Being With Pain

A Way To Go intention, within and for our community, is ‘death as part of life’. Death is often difficult, scary, and overwhelming. It is natural for us to want to distance ourselves from the pain of it, and there is an underlying belief in our culture that suffering can be avoided. It takes a lot of courage, and usually significant support, for us to show up fully for the death of someone, or something, we love.

Kahlil Gibran in The Prophet writes, “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven? … When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”

Joanna Macy, an environmental activist and author now in her 90’s, said in a recent interview, “We have pathologized pain. We have made it a wrong thing … we have been treating it as some kind of enemy to our cheerfulness. The pivotal point in the landscape of my life was that dance with despair, to see how we are called to not run from the discomfort and run from the grief or the feelings of outrage or even fear — and that, if we can be fearless, to be with our pain, it turns. It doesn’t stay static. It only doesn’t change if we refuse to look at it. But when we look at it, when we take it in our hands, when we can just be with it and keep breathing, then it turns. It turns to reveal its other face, and the other face of our pain for the world is our love for the world, our absolutely inseparable connectedness with all life.”

Sophy Banks, founder of the Transition movement, writes, “We often speak about the two wings of the same bird, an image that comes from Martìn Prechtel (artist, musician, storyteller). The two wings represent grief and praise, the pain of life and the joy of life … we cannot love deeply without deep grief. We cannot celebrate beauty, open to the joy of the moment, let ourselves be free with laughter or creativity without also meeting those moments when the loved one is gone, the laughter and beauty is finishing. Impermanence means every source of joy comes to an end, everything living dies, every moment passes … Personally, I don’t believe our culture is one that is frightened of death. I think we’re entranced by death, hence our capacity for creating it on global, industrial scales. What we’re really frightened of is living, of showing up for life fully, with all its beauty and warmth, all its loss and decay, all its generative power and its falling to nothing.”

A quote from Thomas Merton, a monk, mystic, author and poet, “The truth that many people never understand until it is too late is that the more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer.”

Let us show up as fully as we are able to be with life – all of it. This includes being present to the pain, heartbreak, and reality of loss; acknowledging death as part of life.