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Pain as a Blessing

So, the official (not factual) story is - there was an accident involving a trampoline and a team of Bulgarian aerialists (the true story is of course is much more boring and incriminates me). The cause of the injury was a fall directly on my buttocks from a height of about three and a half feet.

I have had disc issues for 17 years as well as stenosis, now I added pelvic fractures to that laundry list of spine afflictions.

1. You must let the pain visit. 2. You must allow it teach you 3. You must not allow it overstay. —Ijeoma Umebinyuo, three routes to healing

We all find ourselves in “no win” situations from time to time; the life partner or business partner or manager who (seemingly) criticizes our every action, or the frustration of not being able to find a new job, or any job, or not make a sale no matter what we try, or a health problem that is not healing and causing us to change the way we live. In my case, the injury. For whatever the reason, we all experience times when we have to recognize that we feel powerless and must acknowledge we are not in control.

When you are in such a situation, it is all too easy to see yourself in terms of the seemingly insurmountable obstacle. You come to see only frustration, you feel isolated and perhaps (speaking from recent experience) self pity.

When we are able to take an objective view we can see that this point of view is not helpful. Taking the objective view can be easier said than done.

I would like to offer some suggestions that I used to help me cope with my recent episode of human vulnerability.

As is often the case, my prescription for coping includes meditation.

In a groundbreaking new study published Friday in The Journal Of East Asian Studies, a team of leading historians has proved that meditation originally spread from ancient China because a single, highly annoying monk went around telling everyone how much it had changed his life. Article in The Onion

Simple acceptance, just allowing what ever the "it" is to be, goes a long way to relieving the angst. Resistance, anger, denial are all normal reactions. Unfortunately, they dump fuel on the fire of your mental distress.

Take a moment to honor your conflict, or suffering. Following a simple guided meditation, sitting with your suffering, where you stop fighting whatever it is you are fighting against, and simply allow "it" to be there with you, does wonders to calm the emotional and mental uproar. It helps to move you from restriction to expansiveness.

As the time passed and my back did not get better and the pain went on and on, I became more discouraged. Self pity welled up from time to time. In response to the more severe emotional struggles I moved from acceptance to welcoming. I started saying The Welcoming Prayer, printed below.

The Welcoming Prayer Welcome, welcome, welcome. I welcome everything that comes to me today because I know it's for my healing. I welcome all thoughts, feelings, emotions, persons, situations, and conditions. I let go of my desire for power and control. I let go of my desire for affection, esteem, approval and pleasure. I let go of my desire for survival and security. I let go of my desire to change any situation, condition, person or myself. I open to the love and presence of God and God's action within. Amen.

Yes, this is a prayer. Saying it, you are aligning yourself with a higher power, (insert the name you use; God, or the Divine, or the Universe). You are, in essence, making the situation you find yourself in, sacred and opening yourself to learning from the experience.

This is a subtle prayer. You actively let go of your desire for power, control, security, affection. All of the needs associated with esteem identified by Abraham Maslow in his hierarchy. Also all of the needs associated with the individual ego.

But it is subtle. You are not identifying these needs as bad in themselves. Affection, security, pleasure, the desire to correct your own faults and failings, are all good stuff. But the desire for, the attachment to these needs cause the problem. Saying this prayer, you align yourself and even if it is just for the moment that you say the words, you relinquish your desire to change the situation. And it gets better, as the grip on your heart, your soul, your mind is loosened. Even if just for that moment, you stop the downward cycle into self pity and despair. A glimmer of hope lighters the load.

There is one more meditation that I practiced. When the pain was bad, I would practice Tonglin. The essence of the Tonglin practice is to breathe in the suffering of another person and to breathe out loving-kindness, compassion, and healing. When I was in severe pain and was tired of feeling this pain, when it seemed that I was not healing and I was feeling powerless, I would begin to breathe consciously. At first I would breathe with compassion for myself and honor the pain and frustration. Then as I was breathing in this pain I would intentionally expand this breath to include the suffering of those in the world feeling similar or worse pain. I would reflect on my suffering, and that I expected to recover from this pain and I would consciously breathe in the suffering of those who are experiencing pain with no end in sight, and exhaling I would send light and love and release to them.

I have shared this practice with people who have questioned why I would do this. They seemed to think I was drawing more suffering onto myself. This practice is so freeing. It brings your focus away from your little ego into what yogis call the big ego. You automatically release your pettiness.

What I am saying is, it is a great gift.

Because this is a blog about the intersection of art and spirituality I am sharing some of the work done during this period. A note about that. My work sessions were very short and far between because I would need days to recover from an hour and a half session of painting. But painting happens in your mind as well as when there is a brush or palette knife in your hand. My work has morphed and developed during this period of physical restriction. My spiritual life has expanded too. What a blessing!

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