This article was written in the Fall of 2014, during the bumpy acquisition of my southwest Michigan farm, a bit of a tumultuous patch in retrospect. But then aren't they all?
I see I haven’t posted on my blog for almost an entire month, which causes me some painful sensations. I get thinking about pain, and this sends me to the word’s source, which comes from the Old French peine, “difficulty, woe, suffering, punishment, Hell’s torments (11th century) also Late Latin’s poena, meaning “torment, hardship or suffering, the opposite of pleasure. That I find of interest. The pain that’s arisen from my lack of posting doesn’t stay with me long, as many of the sharpened tools of spiritual purification I carry with me at all times from the practice of meditation and indigenous Ceremonial living assist me in escaping into, rather than away from it. I also find comfort in knowing that my time off the blog has been caused by the acquisition of land in Southwestern Michigan, 2 hours from downtown Chicago, that will allow a clearing for me to take my practices to a new level, at the same time assisting others in doing so, which is always a reliable pain reliever, being in service to others. I’m unsure of an appropriate picture for a post that riffs on pain, so I choose a photograph of the ripening raspberry bushes in my front yard, bushes that the former owners tell me will yield a large freezer bag of berries until the first snow, a thought I find pleasurable. I decide to riff about pain a bit, just to get my chops working again, and to work some of the accumulated rust out of my creative system.
“No pain no gain,” I croak feebly. I’m sprawled face down and spread-eagle on the mottled carpet of the local LA Fitness gym, looking up into the watchful eyes of my trainer Celeste. She concurs, and commences to power foam roll my calves for some myofascial release, the innovative technique easing muscle tightness, but at this very moment causes me what feels like more pain than gain. I bear down and attempt to fixate my mind elsewhere, wondering: who exactly wrote no pain no gain? And thinking: whoever did, it’s a good one.
“Pain is what most of us are in most of the time,” I overheard John Lennon say years ago on some Beatles special, and it always stayed with me, probably because I recall reacting quite angrily at the time. That’s often the first reaction to hearing truth; I balked at it as people often do, knowing now that the truth demands change and a sense of responsibility. Lennon spoke it in that deliberate, drawn out Liverpool lipped way that he delivered most of his truths. He was thin, heavily bearded, and next to Yoko in the clip, the time appearing to be the tumultuous period around the band’s breakup. “God is a concept by which we measure our pain,” Lennon begins on the song God, later explaining that, “You’re born in pain… and I think that the bigger the pain, the more God you look for.” Interesting to note that while Lennon was recording this stark denunciation of Christianity at Abbey Road studios, George Harrison was next door completing work on All Things Must Pass. “I was in one room singing ‘My Sweet Lord’,” said Harrison, “and John was in another room singing ‘I don’t believe in Jesus, I don’t believe in nothing’.” Even more interesting to note that both men are now out of the pain of the material world and experiencing what come’s next.
“On the subject of the pain going on and on, check out Rilke’s Duono Elegies, Elegy Number 9.” I’m wrapping up a session with an old counselor of mine, a man I haven’t seen since moving West a decade earlier. Leaving on a high note after having tackled some of my grosser psychological issues, I’m revisiting now years later, happily reporting some of the events of my life and many victories. At the same time, I divulge how I still feel as if I am struggling terrifically at times. “Rilke always lent a hand on dark nights, why don’t you have another look, hey?”
My friend again point ins me towards the luminous writings of lyrically intense Bohemian-Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke, as he did years ago, Rilke was always being source of depth and inspiration, a reliable source of light in the darkness. The artist’s Dueno Elegies are intensely religious, mystical poems weighing beauty and existential suffering, bringing to life a rich symbolism of angels and salvation. The first elegy begins with an invocation of of philosophical despair, the poet asking: “Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the hierarchies of angels?” I trust Rilke, because rather than seeing the Guardians of life on planet earth as some wire-winged, two-bit messengers out to petition the Lord for mankind’s every whim, he instead admits that, “Every angel is terrifying”. Having suffered debilitating depression and creatively drawn from the dark hours of being, Rilke’s passages, especially The Ninth Elegy, are marked by their positive energy and unrestrained enthusiasm. .
“And so we keep pressing on, trying to achieve it,
trying to hold it firmly in our simple hands,
in our overcrowded gaze, in our speechless heart.
Trying to become it”
“We aren’t going to escape from pain. Pain is a part of nature. But we can escape suffering.” I recall my meditation teacher Shinzen giving a talk on mindfulness and riffing on the virtues of spiritual purification practices, endeavors that can in many ways empower us to vastly reduce our suffering. I consider how pain can drive us to real spiritual work work that eases our aversions to physical and emotional pain while at the same time loosens our clinging to pleasure, and greatly increases overall satisfaction, helping us realize life’s true, effortless nature.
“All pain is the struggle against truth,” I hear one of my teacher’s final take on the subject. He encourages his students to journey into the very center of the center of the storm and embrace one’s pain, along with the truth it offers.”You can go around the storm all you want, but until you find the calm center of that storm, the reason for your pain, you’ll just go around and around. Better to embrace pain and let it do it’s work.When you grapple with it rather then circumvent it, when you are willing to engage with it fully, and will rather than wish it away,then you can dissolve it.” This thought also sends a current of hope and good feeling through me, as I decide to wrestle on.