Simply put: it’s not easy being alive. It’s just not. Of course, no one promised it would be and, yet, somehow we assume a right to ease in this life.
If being alive is challenging, then being alive and sensitive is enough to send almost anyone over the edge. I mean, look at Hamlet. But we needn’t resort to Shakespeare for proof. The headlines lately are littered with plenty of examples of people careening over that line, which then causes profound agony to others. And those folks then have to find a way to live their difficult lives with that anguish, feeling victimized and lacking trust in the world.
Sounds fairly bleak, I’d say. Trying to manage that shit sandwich is one of the reasons, I believe, that people rationalize pain as a good thing — a blessing.
I wish I had a nickel for every time I heard someone offer up a “pain slogan.” At least Lord Byron’s version is poetic:
“Adversity is the first path to truth.”
Yeah, well, if you count the physical act of birth being our first “path” and how much adversity that involves, I’ll have to give him that one.
However, there often comes from that sentiment a false notion that pain or adversity is the ONLY way to grow. A sort of, “Well, where would I be if I hadn’t been hit by that truck/lost everything in that fire/been beaten as a child? I guess I’d be a shallow, thoughtless, unevolved imitation of all I am today.”
That logic rankles me. It always has. (P.S. If that’s your belief and it’s working for you, awesome, don’t change a thing…if not, read on.) I think my chief objection is that I suspect it arises from our culture’s pathological need to “fix” any emotion perceived to be a problem. After all, being sad, hurt or angry is an inconvenience and a buzz-kill…unless you can turn it into a phenomenal tale of victory that propelled you to achieve towering success. Whatever. God forbid we just sit with someone’s discomfort (physical or emotional) and bear witness to it while they have their experience.
That being said, yes, I acknowledge that pain most certainly provokes change — or as my teacher, Guru Singh, puts it: crisis provokes evolution — which is kind of the point. And making it to the other side of pain is, no doubt, a glorious accomplishment. But pain is not the only gateway to profound awakening.
The wisest teacher of all, I have found, is not pain but love.
The love I am speaking of is the kind that makes you unselfish and courageous. I’m talking about putting what the other person needs before what you want. Love that may include — but far surpasses — the romantic experience of falling for someone (which, by the way, is awesome in its own right so please don’t think I’m devaluing that phenomenon). This powerful love is described beautifully by one of my favorite quotations from Hafiz:
“Even after all this time, the sun never says to the earth, ‘You owe me.’ Look what happens with a love like that. It lights the whole sky.”
This love is the sort that allows you to see and experience things about yourself that you had no idea were possible. It gives you a measure of who you really are and the lengths to which you will go to deserve the gift of loving. This love makes you strong.
But, unfortunately, many of us consider this kind of love to be unrealistic or at least unlikely. It isn’t, but thinking makes it so (also from Hamlet, for you Shakespeare fans). The bravery required to “be in love” this way is so tremendous that we often choose to retreat instead — and then wander the earth believing it doesn’t exist.
As for pain, it’s right there screaming at you the whole time, very difficult to ignore or misinterpret. I think that’s why people recognize and trust pain far more easily than they do love. I also think it’s why we have so many handy little sayings to make us feel better about pain’s offensive imposition in our lives, including my least favorite of all time:
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
Grrrrr @#&!!%! I hear that phrase and I practically convulse with the force of my irritation (but don’t worry, that’s what hours and hours of deep meditation help manage). So in this week’s Yoga Bits, I am proposing a new saying, one that I hope to make popular enough to overtake the other obnoxious piece of blather. Say hello to a new catch-phrase:
“What I truly love makes me stronger.”
Pain happens, it’s true. It’s real, necessary and, yes, even at times a blessing. But let’s bring love as a motivator into its rightful place in our collective consciousness. The choice to love courageously whenever, whomever and whatever we wish is always within our power, regardless of any other circumstance. Let’s dig deep and ask ourselves what it is to genuinely love — not to grasp or want or covet or need, but to give and receive — and then do that.
Are you with me?
Now there’s a question.
This post originally appeared in the Yoga Bits newsletter on August 26, 2012.