Staying with the Pain

September 6, 2016

My entire life has been about trying to make things okay. I planned to go to Harvard when I was eight, thinking that if I did the best thing, the hardest thing, I would be good enough and things would be better. I used to go through J.C. Penny catalogs and plan all the furniture and things I would need for my house some day… my house that would be organized, peaceful, and planned out. I made wedding plans starting around age 10… planning a life that would be built on love, and support, and full of beauty.

My entire life has been about trying to bring about stability, predictability, safety, and peace and I have tried to get there through hard work, determination, and doing all. the. right. things.

I am almost thirty-seven and all the right things have not saved me.

I did the right things professionally, I did all the right things as a parent, and as a partner. I read ALL THE BOOKS. And, at each turn, I have been shocked that things were not easier, more peaceful, and that I was not getting the stable, loving, happy life that I had planned for since I was a small girl.

I have read what I am going to write here a thousand times, and it is interesting how we can know something in our heads for so long and yet it has so very little to do with what goes on in our bodies and souls and at our core.

The pain, in so many ways, comes in trying to escape the pain. It comes from hoping that if we do the right things, and try hard enough, then it will be okay.

As Pema Chodron wisely tells us, “We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”

We try to escape the pain. Some of us through perfectionism, though unhealthy relationships, through drinking, food and buying things. But the reality is that there is no way out. And the question is then how do we live in that reality, where we must stop longing for the pain to recede, for the peace to come, for things to be as they should be?

I still have no answers, but a reminder to myself and to my few readers out there who might stumble across this, that our life will always be in the mess and there will always be pain. The question is not how to make it better, how to make it go away, or how to fix things (or fix ourselves) but rather how to live well in the midst of this.

I am reminded of what it means to get sober. One must wake up every damn morning and want to be sober. Be willing to go into life, into the struggles, and face it. To work at it. And then get up the next day and do it all over again. As Glennon Doyle Melton says, “Do the next right thing, one thing at a time.” We are not called to save the world or ourselves. Rather, to be present to the full reality of this life, here and now, loving and doing good where we can, and knowing also that we are finite, limited, and cannot do it all.