“What I called “walking” was the part of the step when my foot met the sidewalk. From the point of view of the joints, that is the most stressful component of walking. The joints get a rest when the foot is in the air, just before it strikes the pavement. I found that by focusing on the foot that was in the air instead of the foot that was striking the pavement, my stamina increased enormously. After making this observation, I never again failed to climb the steps to knock on the front door of Zen Center.” -Darlene Cohen
I have been living with the physical and emotional pain of bursitis every day for a number of years. My intrusive companion is demanding and persistent. On my worst days, it insists on attention. It requires caring support, and I only want immediate relief. I thought it would go away on its own, was ashamed of it (as though it indicated something negative about me as a person), and withstood it silently for a long time before a dear friend insisted I find help for it. I have since tried every sort of solution, all with little effect. There may well be more types of pain than types of beauty. However, the caring I receive has helped me in relating to my pain as just one small part of my life.
I once had a phone consultation with Darlene Cohen (quoted above), who lived with and wrote about zen and the pain of severe arthritis. In addition to suggesting I focus more on the moments when I have no pain than on the moments with pain, she highly recommended temper tantrums. When pain is most physical, emotional and soulful, it and I occasionally need a pain-releasing-temper-tantrum, to roar my agony out loud.
On my best days, I give the pain kind attention, and it subsides to a distant background feeling. I lovingly apply ice and focus on satisfying, enlivening things: work, relationships, art and the activities of daily life. The pain eases as I engage in work, listening, relating, creative activities, having fun, and as I relax and sleep.
Physical pain has taught me much about how to listen, resonate with and give space to emotional pain. Pain and emotion are natural responses to discordant situations. They implicitly express longings for something more than suffering, struggling and enduring: something beautiful.
I do want not to miss the ephemeral, fleeting or big beautiful moments. Because of my experience with pain, everything of beauty is more vividly so in comparison.
“Last Pose of the Night” (Pencil on Paper) © Robin Kappy 11/2011