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Love in the face of pain

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Love in the face of pain
Flaming heart shape

©iStockphoto.com/Adelevin

The world is too much with us, late and soon. I woke up too early this morning, the weight of the world—my own little one and the great big wide one—heavy on my heart. Fifty Syrian children, and their mothers, shot in cold blood, and Assad still firmly at the helm. Word that our gifted Bodega Bay friend Scott killed himself last week and that Trond’s always robust Norwegian childhood friend has cancer. Then came the news of a Florida man eating another man’s face.

 

I couldn’t bear to hear any details. And I didn’t need to. Their suffering lived in the bowels of my being, literally, and it prompted this question: How, dear God, can I keep the love alive in me, in the face of so much pain? What does it take to stay open-hearted, sane and loving in a global village rife with heart-rending insanity? Isn’t that what you, dear reader, also want to do?

 

We are all in the soup together, as I like to say. We always were. Now we know it 24/7 unless we retreat to a Himalayan cave. And God knows I’d sometimes like to—or okay, at least to a cottage in the woods, as Trond often describes his desire for greater extra-worldly simplicity.

 

That’s what Bapuji did, Swami Kripalvanand, inspirational source of my early Kripalu path and recent book. He threw everything aside to sit and bathe himself in himself—in his humanity and his divinity—until there appeared to be nothing left but the love we all essentially are. It’s a love so great it can contain all the suffering in the world. Exactly what the world needs now!

 

But how to keep the love fire fueled, short of retreat to a cave? I got my answer to that burning question when, sitting on the couch with Trond soon after posing it, I burst into sweet tears. I say the tears were sweet because as they began to fall I felt myself open and soften into the pain I’d been resisting with all mind’s might. I’d been upstairs in bed since five trying to meditate, to no avail. My brain was a rat’s nest. I’d tried lying down and taking my usually surefire deep, relaxing yoga breaths. But my heart still felt like a stone, closed to myself and the world.

 

I gave up and joined Trond downstairs. Over tea and cookies, I told him how sad I was about all the suffering we humans are privy to. I wondered aloud how I could keep on loving—myself first, since we cannot give what we do not have—when so much shit is going down all around.

 

That’s when I burst into tears and finally got in touch—felt in my whole body-being—the horror of the dead Syrian children. I wept long and hard for them, for their mothers and for their murderers, who must have a hell of a time sleeping at night. Soon I found myself crying aloud to our friend Scott how terribly sorry I am that he’d been so unhappy and we hadn’t known. I let the pain of all that and more have me, until my tears were spent.

 

I had my answer: That if I want to keep my heart open for the love, I must keep it open for the pain and suffering as well. Not just a little open, but wide open. To keep love fully alive in me, I must be willing for pain to live here, too. I must be willing to feel the full force of it, whenever it arises, with every fiber of my blood-soaked heart and swirling gut.

 

I know, I know. It sounds gory and scary, and it kind of is. But if I shut my heart down to the horror of the face-eating man’s desperation and despair, I shut myself down to myself, to that essential love, which my heart must stay open to receive and, so, to give. Yes!

 

We can love exactly to the extent we are willing to feel what’s in the way of love—the fear, the doubt, the shame and suffering, whether it seems to be “ours” or “others”—till we burn it up. Until my heart is great enough to contain all the world, my job is not done. I must do what it takes to make room for everything. Does it make sense? Please add the voice of your experience to mine. Let’s learn from each other how to live and love well in these often difficult times.

 

Categories: Facing Fear, Self-Care
  • Donna Rock

    Love your raw and edgy struggle – because we all visit that place.  And I feel your angst with what to do with it all – in our culture, so many of us avoid that pain and struggle – we use drugs or sex or food or whatever distraction we can find to blur it and try to make it go away. 

    We desensitize ourselves to violence, pain and suffering.  (Just look at the increasing violent and sexual content in television and movies as the barometer of just how desensitized we have become.  Although to do that, you have to temporarily allow yourself to really see and feel what you are watching.) 

    What would this world be like if instead we would genuinely feel and allow the lessons and consequences of the worlds brutality to teach us all how to be better humans and make a better world.

    • Suzanne Grenager

      What a BEAUTIFUL final statement, Donna! You are so right that in order to learn the lessons the world’s bruatality might teach us, we must first feel the horror of it. If we shut down, it is way too easy to ignore and even forget, caught up as we inevitably become in *trying* to be happy in the face of it. That “trying” is an attempted escape from reality – whether, as you suggest, it’s via drugs, sex or food, and I might add TV, shopping, Facebook, busyness, or what have you. None of that is intrisically “bad” — hey, wine is a drug, and it’s good! But when we try to *lose* ourselves in anything (maybe even something as benefical as yoga!), we do desensitize. And we lose the chance not only to take pleasure from it but, as you wisely say, to be better humans making a better world. I am so glad you are here! 

  • http://www.haikukwon.com/ Haiku Kwon

    A friend once said to me long ago, “if you’re too afraid to scar, you’re too afraid to love.” Loving takes courage because, as you said, you have to be open to the heartache that will inevitably accompany it. It is a lesson that I’ve finally begun to embrace. After spending the first 2 decades of my life feeling as though I was losing everything I loved, I found that in all of that time, my capacity to love and live was being increased. I just had to open my eyes- my heart- to see it.
    Beautiful post.

    • Suzanne Grenager

      Thank you, dear one, for showing up to add your experienced voice to the mix. How wonderful that you are embracing love in all its sometimes thorny splendor. While you are right, of course, that heartache can accompany love, it seems to me it doesn’t necessarily have to. What I meant to convey, and you seem to understand, is that if we shut down to heartache, we shut down period. And a heart that’s shut down can’t be expected to suddenly fly open for love.

      I am sorry for all you say you have lost. But if the suffering you endured has opened your eyes – and your heart – for greater living and loving, Wow! How amazing is that! I salute you and send all love and support on your Sacred Way. See you here again soon, I hope!

  • http://www.facebook.com/kantaconnie Kanta Connie Bousquet

    I cannot add anything as you have so beautifully expressed what certainly is occurring in so very many of us as we try to make sense of the world as it is now. I struggle daily with how to be totally non-judgmental and loving when there are situations and beings who horrify me. I try just to live in the Moment
    and be cognizant that everyone on the Planet is going through something difficult.I am very thankful for my Yogic training and Buddhist approach to life. You write so very well; it is always a joy to read your material.

    • Suzanne Grenager

      Thank, thank you, dear Kanta. It is also always a joy to read what you write. How wise of you to stay mindful of the difficulty we ALL face as mortals, whether we acknowledge it (and handle it well) or not. Like you, I am very thankful for the training I received, especially through being in the presence of Bapuji, Swami Kripalvanand. His talk on Life and Struggle was a pivotal teaching for me, as you’ll see if you get to the end of my book. I know that you, too, are practicing his path — *our* path — of compassionate self-awareness, which I suppose is also the essence of Buddhism.

      I am so glad we have reconnected and that you are honoring us with your simple and sagacious understanding. We elder wise woman must hold that space and hold it *together* (in both senses of the word!)

  • Sheila

    A big loving hug from Nova Scotia, my sister coach. 

    • Suzanne Grenager

      Thank you, dear, and back at you. *Loving hugs* are the best.

  • Laurie (positoid in mountains)

    The world’s suffering is not for one heart.  We all must keep the message of love alive.  We must put the light on the ugly of the world.  I can’t afford to stand back and not take a stand on any thing that fractures our humanity.  I get scared to act out.  This only happens when I start to get caught up in the head not my heart.  Sometimes, I feel that people are bothered by my continuous battle against discrimination, fracking, women’s issues, children’s issue, and just anything that takes away our right to live without the effects of hatred.  Feelings sometimes are not always fact.  Facts never change, but feelings do.  As I grow spiritually, I find that my feelings do not consume me (as much lol), or rather try to fix them with some mood altering chemical.  I am very sensitive to the struggles of others.  I sometimes have to do more then visualize love and healing for others, sometimes I am not a peaceful warrior.  When I see and feel the effects of pure hatred, I must raise my voice. When I see negative effects on the environment, I must raise my voice.  The pain is without a doubt the motivator to be part of the journey, not just observe from the sidelines while waiting for someone else to shed light on the darkness.  Every time I take a risk of appearing aware, I take the risk of knowing that someone’s heart or mind may be touched by the love and then they too will be part of creating effective healthy change.  Recently, I and we in our little community of the North Fork Valley in Colorado, deferred 22 parcels for hydraulic fracturing.  Gas mask and voice, walked the  highway, in-front of the BLM offices.  Saying we love the North Fork Valley, wasn’t enough.  When others are willing to be able to destroy with destruction of our land and water, I must be willing to go to any length to protect what I love. I must remember where I came from in order to be here today.  I must be willing to act in love, not just love.  ”Life is a flower and love is its honey”  Any information on where to send letters on how to stop the fight in Syria, or to help those affected, please post on facebook and lets begin the awareness of our love.  Blessings and gratitude to you.

    • Suzanne Grenager

      God, Laurie, I love how bold and proactive you are, how willing, even eager, to stand up, step up and shout it out when something moves you — when, as you wonderfully put it, something threatens to “fracture our humanity.” You do indeed go to “any length” and “act in love” and “not just love” to protect what you know in the bowels of your being is sacred. How GREAT that you stopped the fracking, at least for now. I so admire that! And if others reading our words have information about or are moved to take action to help stop Assad, please let us all know. One simple way I know is to stop being violent with ourselves (as most of us are, albeit subtly). This is something I may write about next time, writing being one way I know to act. 

      Bless you Laurie for your passionate prompting. You GO, girl!  

  • Rachel

    What an empathetic and beautiful person you are, Suzanne.  To feel the pain of another, as if it were your own…to lose rest or peace of mind over someone else’s suffering…is to be connected, yoked, unified.  Sensitive souls feel the pressing of the weight of the world at times, for sure.  But with that connection and union–we feel a greater depth of the love, the joy, the laughter and the peace that IS out there, amidst the pain.  Keep soft…do not let the world make you hard.  Love always, deeply and unwaveringly, without discouragement.  As you feel so strongly, so many beings out there in the struggle need more of it.  And just like you felt their pain….perhaps, just maybe….they will feel our love.  

    • Suzanne Grenager

      Oh, my. My long thoughtful response to you disappeared with a misplaced finger on the keyboard. No, actually, I lost it because Alwx just posted a new comment! So that’s good and let’s try again:

      What a totally glorious statement, Rachel! So full of promise about what *our love* can do for a suffering world. Thank you! You express most eloquently how joy and sorrow are of a piece, both essential to a great heart. Even my beloved Bapuji, enlightened as he seemed to be, was known to weep inconsolably when disciples regaled him with their stories of woe. He was also the most truly joyful person I ever shared a room with, he and the Dalai Lama. 

      Love and laughter are very closely aligned, as your words suggest. So let us hold hands and weep and laugh together and, so, make love for the world. Your words are a beautiful reminder to us all that we are, as you put it, ”yoked” and that what we do for ourselves, we do for each other.

      • Rachel

        Inspired, as always, Dear Suzanne!  Love always.

  • Alex

    Doesn’t this have to do so much with becoming present?  

    Love is here, always.  When we feel pain, we must go through it to get back to love.  Otherwise we suffer never truly knowing love.  This reminds me of how I am learning how to trust; have faith that things will be okay even when they aren’t; how to see the connection, the meaningful, and the beauty; how to love myself, my life, the people and circumstance.  If I take a look around me in the present, mostly, there is no real immediate threats to my being and I can feel good, thus I have the space to love.  But sometimes, real or imagined threats, get me spiraling, depressed or frustrated, untrusting, feeling hopeless.  The only thing I can do to truly help myself through to experiencing love and openness again is through compassion.  I must take a good look at what it is that is making me feel this way, feel it, see how it makes sense that I might feel this way, hold it, and find a way to tend to my own needs through self-love and self-care.  When we are fearing the past or having anxiety about the future is that when we become “uncentered” and we can lose our feeling of love and trust?  Maybe this uncentering is just another way for us to learn how to come back home and live more from heart. 

    • Suzanne Grenager

      Alex! I love your rich, helpful description of the compassion you show to your *self* when you are feeling threatened, frustrated or hopeless. How very wise of you to stop and let yourself feel the full force of the unpleasant feelings and their source, so they might be allowed to unravel and dissipate, returning you to your natural state, which, happily, you know is love. How wonderful that you are so clear that “love is here, always,” waiting for us to come back to it. And maybe you are right that losing our center or balance does indeed help send us back to the heart and our loving Source.
       
      Great question about whether it is our past and future focus that creates anxiety and throws us off and out of our hearts in the first place. That is what the sages say. Past and future are mental constructs, and to the extent we are thinking thoughts, we are living in either the past or the future – in the realm of memories or dreams. Only when we get out of our heads can we be here now, which is to say be fully present in our bodies – guts, hearts and all. *This* nano-second may be the only place true contentment lives. Phew! Not sure how much sense that makes, and feel free, please, to carry on the conversation. I deeply appreciate your sharing your wisdom.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1077290440 Angel Pricer

    What a wonderfully raw report of how love transforms us, Suzanne.  Surrendering deeply to the pain that begs to be felt is indeed the only way that love becomes free to move in us, through, us, as us.  This is how we become the forces of change in the world.  

    • Suzanne Grenager

      Thank you, Angel! I love your way with words. Pain does indeed beg to be felt, as I was reminded on a recent call with a young woman  who had viewed crying as a weakness she didn’t want to succomb to. But as we spoke, the tears insisted on coming. Whatever pain they represented was indeed begging to be felt. I also really appreciate your speaking of love being free to move in us “as us.” So wise of you to know that the surrender — to pain and love — is the key to our transformation and, so, the transformation we are here to effect. Nice!

  • Karen Latvala

    I agree that opening our hearts to whatever is out there is one of our most important tasks/ways of being now.  Yet I wonder if it’s important to continue holding that pain in our hearts and bodies, once we acknowledge it?  I love the Buddhist practice of Tonglen–breathing in another’s suffering, and then breathing out peace and love to them.  This works more like a compassionate air filter.  We acknowledge their pain without having to hold onto it, and we’re sending them something they need.  It’s like a transmutation.  Another tool I like is the Hawaiian practice of Ho’oponopono (info on the web), in which we acknowledge that we are a part of everything that goes on because we are all connected (“I’m sorry, please forgive me, thank you, I love you”).
    I appreciate your addressing this important topic, Suzanne.

    • Suzanne Grenager

      Great to hear from you here, Karen. Your suggestions for working with pain — ours and the world’s – are excellent. You will be a terrific resource for us, I can tell. And I LOVE your characterization of Tonglen as a “compassionate air filter.” How well said is that!

      I also appreciate your reminder of the Ho’oponopono “prayer” asking for forgiveness and offering love. These are both wonderful practices, which I hope other of our readers will check out and try out as they explore ways to work with psychic pain.

      Lastly, I didn’t mean to suggest that by making our hearts big enough to contain the world and its suffering we need to hold onto pain we have worked through, though I can see why might take it that way. What I meant to convey is my desire to create so much openness in my being that there is room for the whole world in all its suffering and joy. I don’t want to resist anything but I don’t want to hold onto anything either. Could we call that *receptive non-attachment,” or am I just playing wth words? Thanks for your insignts. 

  • Terrypaulchoyce

    I have learned to live with the horror in the world by constantly reminding myself that every soul has it’s own journey which none of us can fathom.  My responsiblity is to live my life with as much integrity, kindness, and joy as i can.  My grief does not save the 50 children.  Perhaps a letter to a politican may help stop the next atrocity.  I do what i can, but I refuse to feel the deep grief that is at the edge of everything.  Sending love and gratitude is what i always can do. 

    Love,   Terry

    • Suzanne Grenager

      Ah, Terry. Good to have your voice in this chorus. Thank you! I heartily agree with your eloquently simple words about your responsibility–to live your life with as much integrity, kindness and joy as you can. That is what I, too, try to do. Every now and then, though, grief wells up. I know it cannot save anyone, but there it is, raw and real and asking to be felt. I am not able to refuse it nor am I sure I want to, since it may be a catalyst for relasing old unresolved feeligns that have nothing to do with those children. I remember being told that the greatest lover I ever knew, Swami Kriplau, often wept when he heard his Indian disciples tell sad stories. I suppose that ws his way of expressing his compassion. So perhaps we each have our own way to deal with the pain of life. Your way of sending love and gratitude–and that you are able “always” to choose that–is quite remarkable, and I appreciate hearing about it, as I expect others will.  

  • http://profiles.google.com/bexvankoot Bex vanKoot

    After waking up to news of more senseless violence today, I really needed this message. Thank you so much, Suzanne, for using your voice to share such important words… even those of us who know these things in our hearts need to be reminded. I can’t hide from the real horrors of the world, but I can choose not to trivialize them or inure myself to the reality of them with participation in sensational media. I can choose to feel the pain for what it is, and then choose to continue living a life of love because of it. 

    • http://profiles.google.com/bexvankoot Bex vanKoot

      Just saw this and thought of you:

      The Peace of Wild Things
      BY WENDELL BERRY

      When despair for the world grows in me
      and I wake in the night at the least sound
      in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
      I go and lie down where the wood drake
      rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
      I come into the peace of wild things
      who do not tax their lives with forethought
      of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
      And I feel above me the day-blind stars
      waiting with their light. For a time
      I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

    • Suzanne Grenager

      What a GORGEOUS testimonial to what we awake, ware women — and many men — must be about now: choosing to continue living a life of love. *I* love the simple way you said it. Bless you, sister, and thank you for your message. You are most welcome for mine.

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