“Do not rely completely on any other human being, however dear. We meet all life’s greatest tests alone.” ~Agnes Macphail
From my very earliest memories, I have craved connection with other people. I have always dreamed of being part of a community or network of people who would give me the sense that there was somewhere I belonged. In particular, I have searched high and low to find a few people who could be that core group of “chosen family” that I could rely on through thick and thin. I have desperately longed for someone with whom to intimately share my life.
“Some people think it’s holding on that makes one strong–sometimes it’s letting go.” ~Author unknown
Sometimes letting go is the hardest thing to do. There are times that this feat takes more strength of will and of commitment than any holding on could ever require. It feels at times like willingly putting a part of oneself to death.
I came across a post on Elephant Journal the other day by Ben Ralston titled The reason why most alternative healing doesn’t work: Secondary Gain. As a Reiki Master and general advocate of alternative healing arts, this title immediately caught my eye and generated an immediately indignant response.
However, the post turned out not to be one that was opposed to alternative healing at all. Instead, the author suggests that most of us have something that we gain from our illnesses and problems (known as secondary gains) and that until these gains are addressed, we are unable to heal. In fact, this can be the case for traditional allopathic treatments just as much as it is true for alternative therapies.
“It is so many years before one can believe enough in what one feels even to know what the feeling is.” ~W.B. Yeats
I’m still amazed to discover that this feeling I’ve always called pain is really fear and anxiety. It seems unthinkable to me that I could be so incredibly familiar with this feeling and not know what it was. The quote above brings me much reassurance in finding that perhaps there are others who take years to discover what their feelings really are.
When I think in terms of believing enough in what I feel, it’s not as surprising to me that I would have taken years to reach that point.
“We intensify fear by trying to force it away. It might seem counter-intuitive, but the first step in healing fear is accepting it … Instead of pushing away our difficult moments, we soften to them, allowing those moments a wider pasture & meeting them with clarity and compassion.” ~Stephen Levine (from Unattended Sorrows)
The last few days have been very difficult ones for me. I am dealing with a number of issues (business and house related) that I feel completely incompetent to address. And in the midst of this sense of complete overwhelm, I am recognizing yet again how tiny my support net has grown. I have lived alone for the majority of my adult life, so it’s not being single that is the problem. It is the recognition that I have never had this small of a support network, especially when I look at people who live close enough to provide the kind of help I need at times.
“Since the hurt we feel may be a part of the experiences that have touched us most deeply, we are often loathe to let it go. It is frequently easier to keep our pain at our sides, where it acts as a shield that shelters us from others and gives us an identity—that of victim—from which we can draw bitter strength.” ~DailyOM
The quote above comes from a fantastic post from DailyOM called Healing with Hurt. The focus of this post (which is worth reading for its own sake) is on the idea that we can use the pain that we have experienced in our own lives to become better healers because we know what pain is like. This is the archetype of the wounded healer, one I have identified with for years.
The part that hit me upside the head like a metaphorical 2×4 was the assertion that it is through the setting aside of the view of ourselves as a victim that enables us to heal others. In other words, it is letting go of what has hurt me that can make it useful.
In Anatomy of the Spirit: The Seven Stages of Power and Healing, Carolyn Myss talks about the relatively new method for bonding in relationships based on “woundology.” In this process of forming relationships, one person will reveal some deep inner wound that they have, the other person will search their life experience to find a similar wound that they can share, and the two then become “wound mates” based on the sharing of similar wounds.
This is a relatively new phenomenon that has sprung up as therapy and the subsequent emotional sharing that goes with support groups has become more common. It’s easy to see why this is a powerful way of bonding. When we meet someone who shares a similar wound, we know that they will understand us and be able to support us in ways that people who don’t have similar wound patterns may not be able to. Our wounds tend to become a deep part of our identity, so finding someone who has so much in common with the way the define ourselves is a strong draw.
“Pain (any pain—emotional, physical, mental) has a message. The information it has about our life can be remarkably specific, but it usually falls into one of two categories: “We would be more alive if we did more of this,” and, “Life would be more lovely if we did less of that.” Once we get the pain’s message, and follow its advice, the pain goes away.” ~Peter McWilliams
I’ve found myself struggling again more than I had been the last few days. I wouldn’t call it pain exactly, but there is a definite sense that things are not as they should be. I’ve been able to observe these feelings without getting sucked into them (and without losing sight of how joyous life is), and I think Peter is right; there is a message for me in this feeling.
“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlyn, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder in your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewer of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then—to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it.” ~T.H. White (from The Book of Merlyn)
I agree with Merlyn on this one; learning something new is the very best antidote for being sad. As wonderful as yoga has proven to be for me, part of the benefit I have found in my yoga teacher training is that I am learning something new. The combination of the learning and the yoga itself has been a powerful force to help draw me out of my sadness.
“Compassionate listening is crucial. We listen with the willingness to relieve the suffering of the other person, not to judge or argue with her. We listen with all our attention. Even if we hear something that is not true, we continue to listen deeply so the other person can express her pain and release her tensions within herself. If we reply to her or correct her, the practice will not bear fruit. We just listen.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
This kind of compassionate listening is not easy to do … at least not for me. I so often want to jump in to “help” or to “correct,” when what is really needed that I just listen. Sometimes even attempts to encourage the person who is sharing can undermine her need to be heard, especially is does not acknowledge the hard in what she is sharing. This kind of listening generously to another’s pain can be challenging, but it is also extremely rewarding when we can share their pain in a way that comforts.
I think that one of the first steps in being able to listen to another person in this way is developing the ability to sit with our own pain and discomfort. If we cannot tolerate our own pain, we will never be able to listen compassionately to someone else without trying to “fix” the problem in some way in order to avoid sitting with their pain and discomfort.