So I’m working my way backwards through my course. Not repeating exactly but more like reacquainting. I find that when I go through a course I’m so focused on completing the work that I sometimes I miss the more subtle messages. Armed with my lovely yellow highlighter, I went in search of topics for my morning pages and to see what I’ve missed. Turns out plenty but here’s where I’m going to start: Paying attention through pain. How can we take the pain we will experience in our lives and make it better ?
I’ve had a lot of death in my life so this tends to be my first response when thinking about pain. This is not a common topic of conversation as my friends are not usually that maudlin, but once in a while we do go beyond the typical topic of which kid is driving us nuts today and hit more grittier conversation. Today’s discussion happened between me and my page. The first thing on my morning pages list (that I did this evening) when thinking about paying attention through pain was death. By the age of 22 I had lost my dad and all my grandparents. I had also lost close members of my friends families and then we moved into my husbands family as time went on. I’m not sure where pets figure on this list without being disrespectful of the human entrants but as my heart bled for them too, I’m going to vote them on. Needless to say, I am a pro on the funeral circuit. Death has been a large and looming figure for most of my formative years and quite frankly the grim reaper needs to take an extended vacation as far as I am concerned.
Experiencing this amount of death and pain before the age of 30 taught me a few things. I’m not sure that everyone looks for a lesson beyond the obvious but I tend towards introspection so I’ll give you the benefit of my neuroses. I’ve learned to have a deep and abiding appreciation for those around me: family, friends and pets. I try to take the time to keep in touch. I make a concerted effort to send messages, drop lines, give people a call, etc. all in the name of letting them know that I am thinking about them, that they matter to my life and if they are available, to give me a call. Quite frankly it doesn’t always matter if they call back although that is preferred. I know I’ve made the effort and that’s all I need. I tell my children and my husband that I love them every day. EVERY DAY. Some might argue that this makes it trite and hollow. I argue that the only time I ever heard my dad say I love you over the phone was the very last time I EVER spoke to him. It wasn’t even something he said all that often in person so I still remember the feeling of surprise. I’m hopeful to him loving me was more of an understood thing so it didn’t need to be voiced. However, living with that doubt for the past 20 years has prompted me to not be stingy on the loves. And yes, for those of you who are aware of my grammar and spelling OCD, I do mean loves. I give my kids the loves every morning when I send them off to school. I give my husband the loves every day when I leave for work and he’s dragging his sorry butt home from a 12 hour shift. I give them all the loves when we talk on the phone. I give my mom the loves when I talk to her or we email. I give my good friends the loves as well. I don’t want anyone’s last memory of me to include the fact that they were unsure as to whether I loved them or not and to be surprised when they realize I did. Yes, the fact that my dad didn’t say it all that often made the last time he said it stand out all the more. In fact the moment was so profound that I remember it was on a Wednesday. That is not a memory I’m happy to have. I would rather have all the loves all the time then a singular shining moment of loves. Yes, I am grateful for that memory and I’m not trying to be a glass half empty kind of gal but it does sadden me that it’s the only memory of hearing him say I love you. There should be lots of loves in someone’s life. What is the point of keeping it to yourself ? You can’t take it with you.
I’ve learned to pay attention to being grateful and being fearful. They balance each other out you see. I am fearful every time the phone rings at an ungodly hour of the morning. The phone ringing early in the morning, or very late at night for that matter, has always meant bad news. Or a drunk dial from my husband but that is another story. For the most part, the person at the other end of the phone does not have good news. My heart races, my stomach bottoms out, my pulse quickens and I hold my breath as I pick up the phone with a fearful laden hello. Even with caller ID and knowing who it is doesn’t change the reaction: it has become instinctual. My poor husband used to call if he was coming home late from work and immediately let me know everything was ok. It took me years to break my mother in law out of the habit of calling at 7am or before just because it was cheaper on the long distance for her. Either my husband was at work or sleeping and somehow she took the longest time to figure out that I was NOT happy to hear from her at that time of the day. I think yelling at her at the top of my voice finally got her to pay attention to the pain she was causing me. It was that or the threat of the pain I was going to cause her if she didn’t stop. Then there is the fact that I’m grateful when my husband and children make it home safely from where ever they have been and the phone doesn’t ring at all.
By knowing very little about my grandparents and my dad, this makes me pay attention to my writing. I have journaled, blogged and jotted for many years. My kids baby scrapbooks are filled with letters and notations about my pregnancies, things I wanted them to know and tidbits about myself. I’ve printed out my other blog about the journey my son’s autism and health issues took us on. I’m doing this blog as a means to capture thoughts and ideas and general ramblings. I’ve done a small memoir type project so my kids know about my life growing up, how I met their dad, etc. I also make a point of telling them these stories and sharing my history now so they don’t need to fill in the gaps later. I make a concerted effort to document our day trips and vacations with loads of pictures and I even try to get myself into some of them when I remember to hand over the camera. I don’t have these things for the important people in my life and I miss that. I even got my mom to fill out a Grandma type book so I and the children could learn about her. She tells them some stories about her life growing up in post war England, etc. They will have a connection to their past. They will have an opportunity to learn and giggle and gasp as they read the ramblings of their kooky mother. They will be able to make the choice to get to know me better or be content with the memories they own. At least they will have that choice.
Paying attention to my pain also helps me pay attention to the pain I may cause others. It makes me sensitive to other’s needs and how I might help them. This of course only applies to people I like and care about but I tend to be at least considerate of strangers. If I’ve made a mistake that causes someone grief, I can’t rest until I’ve fixed it. If I opened my mouth at the wrong time and caused someone embarrassment or discomfort, I try to remedy it. It may be only monumental in my life and my crazy monkey jungle of a mind, but I know what it’s like to wrestle with words someone spoke and can’t take back. I know what it’s like to wish you hadn’t been so mean that one time. I want as few of those moments crowding up my swiss cheese of a brain as possible. Why keep things in there that cause pain and take up space where happiness could be ?
I have been a howling monster on my bedroom floor crying and screaming with a heart that will never heal. I have sat and stared into the eyes of my dying pet and held them as their last breath left their body. I have knelt at my son’s bedside and asked him to count my tears so he doesn’t feel his own as once more they stuck him with needles and caused him pain. I have fallen and wept with gratitude at my mothers feet after a car accident that could have taken her forever but didn’t. I have been cheated on. I have been lied to. I have been slandered. I have been attacked. And I am still standing.
I have learned that paying attention to your pain is the only way to grow and heal and become better than you were before. Pain is not something to be ashamed of. Pain is not something to be avoided or drowned out or smoked away. Pain is something to lean in to so that when you are able to stand tall and straight once again, you have the power to move forward. There are days where I feel like a willowy tree in a strong wind and my branches are almost touching the ground I have to lean so far. There are days where there is not enough yoga or meditation in the world to still my whirling thoughts or soothe my weary heart. There are days where the hot tears I cried in my howling monster moments feel like they were just wiped from my cheek only a moment ago though years have passed. I sit in those moments and lean into the pain remembering that those experiences helped to shape the person I am today. I remember that the wind can blow softly making the flowers dance and the trees sing. I remember that peace will come again to my heart filled with the loves. I remember that it is through paying attention to the pain, that we learn these lessons which help to make our lives better. Without paying attention to the pain, we might not take the time to look for the subtle messages all around us. What could we be missing that will make the experience of this life so much better ? I, for one, plan to pay attention.