If you’ve been following along here for the last month or so, you’ve probably read about some pretty painful experiences.
I guess I’m on a roll.
The thing is, at age 46 (and counting), I’m sure not getting any younger, and some of this stuff I really don’t want to take with me.
And while I’m not sure we ever really “let go” of things that have literally reshaped who we are and how we operate in this world, for me the key to recovering from life’s deepest pains is getting to the point where I feel like I have a choice again.
In other words, I can continue letting that painful thing alter how I approach life, people, opportunity, obstacles, OR I can revert back to how I used to relate to all these things before the pain came, OR I can find a new way to relate that feels better than either of the other ways.
This is what I mean by choice.
When I used to speak publicly, I always liked to talk about options. Option A and Option B are the two options we typically get without having to work for them.
- Option A: “You can use this great new diet product and lose weight”
- Option B: “You can not use this great new diet product and stay fat.”
But there is another option that won’t ever get mentioned, and that is Option C.
Here, Option C might be:
- “You can find another, kinder, healthier, gentler and better option to reach your unique best level of optimal health.”
Given a choice (which we always get), I would pick Option C every time.
The thing with Option C is, though, it won’t be handed to us. We will always have to go hunt it down, looking in corners, under carpets, in attics and basements, in between our couch cushions, until we find it for ourselves.
Then, once we finally locate Option C, we must next figure out on our own how to pursue it to achieve our goals.
Why do I bring this up here….and why now?
Well, over the years I have noticed that, when I am trying to recover from something very painful, Option A is often to revert back to some other bad habit that will distract me from the pain, and Option B is often to develop some new bad habit that doesn’t feel bad at first (because it is a real trickster).
- Option A: “I’m in so much pain, I think I’ll stop eating and obsess about how fat I look to distract myself.”
- Option B: “I’m in so much pain, I think I’ll drink the rest of the wine in that bottle on the counter tonight so I just fall asleep without thinking.”
Option A is clearly out (after 2+ decades of solid eating disorders recovery, it rarely even comes knocking anymore).
Option B….well, I’ve tried it. Numerous times. As my mentor often says, “there is nothing in life that taking a drink can’t make worse.” Finally I realized she is right.
So of course I’ve been on the hunt for my Option C.
I finally found it in meditation.
Recently I re-watched one of my favorite mentoring movies, “Lucy,” starring Scarlett Johansson as Lucy and Morgan Freeman as the professor who helps her. In the film, Lucy tells the professor that in order to access all the knowledge her brain is generating, she must burst open her cells to their nuclei.
So imagine my surprise when I was reading one of my favorite meditation lessons the other night and came across a suggestion to go beyond temporary pain and suffering by “bursting open your ideas.”
In the lesson, the writer shares how human beings have three main sources of suffering:
- We feel unworthy and imperfect.
- We feel different and separate from others.
- We try to connect by doing rather than being.
I definitely struggle with all three of these things, especially right now!
The writer goes on to say that we also tend to adopt a particular coping mechanism to deal with each source of suffering based on how we see others trying to cope with the same:
- We build our sense of who we are based upon our lack of worth or imperfection.
- We seek a partner to ease the pain by telling us they love us.
- We keep accumulating stuff, money, connections, experiences to fill us up.
Check, check, and check.
So where is the option that isn’t just handed to us (which, in this case, would actually be Option D)?
As I read on, I learned that “bursting open my ideas” in this context means challenging my limited beliefs and ideas instead of just accepting them at face value.
Here is an analogy:
Let’s say I have started to read all about traveling to Cape Cod. From reading, I learn about the area’s weather, ecology, wildlife, local communities, indigenous tribes, beaches, eateries, etc. From listening to others, I learn about their personal experiences of going to Cape Cod.
From all of this information, I then build a mental picture – a simulated experience, if you will – of visiting Cape Cod.
But none of that is going to be real for me until I actually go to Cape Cod.
In the same way, I am now attempting to burst open my mental ideas of who I am, what I am like, what I deserve, why I am the way that I am, what I am worth, how likely I am to ever get what I want at any given moment, why other people like me (or don’t), why partners choose me (or don’t), whether I am a success or failure, and on and on….
I have all these ideas, all these concepts, all these theories, if you will, about myself. But how many have I actually tested and tried out experientially to see if they hold water?
So now, when the pain arises, I must test each theory out individually. This means I have to stop myself before simply flinging myself into the safety net of my limited ideas and beliefs yet again and go through the testing process.
I have to remind myself to breathe. To clear my mind. To stay put. To meditate by witnessing the pain as it swirls within and around me. To notice the options my mind flings desperately in its direction: “Hey, you could not eat! You could drink wine! You could go on a shopping spree! You could call your ex!”
Um, no, no, no, and no.
But without the pause, the breath, the witnessing, the meditation, my ideas are all I’ve got to hold onto when the pain comes again.
At the end of the lesson, the writer quotes a poet I had never heard of named Galway Kinnell.
When I looked him up, I found out he lived in Rhode Island and passed away only recently in 2014. I also discovered we share a favorite poet in common – Rainer Maria Rilke.
The poem is called “St. Francis and the Sow.” Here is the excerpt from the lesson:
stands for all things,
even for those things that don’t flower
for everything flowers from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to re-teach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on the brow
of the flower,
and re-tell it in words and in touch,
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self blessing.
My mind goes all quiet just re-typing this out for you here. I breathe in and breathe out on a deeper level as I read the words “to re-teach a thing its loveliness”….
That there even is such a thing – that it might be possible to re-learn something I have completely forgotten, like that I am actually lovely instead of hideous and hopeless – and that there may be a compassionate mentor out there somewhere who is willing to take their time to re-teach me this lesson…..
I don’t know. I just think it is the most beautiful, hopeful thing I have ever read.
Today’s Takeaway: So I realize I kind of meandered around in this post. It is not so easy, I’m finding, to put some of this stuff into “shareable” form (or at least it is not so easy if you are me). But I wonder – do you relate to any of these lines in Kinnell’s poem? Or to the three sources of human suffering the meditation lesson writer identifies? Or to some of the mainstream options life hands suffering people as “quick fix” solutions? What Option C’s (or D’s) have you found that are more healing and hopeful to you? I would love to hear more about your experiences!