Anyone who knows me knows that I have a clear preference for ease, and easy. Given the choice, I’d far rather stay at a spa than go camping! And I’ve never subscribed to the notion that we needed to toughen our kids up so that they’d be more able to face the world. My sense is that life, with all its wonders, brings us face to face with plenty of painful challenges – each one inviting us to respond and grow.
Sometimes these invitations come to us in ways that are direct and harder to side-step – receiving a diagnosis, or being in a car crash for example. Other times they’re less obvious. The learning here can be just as powerful, but in these more subtle challenges, it’s easier to step over or minimize them and as a result miss our opportunity for growth.
As much as I love ease, I can hear the voice of my teacher Katherine Woodward Thomas calling to us “Embracing everything, turning away from nothing!”
There’ve been plenty of times in my life when I have turned away from uncomfortable experiences. Saying “yes” to any of life’s invitations to be present to pain is a profoundly courageous (and often counter-intuitive) choice. But as I’ve engaged this practice it truly has led to a more powerful experience of freedom and possibility.
Israeli and Palestinian flags
and the words peace in Arabic and Hebrew
A couple weeks ago I chose to watch Charlie Rose interviewing Hamas Political Leader Khaled Meshaal. For me there’s SO much pain on all ‘sides’ of that entrenched conflict between Israel and Gaza. Though this interview was very skillfully and respectfully conducted, I knew it would be difficult for me to be present to both the painful reality of the experience (in this case) of the Palestinian people, as well as to hear what occurs for me as the posturing that seems necessary for those engaged in the political systems we’ve co-created.
The Einstein quote “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them”, comes to mind. The most powerful, well-meaning minds have tried for years to resolve these issues. And while this may be a calling for some, it surely isn’t mine.
I feel drawn to an approach that feels deeply resonant for me – and that certainly can’t hurt! It’s not about fixing, or distancing ourselves from this or any other painful situation. Instead it involves expanding our own capacity to be present with our hearts open to the pain evoked in us when we see and feel pain in others. Not taking it on ourselves, but allowing the energy of it to flow through our loving, open hearts, back to what I call ‘the place of all possibility’. I hold that any time we practice this, it makes a (perhaps infinitesimal, but nevertheless real and worthwhile) contribution to our world, and it certainly increases our own experience of freedom and possibility.
After co-facilitating a Circle of Hope for Israel and Palestine last weekend, Authentic Movement teacher and my friend Gennie Brukner shared her beautiful reflection of this process “The way of the heart involves holding it ALL, all the suffering, the anguish, and the fury and the insanity and the impossibility. Doing this calls for an awakening into deep presence and love in order to hold such gut-wrenching truths. Doing this means we all need to keep healing ourselves so we can genuinely do this heart-healing work on the biggest level. To initiate the most powerful waves of peace means we need to hold and see the biggest picture. And when each of us reach out through our vulnerability and pain, we can connect heart to heart in a network that can spread through the world and perhaps can be just the miracle that we need.”
The pain of not opening our hearts to being present with each other …
Image courtesy of marcolm / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Sometimes, the painful patterns we see ‘out there’ are mirrors of our own experience closer to home. That’s certainly been the case for me. Engaging this practice has also expanded my capacity to be present to the pain I sometimes experience in my relationship with my husband.
On a number of topics that are often highly charged, he and I hold very different perspectives. Sometimes he expresses them in ways I find challenging to be present to. As I risked opening my heart and allowed the pain of being present to the the Charlie Rose interview flow through me, my capacity for deep presence expanded. I could feel the increase in ease in being present not only there, but also to the differences between my husband and me.
Opening ourselves to holding all of this may seem like a crazy idea! Especially if (perhaps in an attempt to be noble) we’ve been stepping over ourselves and ignoring our own pain. When this is the case it’s easy to experience a knee jerk reaction, and a need to create some kind of an us/them separation. Disdainful judgments against others can sometimes arise unbidden – I know, I’ve seen myself do this!
These judgments are the (sometimes not so) subtle indicators that we’ve gone over the edge and not been caring for ourselves. We often then add insult to injury by making ourselves wrong. What if instead of continuing to ignore the pain inside of us, or keeping ourselves distracted by focusing on how bad or wrong those others ‘out there’ are being, we paused and truly witnessed the pain in ourselves?
When we find ourselves in this painful place, might an understanding of this deeper underlying dynamic mean that we could actually hold first ourselves, and then others, with greater compassion?
Can you imagine what our world could be like if we all acted from this place of awareness?
Whatever ‘the world’ decides, this is how I choose to invest the energy of what Mary Oliver called my “one wild and precious life.” I know that many of you reading this are also courageous enough and committed to taking the risk of engaging this practice. Together we can step into greater freedom and possibility, AND make a difference in our personal relationships and in the wider world.