I am writing this for anyone who, like me, has been pitched into a life-altering situation. For me, it has been chronic pain, but the same issues face all of us whose lives have been dramatically changed: how to make sense, find psychic strength and hopefully improve our lot. But the path has been more than coping – it has been discovery and often joy. Thank you for walking alongside me.
This journal is for people with pain, and also anyone who is facing a life challenge. I do write about God, but not in the sense of formal religion. Rather more as spiritual help – and to make sense of living through pain.
Not writing about how to grasp joy – just about trying to find joy through the labyrinth of pain. Because if I don’t keep joy in my sights, I will drown. It is about the space – like a sunlit meadow – beyond pain that one can reach – or grasp – or glimpse. A place of peace while pain drums in the background. Why try? Because if I do not, what is the point at all?
OK. So I don’t want to write about pain. I live with it. But it has been such an extraordinary journey with such unexpected bonuses that I must write about the plus side – the up side, the fun, humour and bittersweet of living with pain. The irony is that I don’t want it, but I wouldn’t return what I have learnt through it.
It is how I felt when my mother died. At the end of the year when I thought back, I wouldn’t have wanted to grow on the back of my mother’s suffering, but I wouldn’t want to return what I had learnt and the changes it had made in me.
Those weeks waiting for death were also infused with light and a surprising amount of laughter. There was the feeling of being surrounded by a kind and loving force. A gratitude for any small sign of renewal, ducklings by the pond, courageous snowdrops forcing their way to sunlight. When a writer in Toronto’s Globe and Mail reported being surrounded by butterflies when her father died, there was amazed recognition. Because butterflies had been everywhere for my mother. I had seen them and talked of them to friends. Yes, the butterflies came for her and for me.
Although those weeks took all I had, I found I was sorry for my husband who had not been involved in the death of either parent. His father was killed in WW2 when he was under two and his mother died suddenly the other side of the Atlantic.
Have just been reading Bad Mother, in which Ayelet Waldman laments the glorification of the “good mother”, who, she admits is in no way like herself or any of her friends. A “good mother” is patient, calm, placid, baking, does crafts and puts her children first. I tried to imagine what it would be like to have a mother like that, as she’s completely unlike my mother, who ricocheted through my life, fizzing with ideas and a passion for books. How DULL.
Which made me wonder, is a “good mother” actually not particularly good for children? We all try so hard to be her and have such guilt for failing, but do children need more than a “good mother”? Do they need someone with passion and interests that lead the child out of the nursery to glimpse a greater world? Do they need someone whose temperament is not the same every day, but who tries to respond to life honestly and with their whole self?
My mother was not a “good mother” and at times I have bitterly complained, but when I asked myself who I would be without her, I saw what she had given me. An ability to see the drama and pathos in others’ lives; a passion for thinking things out, making patterns and seeing beyond the box. An understanding of good and evil and the presentation of a world beyond the humdrum. Exhausting, alarming, but dull, she never was.
Have just watched PBS Nova which mentioned that pain is processed in the prefrontal cortex, the thinking part of the brain. And when this is distracted the pain is blanked out, for example, in marathon runners who injure themselves and don’t feel the pain till the end of the race or the soldier in battle. This resonated with me as I am acutely aware that I have to control my self-talk when in pain. I have to watch my narrative to myself. If I keep telling myself the pain is bad, it gets worse, but if I can concentrate on something different, it is less fierce. Easier said than done!
It is true that the emotional state you are in governs the memories you can access. If you are feeling pessimistic, negative memories are easily available, which is why during a marital argument one can only remember the times one’s partner has previously offended and not the many kindnesses of other occasions.
Reading Spousonomics: interesting idea of seeing marital arguments as loss aversion. Made me wonder if marriages 50 years ago lasted because there would be such a great loss (status, money etc., particularly for the women). Today, the loss is the other way round; most of the problems are the loss of previous positives.
Have been watching myself today and seeing where my reactions come from loss aversion. Very interesting – so many hurts come from it.
I was emailing Fran to comfort her over the death of a young friend and told her my theory: “in the beginning was the Word” refers to a blue print or idea of God for a possible world that we have to make manifest – the purpose of free will. Then I pondered as so often on the dichotomy between our every day life and the spiritual ideal. The two always seem worlds apart.
Suddenly it came to me that the minutiae of our daily life are the building blocks of God’s plan. Brick by brick we build God’s kingdom and every brick counts. We must do this from the deep centre where we feel at one and at peace.
Thursday, 11th June 2011
Reading book on time. Are eternity and the universe the same as God? Not well expressed! But if time is an accident, a blip in eternity, then all our activities and explanations are small fry – excursions from a state of oneness that is God.
Reading about Open Focus a form of biofeedback developed at the Princeton Biofeedback Institute. Dr. Les Fehmi spent hours wired up, trying to put his brain into alpa. The harder he tried, the more impossible he found it, until he gave up! He found that surrendering produced the alpha he had been striving for; instead of concentrating so intently and focusing on his goal, he relaxed his focus and let go.
So like life itself – the more one tries to make life work, usually the less one achieves. I remember a woman agonizing over placing her elderly father in care. There was nowhere she could bear to place him. Finally, she said, “I can do no more, God. Over to you!” And the next day, a friend casually mentioned a home which she liked and where her father stayed till his death.
But, as she said, “You have genuinely to let go. It doesn’t work unless you stop trying to force life.”