Embracing Pain as a Friend
By Erica Sofrina, Speaker, Teacher and Author
“The time will come when with elation you will greet yourself arriving at your own door, in your own mirror and each will smile at the other’s welcome, and say, sit here. Eat. You will love again the stranger who was your self. Give wine, give bread, give back your heart to itself, to the stranger who has loved you all your life.”
In this illuminating message the poet Derek Walcott talks about the moment we arrive at our own door and welcome in the stranger that was once our self.
What brings us to this place of remembering who we are? Do we arrive there all at once, or do we arrive there, and forget, and arrive again and again, each time finding another piece of the puzzle that makes up the mysterious entity that we call ‘ourselves’?
I believe our lives are a journey of dismemberment in order to remember who we truly are.
Like Isis who searched the world over for the body parts of her beloved Osiris, I spent years journeying through life like an amnesiac, gathering piece after precious piece until I began to recognize a form taking shape.
These precious ‘rememberings’ often came after a period of intense emotional pain.
So I ask the question, is emotional pain a bad thing?
I remember a moment in time when I realized my divorce was inevitable. It was the right decision for me but the pain of the reality of the break up was so excruciating I didn’t think I could survive it.
A Zen master I heard speak talked about embracing pain as a friend. I frankly thought he was nuts. Why would we want to embrace something as horrific as that?
But I was intrigued. How could pain be good?
In the past I had stuffed my emotions and it had taken a terrible toll. This was when I was fifteen and my sister was tragically killed by a drunk driver. I refused to feel the emotions that I was sure would drown me.
As I stuffed them, they seemed to miraculously go away. I thought I was out of the water. I really thought I was the strong one in the family because I seemed to be getting through it quite well. After a year I was sure that I had gotten off scot free. Then suddenly, whammo, it was as if I had suddenly been hit by a bus. Out of nowhere a wave of grief threatened to consume me and I was absolutely panicked as to what to do about it. This was not the era of therapy, at least not in my family, so I somehow survived on my own. Everyone else around me was beginning the road to recovery, (such as it can be) and I was at ground zero, as if the incident had just happened. I got the lesson then that stuffing the pain was not going to be a successful game plan.
I was desperate to do it differently this time. I decided to go into the pain, what ever that meant. I wasn’t sure how to but envisioned my heart opening to it rather than closing.
It felt like I would die, but I let it roll in and through me, breathing into it like labor pains. Everything in me said to get out of there. To make it go away at all costs.
I found myself talking to my body as if it was a scared child. What I mean by I is that something else seemed to be present that was separate from the pain. This part took charge and talked the scared child through it. It seemed to know that I would not die of the pain, although my body was not convinced, it seemed to trust the wiser self.
This went on for a while, my body simultaneously freaking out then being reassured by the wiser-self part. I mainly remember feeling that this must be what it is like to die of a broken heart.
Then the most extraordinary thing happened. Everything stopped. And I saw my life.
I saw where I had been and where I was going. It was as if I had been climbing all my life to reach this exquisite summit. This place of absolute clarity.
I still felt excruciating pain, but it was juxtaposed with what I can only describe as excruciating joy.
I FELT my life fully. And in feeling it fully, I also SAW it fully.
In opening to the fullness of the pain, I was able to experience the fullness of it’s opposite – exquisite joy.
I saw that the thing I had spent my whole life avoiding actually held the keys to that which I had spent my whole life seeking.
Then I understood how pain was my friend. Friends often come bearing gifts. The gift it brought was to allow me to fully feel my life and in so doing fully feel all of life. It lasted for a brief exquisite moment, but it altered my perception forever.
Perhaps this is what the poet meant when he said: The time will come when with elation you will greet yourself arriving at your own door.
The way we find our way back to our own front door is to walk fully and bravely into life, all of life. The smaller the emotional range we allow ourselves, the smaller our lives are. They may feel safe, but they also feel dead. Like testing each piece of candy in a box of chocolates, we can’t separate out just the good ones.
We give our heart back to ourselves by daring to feel our lives fully. Each breaking of the heart taking us more deeply towards it.
I heard this once, but don’t know from where; ‘Each of us contains the paradox – that which may be our undoing – is the secret of our becoming.’
In daring to feel our lives fully, we embrace and ‘love the stranger who has loved us all our lives.’
Read the complete poem by Derek Wilcott:
Love After Love
The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
Your comments are always welcome!
Erica Sofrina is a motivational speaker, teacher and author. She can be reached at www.ericasofrina.com