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suffering & healing

Updated: Apr 20, 2022




Use these two graphics to guide yourself in self-healing.


Start with the philosophy graphic. The path on the right (in red) is the path of suffering.


We sense a deep pain within. It's often stored in or near the heart, but can reside anywhere in the body. It's not like the pain we get from bumps & bruises. It's a deeper, more intimate pain, which tends to flare up when we're stressed or something triggers us.


Our intolerance for this pain drives us to manage it: to avoid the pain, to seek pleasure, or to act the pain out. Consider the unwise choices we make - as individuals, families, organizations, nations, a species. Why are we sometimes so callous, shortsighted, & cruel? It's not a flaw in our character, an irredeemable wrongness in us, or anything like that. It's that we instictively avoid our deep pain, and these three methods - avoiding, masking, & venting - provide relief. Unfortunately, the relief is temporary, & we often victimize ourselves & others in the process: in our urgency & eagerness to mitigate our pain, we create more pain in the long run.


We become preoccupied by the intensity & frequency of our compulsive urges. Whether we're acting on them, resisting them, or denying them, we're pouring mental & physical energy into our relationship with these urges. This keeps us perpetually distracted from the present moment. We're stuck engaging our cyclical urges, rather than embracing the freshness of the unfolding moment.


Preoccupied, we behave reactively. We lack the wherewithal & poise to respond appropriately & caringly. So we fall back on reactions, driven more by emotion & reflex than by the rich wisdom of our hearts & minds. Our loved one is talking to us, but we're so preoccupied, we merely grunt, lazily agree, say something trite, or just sit behind a poker face, hoping they'll leave us alone so we can get back to whatever preoccupation we're stuck on. An opportunity arises in life, but we're so preocuppied, we miss the opportunity, or misinterpret the situation, & as a result we don't benefit as greatly as we could've. This reactivity deadens us to life & undermines trust & respect in our relationships.


Engaging life reactively, we suffer. We say what we didn't really mean to say. We behave violently or coldly. We meet intimacy with impatience, kindness with numbness. We forget & neglect others. Or we cling to others & demand they make us feel better. We lose touch with the sweetness & wisdom in our own hearts & minds. Swirling in whirlpools of reactivity, we suffer deeply, sensing that opportunities for love & connection & experience are passing us by.


The path on the left (in blue) is the path of healing.


Recognizing reactivity is occuring, we have a choice. We don't have to stand passively by and watch our reactivity play out. Instead, we can choose to feel our reactivity as energy within us. Instead of snapping, withdrawing, scheming - we go into our body and feel the reactive energy at work. We choose to be with this energy in the spirit of healing.


Feeling our reactive energy, we gradually soften our preoccupation. We became preoccupied because we were mentally engaged with our compulsive urges. Now that we're feeling our reactive energy, we're less absorbed in the mind & more present in the body. We become more grounded, more vibrant, more aware. This softens our preoccupation & brings us mindfully into the unfolding moment.


As our preoccupation gradually softens, our compulsive urges gradually soften. Our compulsive urges fed on our preoccupation; they thrived on the attention we paid them, even if it was hostile or avoidant attention. Now, ss we feel our reactive energy in the unfolding present moment, we draw attention away from our compulsive urges. This gradually lowers their volume, decreases their intensity, & softens their grip on our attention & choices. Bear in mind that addictions die hard; our compulsions may temporarily intensify in an attempt to reassert control, the way withdrawal pains try to draw us back into substance abuse. This calls for commitment, compassion, patience, & situational awareness.


As our compulsive urges gradually soften, our intolerance to our inner pain gradually softens. Less preoccupied, & less caught up in the cycles of our compulsive urges, we have the attention & energy necessary to meet our pain with intimacy & compassion. We stop buying into the misguided notion that our pain will never end or it will magically go away on its own. Instead, we feel confident enough to address our pain head on, with a more tolerant & open attitude.


As we approach our pain with a more tolerant & open attitude, we realize the pain is not as terrifying or crippling as we may have feared. We gain insight on where the pain came from, what the pain is seeking, & how we might bring about healing & resolution. Our pain may stem from unresolved childhood trauma; from an unaddressed grievance with a loved one; from a misguided belief we're clinging to. The more attentively & lovingly we engage our pain, the better we become at feeling, listening, healing, & letting go. Gradually, the tangled knots of our pain soften & unravel, & we experience more spaciousness & freedom in our day-to-day lives.


Now go the technique graphic. This is the 5-6 step technique we employ to reduce suffering & promote healing in real-time.


Step 1: Notice reactivity. Recognize reactivity occuring. You may be reacting to something external, something internal, or a combination of the two. Don't get too hung up on the reactivity. Just recognize it as an active energy in the body.


Step 2: Honor the situation. Acknowledge your primary focus. If you're driving, say, aloud or silently, "I am driving." If you're in a work meeting, say silently or aloud, "I'm in a meeting." Having acknowledged your primary focus, honor your reactivity. Say, silently or aloud, "I am feeling reactive energy."


optional Step 3: Bonus honoring. This is an opportunity to delve deeper into the reactivity's cause. You may recognize layers to the reactive energy. It may be accompanied by preoccupation, compulsiveness, pain, and/or intolerance to pain. If the situation allows, acknowledge these, too, aloud or silently. Doing so brings more mindfulness to your energy & behavior, which improves the breadth & depth of healing.


Step 4: Connect to the heart. Feel the heart & the space around it. Sense the heart's rhythm. Be gentle, & take your time. Feel free to acknowledge your heart connection, silently or aloud: "I am feeling my heart," or "I am connected to my heart."


Step 5: Cultivate mindfulness in the moment. Mindfulness is nothing complicated or fancy. It's a sense of calm presence, grounded & aware. The simplest ways to cultivate mindfulness are pausing, relaxing, & resting. You can also employ specific mindfulness techniques. If you're on the go, you can simply breathe & feel the body as you do so. The key is to draw energy away from reactive activities (compulsive thinking & doing) & toward awareness of the reactive energy in your body (feeling receptively & mindfully).


Step 6: When time allows, practice mindfulness. Mindfulness practices refine our ability to cultivate mindfulness in the moment. It's kind of like sports & strength training: the better our strength training, the more power we bring to our play. The more we practice mindfulness, the better we become at generating mindfulness in a pinch. The 3 primary mindfulness practices are: meditation, contemplation, & inquiry. I have a variety of meditation techniques you can use. For contemplation, I recommend Richard Rohr's approach. For inquiry, I recommend "The Work" by Byron Katie. Approach mindfulness practice both as a means to future mindfulness & as an end unto itself. Generally, you'll emerge from mindfulness practices feeling more refreshed, centered, & grounded. And your mindfulness practices will serve you later when you're trying to cultivate mindfulness in a stressful situation.

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