Elissa Elliott is an (imperfect) mother, (recovered) former high school teacher, and (happy) author of Eve: A Novel of the First Woman. She blogs (almost) every day at Living the Questions, and she’s the first of my daily guest bloggers this week.
Pain is a funny thing. We’ll do anything to make it disappear. Wouldn’t our lives be exceedingly better if we didn’t ache, pine, and grieve? Wouldn’t we be happier, for crying out loud?
Yet if you’re a reader (or a writer, for that matter), you’ll know that conflict in a story is the name of the game. Without it, the story limps along, boring and aimless.
Still, if we were to make a film of our lives, we’d edit out all the bad parts, the difficult parts, so our luckless viewers can have one continuous, happy viewing.
No story is good without conflict or tragedy. You need the lows to appreciate the highs. You need the winter doldrums to understand the summery successes.
Thus, today, I have a question for you and for me. Why do we wish a vital part of our life away? Why do we treat something as good or bad, simply because we can’t comprehend it . . . and don’t want to?
Here’s an idea taken from a book I’m reading called Living Zen, Loving God by Ruben L. F. Habito. Habito is a practicing Catholic and former Jesuit priest. He’s also a Zen teacher and a professor in the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University. Whatever your spiritual practice, you will find that he gives thoughtful and intelligent reflections on practicing Zen—to gain a more joyful and compassionate life. For him, the practice brings him closer to God.
Habito once joined a vipassana meditation session led by a Theravadan Buddhist monk at an international religious conference. The meditation theme was generating kindness toward others. Here is the experience in Habito’s words:
Our director-monk suggested we concentrate on some pain we may have, say a pain in the leg or in the back: just to be aware of that pain, without attaching any value judgments or desires such as “I want that pain to disappear.” After a while we will be able to accept the pain as simply pain, and be able to live with it and no longer consider it suffering, he explained. In other words, if one does not associate such ideas as “pain is undesirable” or “I want relief,” judgments already based on ego attachment, with the bare and neutral fact of the pain itself, then pain ceases to be suffering, and is revealed as mere experience.
“Mere experience.” Wow. Is it possible we could value every little adventure of our lives, without labeling it good or bad?
I think so.
Today, I offer you a small gift—a poem by one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver. She illuminates this topic so much better than I in her gorgeous “Summer Morning”:
I implore you,
it’s time to come back
from the dark,
the hills are pink
and the roses
whatever they felt
in the valley of night
are opening now
their soft dresses,
Why are you laggard?
Sure you have seen this
a thousand times,
which isn’t half enough.
Let the world
have its way with you,
luminous as it is
graced as it is
with the ordinary.