The truth we both fear and hate is that we don’t know what is going to happen. We long for love and authentic, deep connection with other people AND it is with our loved ones that we are at our most vulnerable. Everything and everyone we love can be taken away. They can break our heart.
We may try to bargain away the fear of the rug being pulled out from under us. Rationally we know being less selfish or making a vow to give up chocolate forever isn’t going to convince God to keep someone from dying. It is difficult to accept the truth of a situation.
In 2004 my son was diagnosed with a form of untreatable cancer. Nine weeks later the doctors informed us it was a misdiagnosis. He had mononucleosis, not a type of lymphoma. During a conversation with my meditation teacher shortly after the first diagnosis, I said I wished it was me with cancer instead. My granddaughter was 2 and their lives were just beginning. Swami Veda reminded me that my role was to be the mother of the one with cancer. We can’t make bargains. Life doesn’t work that way.
Often we preemptively disconnect, hoping it will somehow make the pain more bearable. Fear of pain drives compulsive, catastrophic thinking that keeps us riveted to an endless stream of future worst case scenarios. We desperately hope that if we rehearse it enough in our mind it will help us survive tragedy when it actually happens. Again, it doesn’t work that way. Compulsive anxious thoughts alarm our whole nervous system and leave us depleted, less resilient and with less agency.
The saddest part of trying to avoid pain and remain in control is that we miss out on moments of love and joy of connecting with people we love. We’re not fully present when we’re trying to control life to avoid being hurt.
The answer? Surrender to the truth of the situation. Turn and face it. Stay present with whatever is here. Life is not a Disney movie. We don’t often get to live happy, healthy lives and die in our sleep at 92 surrounded by our loved ones. Struggle and pain don’t mean we have done something wrong. Life is inherently challenging. Hiding out doesn’t protect us.
The Buddha taught this in the Four Noble Truths. There is suffering in life. There is a way to understand and a path to end suffering.
What increases suffering? Resisting what is. Wanting things to be different takes us out of the present moment. Obsessively asking “why me?” or feeling like life is out to get us keeps us stuck. Old habits, avoidance strategies and addictions may come back as we try to protect ourselves from hurt. It is the human mechanism to tighten up and resist pain. It doesn’t work.
We build resilience and strength through love, connecting and our open heart. We practice staying present and welcoming the juiciness and passion and fear and loss of the messy reality of our lives. We practice patience and kindness as we struggle with grief and loss and forgive ourselves for escaping when we need a break. This is all natural. We do our best.
There is no way to avoid pain. When we isolate to avoid being hurt again by other people, we suffer loneliness. When we move in, we experience joy and loss. There is no perfect way. There are many things that help.
We give ourselves and our loved ones such a gift when we relax and take a break from anxious thoughts. Try the practice below of offering ease and healing to yourself and those you love. After rest, we move back into our lives with increased resilience and strength. We are more available to ourselves, to others, and to life.
Last weekend I spent hours in silence in the old growth forest at Windhorse Farm. I felt so deeply nourished. How do you restore and nurture connection to your inner wisdom, strength and knowing?
Set your intention to return again and again throughout the day to connect within. Move into and through daily life from here, grounded in presence.