January 20, 2009

What If...?

"What if the mightiest word is love?
Love beyond marital, filial, national.
Love that casts a widening pool of light.
Love with no need to pre-empt grievance.
In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air,
Anything can be made, any sentence begun
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp.
Praise song for walking forward in that light."
—from "Praise Song for the Day" by Elizabeth Alexander

January 14, 2009

Ask a Facilitator: Why Do I Still Experience Pain?

Q: I know I am not this identity or the body, yet I was in a lot of pain last night. How can one who knows this have so much pain?

A: Here's a favorite old limerick, which I've edited slightly: (The original was about a Christian Scientist, and didn't scan quite right for this old English major.)

A nondual sage from Caneel
Once said, "Although pain isn't real,
When I sit on a pin, and it punctures my skin,
I dislike what I fancy I feel!"

Step hard on Eckhart Tolle's toe and I guarantee you he'll at least wince. So what? It's not a dilemma unless you say it is. I think it's more important to look at what we're thinking and feeling around pain than to try and dissociate from the body.

If I experience fear around having pain, that's the problematical body-identification, not the experience of pain itself. I'm believing that if the body hurts or isn't functioning optimally then "I" am not okay now, or it's going to get worse, or it will never go away, or I'll be disabled and that would be terrible. To fear pain, and look to "enlightenment" in order to transcend it, is not present-moment awareness at all; it's a story of the past projected onto the story of a future. I can "know" intellectually that "I'm not the body," and I can have had glimpses of the truth of this...but any fear around what could happen if I experience being in the body means I still believe I am a "me." Any thought that this shouldn't be happening just grounds me in "me-ness."

For her part, Byron Katie, who doesn't call herself enlightened, says, "You don't wake up forever. It's now. Now. Now." If you buy that, then attachment to a belief, or non-attachment, is only momentary—which makes sense to me, because there isn't a future. Even "now" is always over; we always begin again.

I haven't heard that the end of suffering means the end of physical pain. Ramana Maharshi apparently experienced physical pain; he just didn't experience it as a problem; he said words to the effect of, "let the body do what it does." The stressful thoughts about the physical sensations are worse than the sensations and they can, as you've likely experience, even seem to exacerbate pain.

Katie has said, "Pain is a friend. It's nothing I want to get rid of, if I can't. I'm a lover of what is. It's a sweet visitor; it can stay as long as it wants to. (And this doesn't mean I won't take the Tylenol.)"

I've witnessed Katie in recent years having all kinds of physical ailments...most recently, painful spasms in her feet which left her unable to walk for some time. Nothing, not even spinal injections, relieved the pain for many months, and I heard from her that she was just fine through it all: in pain, not suffering...because each pain, whether physical or emotional, always comes to pass and not to stay.

If it serves, you might like to do The Work on "I shouldn't feel pain." Why, in a friendly universe, is it actually a good thing to experience pain? I invite anyone who feels that pain is a problem to go deeply into this inquiry and post your experience here in the comments.

©2009 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

January 3, 2009

Resolving to "Love Thyself"

I'm not sure I love this photograph of me yet, depicting new haircut and distorting eyeglasses.

Which brings me to our topic du jour, resolving to love oneself...which to me seems a pointless endeavor.

I used to be one of those people who resolved every year to change myself...always failed...and always ended up beating myself even more. In other words, I wasn't merely fat, broke, single, squinty-eyed, etc.; I was also a hopeless failure at keeping my word!

I was using New Year's resolutions as a motivator. It looked something like this: "Change, and then you can have the life you want. Only then, after you have changed, do you have permission to love yourself." Today, it seems silly to wait for happiness and self-love until all my ducks are in a row. Now that the pressure is off, I notice I'm pretty happy most of the time, whatever is happening.

It's very easy to say "love thyself," and not so easy to put it into practice. I've come to see that I can't force self-love any more than I can stick to a resolution to change myself. Try making yourself love what you don't love! "Oh, what beautiful thunder-thighs!" "I accept and love my learning disability." "Hello, unemployment, I love you!" It doesn't work; affirmations never fooled anyone in their unquestioned, "I know" mind.

What I can do, and what I have done for many years, is question the beliefs that stand between me and self-love. "I don't have a husband; it must mean I'm not lovable or attractive." "I haven't progressed in my career as much as So-and-So has." "I'm too old to start a new career." "My body is too flabby." "I need to make more money." "I should be further along in life than I am." "I don't deserve happiness." "Everything I touch turns to mud." "I'm not good enough." "I should have been more careful."

When you hold self-hating thoughts up to the light of inquiry—that is, when you question the validity of what you are thinking, examine how you live your life out of these beliefs, notice how you would feel if you didn't think these thoughts and see if their opposites are as true or truer—you call the punishing mind's bluff. Eventually, you don't have to resolve to love yourself; you just do.

©2009 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.