Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Pain and the Promise

On the morning of the winter solstice, I awoke thinking about life, death, birth, grief, and the changing of the seasons. If you're thinking these are somewhat intense topics to wake up thinking about, well, what can I say? That's me.

I thought of the pain we each bear in our lifetimes-- suffering, grief, despair-- and how desperately many of us want to avoid this pain (me too). We resist it, we brace ourselves against it, we try various means of numbing it. But still it comes, and we cannot stop it from happening.

My second and third sons were each born naturally at home with a midwife. I, of course, took preparation for labor and birth very seriously. A big part of these preparations was relaxation; I learned to intentionally breathe deeply and relax every muscle in my body as much as I possibly could. 

You see, during the birth pains of labor, the inclination can often be to resist, to brace yourself, to tighten your muscles and tense up in response to the pain-- which, ironically, makes it all the more intense.

But when the pain comes, you can choose to instead relax and breathe and allow it to move through you. Rather than fighting against it, you work with it. 

I often visualized the pain as ocean waves, with me floating atop them-- carried by the waves of pain, but not overcome by them. 

Often in the face of emotional pain, we (yes, me too) resist it, fight against it, attempt to numb it, or powerlessly succumb to it. But perhaps when circumstances come that cause feelings of grief and despair-- and they will certainly come!-- we can figuratively relax, breathe, and let the feelings wash through us. 

Maybe we can allow ourselves to work with the pain, rather than against it.

Maybe we can allow ourselves to be carried by it, but not overcome by it. 

The pains of birth can be quite intense-- but during labor I found such peace in simply choosing to let go and allow myself to feel it, to be moved and changed by it, without resistance. There was peace in the visualization of floating atop it, knowing that it was carrying me but it soon would pass. After all, the pain is not the end of the story.

Emotional pain can be overwhelming, and when you're in the midst of it, it's impossible to imagine that it will ever pass. But in this way, pain reminds me of the seasons-- of time's unrelenting march through birth, life, death, and rebirth. Over and over, the stories of human suffering and renewal are told continually through nature itself. 

We are entering into winter. The trees are bare, and the wind is biting and cold. And yet, there is the promise of hope and renewal ahead. It is inherent in the solstice, that even as we embark into this season, the days will now become longer. A bit more light will peek in each day. The hope is there, perhaps barely noticeable, but it is there, walking alongside us through the winter months.

Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest, 
Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above,
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love...

We know just as sure as the seasons will unfold, so will life: a continual cycle of birth, love, joy, loss, suffering, grief, and renewal.

And so perhaps we can respond by allowing ourselves to be carried by it all, allowing ourselves to experience it and be moved and changed by it, without being overcome. Perhaps we can look to the promise built into the fabric of nature itself, a promise of hope and peace that goes beyond the circumstances and emotions of the moment. The hope is there, walking alongside us through the pain.

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