The Purpose of Pain
I generally consider myself as someone who has their sh*t together. That's not to say I'm not aware of my vulnerabilities, but I didn't realize how tight-fisted (metaphorically speaking) I had become when it came to my pain. I realized this recently while attending a meditation training. We were doing a mantra meditation designed to help remove negativity and overcome challenges. I was fine as we started the meditation but as it progressed, it began to touch my soft underbelly and reveal a deep well of pain, a combination of years of self-loathing, self-doubt and perfectionism which inevitably led to criticism and judgment of myself and others, and a lot of negativity.
I could feel tears well up and for someone who prefers not to display emotion in public, I couldn't suppress them. This was the moment I discovered the power of mantras (a set of specific words repeated a number of times). I realized just how tightly wound I had become over the years, burying my own fear under a thick layer of negativity directed at myself and others. Once I touched the very surface of that fear, a feeling of surrender set in, which, ironically, also frightened me. I let the tears quietly flow down my cheeks and sat with what felt like a pile of emotional crap bubbling to the surface.
To be honest, I was never quite sure mantras worked. I know they're an integral part of yoga tradition and history, but I had never had a direct experience of their effects until recently. It was certainly a wake-up call and one I desperately needed at that time. I had become very adept at holding grudges over the years. I could call to mind every single thing that someone did that upset me and, of course, it was always the other person's fault. I've come to the understanding that the real problem was me and my unwillingness to face my own fears. And quite frankly, being a grudge queen is exhausting. Constantly playing the blame game and handing over all my power to others was a losing proposition, and no way to live, certainly not fully and with contentment.
But yeah, it's a tough pill to swallow. To look in the mirror and accept that the person looking back at you is the problem, the common denominator in all your conflicts. It was a humbling moment to realize that most of my issues stem from my own feelings of envy, inadequacy, jealousy and anger. Since that moment in meditation training, I've committed to a regular meditation practice supported by mantras, mudras (specific hand gestures), guided meditations and a type of sound accompaniment called "binaural beats". During this process, I've shed many more tears. Turns out loving myself is much more difficult than resenting others. I've always had an irrational fear that if I truly relax into myself, love others and go with the flow, everyone will outshine me and I'll disappear.
What I'm slowly coming to realize is that my fear is unfounded and I can trust the process of life. As I slowly unfurl those clenched fists, I can let go of petty resentments, recognizing that it's a manifestation of my own lack of self-love; I can stop trying to fill my cup with the bitter nectar of judgment, drinking in self-possession and clear perception instead. In those moments of stillness where I merely touch on a deep well of love, I can barely stand it. It feels overwhelming, foreign and deeply sublime, all at once. It is, in essence, the complete opposite of what we've been told our entire lives: that we're somehow lacking, that we'll get there someday but we're not there yet; that if we acquire material goods, social status, prestige, these things will make us whole and people will like us.
What no one told me is that the only person who really needs to love you, is you because once you do, everything else falls into place. Even over just a few months of supported meditation practice, my relationships have improved; I'm much more self-aware and less reactive, and I'm willing to sit with my own fear when it arises and learn from it. I don't have to be crippled by envy, resentment and anger anymore - they're simply pointing me in the direction of where my healing needs to occur, of where my illusions are most deeply rooted. We all want a life without pain or suffering but these are the very things that guide us to our deepest selves, if we're willing to seize the opportunity.