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A Day In The Heart of Pain

What Would It Be Like To Awaken To A Day With Our Hearts Open To Pain?


Unattended Sorrow

Unattended Sorrow

The following is an excerpt from the book Unattended Sorrow: Recovering from Loss and Reviving the Heart by Stephen Levine

Some years ago, sitting next to a fifteen-month-old child whose cancer had begun in her mother's womb, as I prayed for her life, something very deep inside told me to stop, that I didn't know enough to make such a prayer. It said that I was just second-guessing God. That I could not really comprehend what her spirit might have needed next, that only this pain in this fleeting body, which was being torn from the hearts of her loved ones, might teach her as she evolved toward her ceaseless potential. That she, like us all, was in the lap of the mystery, and that the only appropriate prayer was, "May you get the most out of this possible!"

Sharing our healing, we send wishes for the well-being of all those who, like ourselves, find themselves in a difficult moment, as the heart whispers, "May we all get the most out of this possible." And we can say to ourselves, in appreciation of the healing potential of approaching with mercy and awareness that which so recently may have been an aversion to our situation, "May I get the most out of this possible."

It is said that nothing is true until we have experienced it, so as an experiment in sending love where the fear is, we can use the presence of mild pain to test the truth of softening and sending mercy into an area of our body that is perhaps captured in the constriction of fear. Knowing that working with physical pain demonstrates a means of working with mental pain as well, we can let go of the tension around physical discomfort.

If you watch closely, you'll notice that when you experience physical pain, you ostracize and isolate that part of yourself. You close off what is calling out for your help. We do the same thing with our grief.

When you stub your toe, more than physical pain is generated; grief is released into the wound, followed by a litany of dissatisfactions and "poor me's," a damning of God sent heavenward. When we trip and fall in the darkness we are all too ready to curse ourselves for being so clumsy, as well as for not being able to hold our bladder until dawn, for not counting the hours in our just-expended 1,000-hour lightbulb, and the bruise is suffused with self-judgment and an irrational sense of responsibility.

The next time you have a minor wound, such as a stubbed toe or bumped elbow, note how long it takes that wound--when you soften to it and use it as a focus for loving kindness--to heal. Then compare it with the number of days it takes a similar wound to heal when you turn away from it, allowing the fear and resistance that rushes toward it to mercilessly remain. Contrast the healing of an injury in the mind or body in which loving kindness has gradually gathered to one that has been abandoned.

This softening and opening around pain has been shown in several double-blind studies to provide greater access of the immune system to an area of injury. It opens the vice of resistance into a never-considered acceptance of the moment. It denies hopelessness a home. It proves we are not helpless, that we can actively intercede in what we previously believed we had only to endure.

Working with our pain, or the pain of loved ones, cultivates a mercy that allows us to stay one more moment at their bedside when we are most needed. It allows us to not run away.

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