“Those who are fortunate enough to escape the worst that can happen are nevertheless tormented with imaginations of what might be, and their skins tingle and their stomachs turn in sympathy and horror at the fate of others.
It is little wonder, then, that we seek detachment from the body, wanting to convince ourselves that the real “I” is not this quaking mass of tissue with all its repulsive possibilities for pain and corruption. It is little wonder that we expect religions, philosophies, and other forms of wisdom to show us above all else a way of deliverance from suffering, from the plight of being a soft body in a world of hard reality. Sometimes therefore it seems that the answer is to match hardness with hardness, to identify ourselves with a spirit which has principles but no feelings, to despise and mortify the body, and to withdraw into the comfortably fleshless world of abstract thought or psychic fantasy. To match the hardness of facts we then identify our minds with such symbols of fixity, entity, and power as the ego, the will and the immortal soul, believing ourselves to belong in our inmost being to a realm of spirit beyond both the hardness of fact and the weakness of flesh. This is, as it were, a shrinking of consciousness from its environment of pain, gathering itself back and back into a knot around its own center.
Yet it is just in this shrinking and hardening that consciousness not only loses its true strength but also aggravates its plight. For the withdrawal from suffering is also suffering, such that the restricted and enclosed consciousness of the ego is really a spasm of fear. As a man with a stomach wound craves water, which it is fatal to drink, the mind’s chronic withdrawal from suffering renders it just that much more vulnerable. Fully expanded, consciousness feels an identity with the whole world, but contracted it is the more inescapably attached to a single minute and perishable organism…unless the organism can feel pain, it cannot withdraw from danger, so that the unwillingness to be able to be hurt is in fact suicidal, whereas the simple retreat from an occasion of pain is not. It is true that we want to have our cake and eat it: we want to be sensitive and alive, but not sensitive to suffering…
We revolt at the prospect of our own orgiastic reactions to pain because they are in flat contradiction with our socially conditioned image of ourselves.
The more we defend, the more we suffer, and defending is itself suffering. Although we cannot help putting up the psychological defense, it dissolves when it is seen that the defense is all of a piece with what we are defending ourselves against.”
Alan Watts – Nature, Man and Woman
All of a piece…I love this. You grab a tar baby when you defend against. As long as the motive is a reaction against the feared reality, you are hugging the very thing and drawing into yourself the energy of that which you want to avoid.
Then there is a deeper move. It’s one of opening up to life, like a lover opens up to the ministrations of love. Even if the move amounts to a more kink-type “move” like a lashing headache. Maybe all things coming at me are part of an opportunity and not an attack – such acceptance births newness. Deciding that each experience is an opportunity to transmute in love or in simple acceptance, I find an embrace of what is. I may find myself embracing retreat to restore strength, to ready for the next roundy round with the next big “is” of pain or delight.
At the point of “is” I may have the visual disturbance of a minor migraine emerging. I can get angry, irritated and panicky. Why the hell did this come find me NOW? What is it I believe that is opening the door to this hijacked moment? I did that yesterday. Fixing breakfast for my kids, having awakened feeling engulfed in bliss. I rounded this corner blithely floating along and slam. Bamming surprise sang a challenge. No, it cannot be happening. That is not a curved jagged neon flashing disintegration of my morning vision. No, it is not going to start pounding or hinder my vision. No. No. Bright. Flash. Pound. Smear the jelly on a sandwich for lunch. Cubic neon morning light posing kitchen table pulsing images shattered but put back together in a mosaic of vibrating view, edges not quite aligned. The head rages. I rage. No. No. No.
It was not until yes welled up within that I found the strength to simply rest in being my way through a mild headache. It had been preceded by dizziness. Not that this is the norm, but I wound up mowing the lawn. I did it by accepting my way through the process of feeling pain. I was not refusing the pain. I was saying “Okay. Let’s dance.” There is a surrender that does not capitulate to pain as a “bad guy.” I decided to partake of the energy of resilience. Every part of me was saying: Keep on. Keep on. What can you do? How can you affirm the truth that you’re not at the mercy of life, life is not some cruel toying master lording your time over you like a rare morsel? Life is asking you to learn more.
Some days, there’s no dance. There’s rest and only the quiet hum of silence attending the weary flesh of one who knows her limits and wants to live a long life. Pain or not.