Pain is essential to healing. Ask anyone who has been in shock. My body, my mind, went into shock many years ago in response to an event of overwhelm. The incident itself isn’t relevant. What’s stressful to me might be small potatoes to you. I get that. But everyone has a price point, a break point, a moment when mind and body check out of space and time – feelings go numb, logic aborts. People who remain “stuck” are easy to spot. I do things that don’t make sense. With my brain on autopilot I’m an easy mark. I’m young, looking for answers, and pretty stripped of discernment because the adults of my youth revealed themselves as untrustworthy. That’s a problem.
When young people grow up with trustworthy adults, no matter how damaged, ill-educated, or poverty-stricken – children grow up to be functioning adults complete with good judgement, a sense of morals and a sense of self. Without religion the world doesn’t run amok. Doctrine doesn’t make people moral. At best religious doctrine only mirrors morality. For example, “honor thy father and mother,” is tricky business if one’s father is a rapist or if one’s mother is a sociopath. How then do I know what is right if I can’t trust my boss, my pastor, my parents? Or maybe I can (trust them) – but I must needs find a measuring stick to determine who works for the forces of good, evil, and who, bless their hearts, just doesn’t know better.
Having grown-up with suspect adults I make my own way through books. I read the main currents in Western thought and some of the East. I meditate. I investigate. I research and experiment. This doesn’t protect me, from falling for very bad advice. In my early 20s, I get blithe, dismissive advice from my elders that all I need is “love.” (classic hippie, ya had to be there.) The trouble with having only love, is that when we love communists they take our land, burn our books and disrupt families. When we love child molesters they infiltrate schools (even expensive prep schools), little leagues, and churches. The only convicted child molester I ever met? I met at a barbecue. He’s married the girl he got pregnant when she was 12 as soon as he gets out of prison. She’s 18. He later molests their two daughters. I swear I don’t make this sh*t up.
When we love evil, we’re evil.
Which brings me to bad advice number 2. By my late 20s the idea that “it’s all good” burns a persuasive path through my life. Believing that everyone is “doing their best” and that all is forgiven makes me happy. I like believing there’s no such thing as “bad.” There’s a big picture. God works in mysterious ways. God has a plan. All that morally lazy philosophy lulls me into a deep sleep. While I am sleeping electronics are invented, hate crimes are criminalized and a large complex of seven buildings in Lower Manhattan is destroyed by jet plane collision. Is that all good? If God has a plan, it may require participation. If there is a plan, I certainly can’t be working against it. If there is no plan – then damn, we better get it together, right? Reality is self-generated, self-managed and mos def self-perceived.
You might say after I get over my shock I encounter extreme pain. My heart tears open by the alarming amount of cruelty I witness. Once I realize I have the power to effect change I can’t avert my eyes. Leftover dogs and throw away kids? Every day tragedies are liberally strewn across my path. I marry a musician who seems to share my values, my cares and ultimately he’s a fraud. Phooey. My first husband doesn’t like anything about me. Why did he marry me? He’s attracted to changeable stuff. He likes the way I look. The way I dress. The size of my bank account. The job I have. My potential. Doors open for him when I lend him an air of legitimacy. Things fall apart when I distance myself from his shady undertakings. I resent his exploitation, his manipulations.
“But you have to forgive me,” he demands, plying on the Christian religion he thinks I believe. It’s written there in black and white. Seven times seventy-seven. I realize the pang in my heart is severe rending. He manipulates me, our therapist, even local Mennonite builders with this grand caveat. Forgiveness. He plays the forgiveness card over and over, and I, before I leave, callous consciously. Taking our therapist’s advice to argue less, turn the other cheek, make a pleasant home – I deny my feelings and my name. My looks change. I gain over 70 pounds. My hair greys. My bank account dwindles. I sleep all the time. I have headaches, back aches. Soft, nagging pains keep attempting to break my surface – my clearly false, polished sheen of “all-good” mindless, unkind, unrelenting numb dumbness.
My body, my thinking body, knows better than me. I become so unattractive, so useless to him, my first husband can’t wait to rid himself of me. As our six month separation begins the pounds melt off. He sees potential, briefly, for reconciliation – but too much me is already brimming at my surface. The me that is me peaking. Before I knew Sanskrit the best phrase I have for describing the thing that does not change is “the me that is me.” My blood and bone renew themselves constantly. They are not me. My memory is fragile, my dreams evolve. They are not me. My sense of myself, however, my character, my personality is remarkably stable. Some undeniable core trues from my earliest recollections. The me that had the power, the instinct, the sanity to inure myself from the untrustworthy adults.
Pain is a cheap price to pay for reality.
Don’t we say, “the truth hurts?” I would rather feel pain than continue pretending bad things don’t happen and bad people don’t exist. When I define evil as “exploitation of the vulnerable,” evil is indisputable. It’s not all good, and there’s no need to feel good about evil. There’s really no reason to forgive either. Evil people don’t give a rip if I forgive them or not. The forgiveness (or lack thereof) is ostensibly for me. Chosing to forgive true evil is akin to killing a part of myself, the part that smells injustice by instinct, the part that senses right from wrong. Should I forgive people who drive animals to extinction? Is that spiecies-ness all good? Is destroying the Earth part of God’s plan? If it’s all good why not litter, pollute, destruct with aplomb?
Pain is an alarm system. When I feel pain something is amiss. Asana reveals my thought system is a part of my body system. Aborted ideas go somewhere, aborted feelings right into my soft, flabby fat. Waste products exit the system completely. Sense of self however, is never a waste. Children of over-controllers, helicopter parents, micro-managers if they can’t shut down completely, burst out in diverse ways. Adults with addictive personality claim they hate drama, the messiness, the ickiness of work work work – but in truth, they are reminding themselves they are alive. The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune feel vivid. Sober living is just that, sober. Who wants to be taupe and bland?
The key is to get past the siddhi of pain. Feeling tiny fragile feelings is hardly taupe, certainly not bland. Faint feelings are far more wondrous than gross. Abstraction is more intelligent than distraction. Don’t stay side-tracked. Move from shock through pain to healing. To healthy integration. The ability to feel subtler and subtler shifts in energy (the opposite of shock) is experienced by every focused yogi. Pain-killers makes us sensitive, but increasingly vulnerable. Yoga increases sensitivity within a field of discernment. Call it my bullshit meter. How then are students taken advantage of? By going into class on auto-pilot, allowing the teacher to touch them, order them, tell them when to breath. Technique must be learned, not absorbed through osmosis.
Keep your self intact and yoga will pull the pieces together. Come broken? Be careful who you bond with. No one but you knows how the puzzle pieces fit together.
Now y’all play nice!