This week I have struggled with some heavy personal issues. Despite all the meditation, real life feels like real life. I feel ordinary in the face of it, and at times powerless to change it. Even after yesterday’s excellent meditation, I found myself feeling frustrated throughout the evening. What’s the good of meditating every day if you still struggle with life’s problems?
In a moment of inspiration, my inner voice prompted me to write down this message:
“Forget eliminating pain. This is impossible. Life is pain. It is the condition of our existence. This is one of the Four Noble Truths. The project is managing pain. Stop trying to eliminate it. Stop trying to escape it. Stop trying to minimize it. Accept it.
You cannot escape pain. Repeat this to yourself. Pain is unavoidable. If you feel a well of sadness rise within you at the thought of this reality, let it out. Cry. Weep tears as long as they flow. Because the sooner you empty yourself of resistance to this reality the sooner you will be liberated.
This is not nihilism. This is not pessimism. This is not cynicism. This is freedom. Accept pain as part of your experience. Know that it is inevitable. Stop seeking to limit it. Say to pain as it arises, “You are part of life; you are life. I am here with you, too.
Once you are fully present with pain as it arises, once you stop running and hiding from it, you will realize your greater nature beyond pleasure and pain. But you can only realize your true self when you quit denying half of your total experience.”
Suddenly you will find you are a superhero. You’re capacity for life will double.”
I wrote this message down as it came to me. I took the message with me into my meditation. What I then experienced was incredible – a true breakthrough.
I am still running from pain. I am still hiding from it, trying to minimize its presence in my life. At base, that’s what the entire meditative project is to me – a way to avoid pain – an escape. This expectation was suddenly stripped from me and thrust down by the realization that as long as life goes on, pain goes on. To want it to be otherwise is to want out of life.
I quieted myself and listened intently to my body and soul. The yearning, the drive, the dissatisfaction, all of it together described as inner pain, was suddenly revealed as the very essence of my physical nature. In order to be here at all I had to assume this bundle of pain. This is the condition of physical existence. With this realization I was enlightened; I no longer felt the need to escape it – I was totally free of it.
Everything changed in an instant. I felt my body respond as though to the deepest relaxation. It was as if a dagger was pulled from by torso. Warm blood flowed through my veins. My face released the subconscious grimace it was hiding. I sat in the most effortless silence I have ever experienced. I was fully present in my body in way I have never experienced. And yet precisely because I was so present there I could feel myself in all things.
I realize just how deeply the hope to avoid pain runs. The more I meditate, the more betrayed I feel by emotional pain, the more uncomfortable it becomes, simply because I feel like I should be getting better at avoiding it, or that it should be avoiding me. I expect it to stop.
But this is not the realization that ends suffering. Pain is going to continue: this is correct realization. But through acceptance you change your understanding of what pain is. It is the condition of physical existence. Nihilism comes from believing you can avoid pain and being constantly thwarted in this expectation. This is different. This is embracing pain because it’s part of the experience. When you do this you find life in it.
Suddenly you’re invincible. Life is yours in its entirety.