Friday, November 19, 2010

Picking Up the Pieces

This is from one of the monks. It is helpful for dealing with old emotional wounds.

Picking Up the Pieces

My favorite lesson from studying Buddhism has been this: You are not special.

We walk around convinced that we are different, that our challenges are greater than others, that other people just can't understand. They can understand. They're dealing with the same challenges, and believing the same lies about them.

Those lies serve a purpose. They prevent us from sharing our insights about the problems, and thereby protect the source of those problems. When we stop believing we're special and different, then we can begin helping each other overcome the challenges we all face.

In that spirit, I offer a bit on one of my own challenges. I suspect many folks will recognize themselves in it.

Frequently as I go about my life, the memory of some painful experience will pop up in my awareness. My immediate reaction is to get away from the pain. I want to separate myself from the experience, to get outside of it, to put up a barrier between myself and that past trauma, so I alienate myself from both the initial experience and the experience of remembering.

There is a belief that this is a necessary process; if I just relive the misery of it often enough, surely I will avoid that sort of pain in the future... right?

This is a very clever lie, and it serves to maintain the system of suffering. If I believe that it is not OK to have been the person who experienced that pain, then I can set myself apart from it. I can bury my head in the sand - pretend it isn't happening. As long as I am pretending I am not the sort of person these things can happen to, I am not in a position to address the conditions that lead to experiencing that pain: I am primed for a repeat of the experience.

If instead of believing that it wasn't OK, I accept that I was a person who experienced something traumatic, then I can see the memory for what it is: A record of a time that has passed, and no longer has the power to hurt me. If I look more closely I see that the pain I feel today is the pain of alienation. When I was pained, I longed for escape, and so I tried to push away the person who was hurting. Later, as the experience resurfaced, again and again I practiced pushing it away until the pain of alienation was greater than the pain of the experience itself.

The pain I feel today is all smoke and mirrors. It is a construct of little pieces of me that I have cut away in my desire to escape, and the stories I have told about losing them. All of that is in the past.

Today, when I look closely, I can see the trick that is being played. I can retake those bits I have pushed away, accept that I was once someone who was hurt, and follow the memory all the way back to that moment I have tried to avoid. There, aware and accepting, I can see that the pain that was need no longer be, and let it lie in the past. This done, the construct falls apart, the sting is taken out of the memory, and that which desires my suffering has one less tool to work with.

Today I can see something else. The system this process serves to maintain is clever, but mindless. It must again and again cause me to feel pain, and so it will forever serve up every memory I might wish I could forget. The great opportunity is this: So long as I am looking closely when it happens, this system which works to make me suffer will dutifully seek out and bring to me all of the places I have been hurt. I need only reach out and collect those pieces I have lost. In its desire to cause my suffering it will serve to make me whole.