand away from the hot stove. But in chronic pain, these biological responses become habituated and have a deleterious effect on our bodies: chronic stress can lead to heart disease, immune system problems, depression and anxiety, among other ills.

Our emotional and mental reactions to pain are well characterized by Mariechild: they are conditioned responses. We want something different, i.e., no pain, and we fear how long the pain may last, and we worry about who we are letting down because we cannot function... These are reactions built into our very make-up, taught to us from the cradle by mothers and grandmothers who suffered in the same way.

Added to all this is our natural response to the pain that seems to plague us unmercifully. It seems impossible to see it as anything but a disaster. (By the way, I have posted about this before, here.) But what Mariechild and Lorde tell us is that we do not have to be stuck. We can choose to be untrapped from our conditioned response. Mariechild gives us a few simple steps:

* Realize we are in a conditioned response.
* Look at the response. (I would add here, take a deep breath...or ten.)
* Patiently watch.
* Do not judge, deny or run away from the response.
* Keep practicing every time a conditioned response arises.
* Allow our mindfulness to become stronger and our conditioned responses to become weaker.
* Find what remains: love.


Please click on the word "Comment" below or email me at carold.marsh@gmail.com. I would love to hear your reactions to this post. Thank you.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your reflection, Carol!

    I have been studying mindfulness and meditation for 4 years. Only recently has my mindfulness "reflex" kicked into high gear. What I mean by that is, something will happen and I'll quickly have a conditioned response ("I can't believe so and so did that...they don't respect me at all...they think they can walk all over me...I'm not going to let that happen...how dare they...") and suddenly I become removed from the response (the mindfulness reflex) and realize that I am attaching a completely fictional, lengthy and unnecessary story to my emotion! The story is so automatic. When I remove the story from my emotion, it becomes less powerful, and my true nature emerges. I think she's right...love emerges. Understanding emerges. Compassion emerges. For myself and for the other players in the story. That doesn't mean that these emotions are pleasant or that they have reduced in frequency or intensity! No no! That would be to escape from ones own humanity--not the point of mindfulness (I don't think). But they don't scare me as much as they could, or cause me to act out in ways that they once did. I become the one in control, not the tape playing in my head.

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