You are not your pain and other lessons to practice
Pondering on my trip to the park, meditation, and our bodies
I walked to Clissold Park today from home - I didn't realise it's so close by (and all downhill). Parks are such junctures of life in the city. Children and dogs all jumbled up together, bumbling round, screaming, tearing at your ankles on their bikes with no stabilisers. Couples arm in arm, strolling, wearing beige (boring), caught in a romantic haze. Ill-trained puppies zooming through people's legs, launching themselves at other, less enthusiastic and understandably weary, dogs. They're preteens, legs and toothy grins. Life is happening, and you are in the thick of it.
I can't wait for another summer in this place. The warmth of the sun when it stays up high enough again for the buildings not to block it. It is a seasonal life we live here in the UK. I forget how hard each winter winds me, that I need to burrow underground, and each spring and summer I am revived, hallelujah, the lord has risen. One of my favourite mic drop moments is to tell Jehovah's Witnesses that my name is Eden. What a gift to give.
New-year blues and too much short-sprint-doing landed me back in the cycle of burnout this January. It's been a while since the last time we spiralled into this 'doing' position, usually thanks to something I put immense value on pulling me to Usain-Bolt a marathon after lying like a cumbersome block of ice on the start line for a few weeks. Looking to reroute that race. Melt more sustainably.
I took in rush hour at the park and just was. I was, so that I did not have to be the marble cake I sponged down my oespheagus thirty minutes from then, drinking disappointing decaf coffee that left a soily coat on my tongue, or the phone call to my dad painting my parent's bedroom to a 'good enough' standard, fifty plus miles from my feet, twenty minutes prior, or mining my mind for information on the risk of economic precarity five years from now, willing to see if I'd ended up with a decent income, if worrying could generate money and peace in equal measure.
Yesterday I went to another meditation class. The man leading it talked about the difficult realities that we confront as we expand our awareness, the realities we bury, our delusions. He used so many wonderful metaphors, talked about leaning into life which made me go 'oof'. Used the image of when you're skiing, you can't go bomb straight down, you have to zigzag. And when you need to turn, you face that near-vertical slope temporarily, but what do you do? If you lean back, away from the slope, you fall over. So you've got to lean in to the turn, the discomfort.
Now, the one time I attempted skiing a decade ago, I found it deranged and utterly terrifying. I was taught by a very brisk Northern Irish man named Fred who we all came to resent. But the metaphor was bang on, leaving me gurning that you cannot avoid discomfort in life. I went up to the speaker to say thank you for sharing. And he looked me in the eye so intensely, and I felt so vulnerable under his deep looking, that it seemed like he saw right through to the core of me. Past any layer or mask that I put on to compose myself for the world that day, right through to the feeling underneath. Whether he did, or whether he was thinking of his next tea break, I don't know, but I felt the experience of it.
Now on this day the feeling was exhaustion and pain. I felt wobbly. But as he looked at me I had this revelation, which I've had before on my way up the mountain, but one that hasn't stuck yet. That while there is a whole load of discomfort in being a human being, I do not have to be my own pain, my identity is not merely pain. Or any feeling, really. Now for all of us, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, there is much pain to forgive, the kind that trips us up on the turn, and through muscle memory spirals into a snowball for a few metres, before we stop the momentum, shake off the snow and get up to try again, differently, hopefully, more kindly.
I had thought the options were deny, shame or numb this pain to avoid Groundhog Day, or, just become passive to the cyclical event. But practising the notion that this pain's presence need not be you, but instead is just a part, a passing feeling, only one section of the picture, that's something different. To truly dissociate your core self with that pain, but allow its presence, is quite remarkable, a lifetime's work to smoother skiing. To acknowledge that it's something you carry, that we all carry, but you are not the weight. It's a misguided rotten coat and gharish suitcase and a lead hat that's been trying to help you, but beneath them we are still unchangeably golden, whole, good. We’re skiers!
Now cognitively, I understand. But I am also looking into a vapid hole rather than a doorway into the necessary healing of the pain. Because feeling is not abstract brain information, you can’t think or talk yourself out of a feeling (noooo). I have tried, I do, frequently, still try. In the session, they talked about the importance of regular meditation practice to keep accessing and moving through the feeling, with the body. Not to get stuck in it. Now whether you meditate, or run, or do yoga, or swim, or dance, through movement you connect with your body, and you keep yourself moving. It is a process to increase your threshold of tolerance for being within the body, one I do not vibe with, but is the only way.
But it is a powerful concept, and one that comes up time and time again, that in order to heal from pain, we must return to the site of the body where it was experienced. Because we all experience it. A feeling felt somatically, rather than cognitively. Going back to our little bodies, time and again, practicing it, practicing the nurture, til it becomes more homely. Maybe the rotten coat slips off, or it transforms, or over time it smells less.
And while you go about the process of creating a home within yourself, you too can step outside, give yourself some respite. Give yourself the respite, people! See those kids zooming on their bikes, screaming in delight to their parents. The trees waving back to you as you stride through the park. The puppies who could not care less about giving you the highlight of your day as they overestimate the jump to catch a ball. The crackle of your partially-deaf -although he'd never admit it- dad shouting down the speaker phone as he paints the sunniest room in the house, the one with a view of a field and a telephone pylon and sometimes very pregnant sheep squabbling over turnips, defeating expectations and getting even bigger with a couple of lambs brewing away inside of them.
That these inner and outer worlds really are one. And the world is so much more than your pain. It's all of ours, and all of our love. In a world where there is so much suffering, we must look even harder for the pleasure that exists hidden in plain sight to find a balance. Life as being here to experience it, feel it, scream it while we are skiing. Cultivating more living inside and out. And some of us need reminding of that. To go in search of the meaning-making in balance. To breathe for a while. To lighten the load.
Take care (and stave off your little intellectual brains for a while and get outside),
Thanks for reading Yearning! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.