Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Beyond Help Series [Pain and Suffering]

Hola! Everybody,
I’ve been keeping away from posting on the current state of politics because a part of me doesn’t want to give terribly flawed POTUS candidates any attention. I am disgusted by the corporate media’s reality show treatment of this critical moment in our history. I guess that’s it: I’m disgusted.

However, I’m sure I’ll be back at it tomorrow.

Acceptance, Pain & Suffering

Pain is the breaking of the shell of your understanding.
-- Kahlil Gibran

Early on when I first began picking up the pieces of my life, I came upon the phrase suffering is optional. Like most new things, I didn’t understand it at first, but a friend instructed me just to keep at it with an open mind and I would eventually understand.

Today, I make a distinction between pain and suffering. Because of the way we use language, whenever we come face to face with a problem, our first impulse is to fix them. We try to get out of the quicksand. As an evolutionary adaptation and in our external world, this problem-solving approach is effective most of the time. Being able to figure out how to get out of undesirable events, such as being preyed upon, getting eaten, or natural catastrophes, is essential in securing our place as a species.

However, it is also unfortunate that we try to use the same “fix it” mentality when it comes to understanding or coming to terms with our inner world. When we encounter painful psychic content within ourselves, we often resort to what we always do: fix it up and sort it out so we can get rid of it. The truth of the matter is that our inner lives are not like our external world. For one thing, humans live in the context of a history, and time moves only in one direction, not two. Psychological pain has a history and, at least in some respects, the heart of the matter doesn’t entail getting rid of something. It is more a matter of how we deal with it and evolve.

Acceptance as I use it here is based on the perspective that, as a rule, trying to get rid of your pain only makes it worse, entangles you further in it, and eventually makes it more traumatic. This is best illustrated by what I call emotional quicksand: how meeting the suction force of quicksand with tension only makes you more. Our psychological lives are a lot like that. When you’re engaged in fighting for your life, living your life -- thriving -- is often pushed aside. 

The alternative -- a little dangerous to say because at this point it can be misunderstood -- is to accept pain. Acceptance, in the context that I use it here, is not the same as self-defeat; neither is it tolerating and putting up with your pain. It is very different from that. In fact, that type of negative acceptance is a far cry from the vibrant form of acceptance of the moment that can be liberating.

For now, try to think of throwing away the impulse to meet power with power, tension with more tension. Pain is an inescapable fact of life. It happens. You get up early in the morning, and you bang your toe on something. Pain! However, I define suffering differently. I see suffering as pain mixed with tension. Pain can be accepted and even used to transform our suffering. However, if we’re adding tension to pain, then we’re suffering. We have what’s there (pain) and then we have what we bring to the table. Add tension to pain and you have deep suffering. Here it is as a formula:

pain +tension = suffering

Most of us haven’t had much training in the active form of acceptance that I attempting to illustrate here. I want to ask you to keep an open mind and thank your mind for whatever it says this term means, but don’t try to pigeonhole it right now. This form of acceptance is difficult to describe, and learning to be willing to have and live your own experience is something I will focus on a little in future posts. In the meantime, be patient and open -- as well as a little skeptical -- about what your mind might be guessing what I mean right now.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

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