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"The Art of Living" Column featured at SpiritSite.com is copyright (c) 2000 by Suzanne Selby Grenager.  All rights reserved.

"I didnít need othersí consolation nearly so much as I needed more practice in consoling and caring for myself."


Suzanne Selby Grenager (SGrenager@aol.com) writes "The Art of Living," a monthly column for SpiritSite.com.

Suzanne is a writer, teacher, and life coach who helps people achieve their dreams.  Her work has appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer and Yoga Journal, and she has contributed to Healing Journeys: The Power of Rubenfeld Synergy.

Suzanne Selby Grenager, 
"Pain: The Sweet Touch of Awakening"

As you, too, must have noticed, the world as we know it begins and ends with us. Itís up to us, because itís all about us, always, and in all ways.

So, to talk about effective relationship, as I promised to do this time, Iíve got to look first at how it is for me to be me with myself, and youíve got to start with you. Thereís no getting around being with our selves, on the way to being with each other.

But thanks to one among us Ė my friend, Shalom Ė the opening spotlight will not be on me, for a change. Yep, Shalom took me up on the invitation made last time to hear your take on "The Art of Living."  Iíll share what he wrote, and see how it might help us all get more comfortable with our selves, and so ultimately, with others.

Shalom writes: "[My current] experience of the art of livingÖis continuous, seamless practice. This means there is no time when I am not in church, no time when my actions are insignificant or even benign, and no time when the repercussions of my actions Ė perhaps even of my thoughts Ė cannot be an effect of, and have an effect upon the whole.

"Knowing this, practicing this," he continues, "sweeps away whatever sense of isolation, boredom, depression or fear naturally arises from living in the world of unexamined beliefs. Living in this awareness returns me to the natural wholeness that is everyoneís birthright. Nothing is separate or insignificant or arbitrary. Not even myself.

"Having said this," he goes on, "I am still far from having a seamless practice. The good news is that whenever I fall away from it, it hurts. And this pain reminds me to resume my practice. Pain is the sweet touch of awakeningÖ" (my italics)

Beautifully put, Shalom! And what a challenge it can sometimes be to remember to honor my pain as "the sweet touch of awakening." As a long-time yoga student and teacher, and former body/mind therapist, you might think Iíd have it down by now that pain is no accident. I "should" know, to the contrary, that pain is a messenger from my soul, which Iíd be wise to welcome, if I want to wake up. And I do know that, way up in my head.

Still, it can be tough for me to embrace actual felt pain, as a reminder that Iíve strayed from the "natural wholeness," the peace and love that I am. Instead, my first inclination is often to try to kill the messenger. I want to hide from or banish discomfort, any old (or new) way I can: by getting out, getting busy Ė by eating, drinking, being merry.

Thatís especially true when the pain is psychic. But banishment is not a smart plan for any pain. I live with my (perhaps) "unfair share" of physical discomfort, and have for years. God knows, Iíve made many attempts to banish the deep, ubiquitous aching my poor body endures, but with little lasting success. So, while I do my best to take care of my body, and still imagine the possibility of feeling freer again in my skin, Iím coming to a grudging acceptance of my aches and pains. Live and let live.

Well, not quite. I suppose I hold out hope that as I clear away the underbrush of my psychic and emotional pain, one episode at a time, the landscape of my body, too, may "ease up on me." Perhaps when I love myself more, I will stop holding on so tight. Or maybe not. Maybe it doesnít matter. After all, the most enlightened, loving man I ever knew, my guruís guru, Swami Sri Kripalvananda-ji, was in a lot of physical pain at times.

But I focus more now on easing the hurts that arise in my tender heart. And I do that best when I can remember to welcome them, as the "sweet touch of awakening;" a chance to burn, as spiritual fuel, whateverís in my way, to get more conscious and compassionate.

I woke up the other morning to find myself faced with just such a rude awakening opportunity. There, seemingly out of the blue, were The Blues, perhaps, as Shalom suggests, to remind me that Iíd strayed again from my sweet, true Self.

For the previous several days, Iíd been alone a lot Ė I thought quite cozy and content, and (hear the Protestant in me) productive! Iíd been proud of myself for not needing anyone, for being able to work and play happily by myself. Then suddenly, sitting here drinking tea, I felt lonely, unloved and sad. I was vulnerable to the core, and yes, it hurt. I hurt.

Although Iíd not had any significant calls for days, several friends phoned that morning, including two I hadnít heard from in months. But the attention did little to assuage my awful feelings. That was a good thing. I didnít need othersí consolation nearly so much as I needed more practice in consoling and caring for myself. (Charity begins at home!)

For my sense of painful abandonment wasnít based on my present life experience. Nor is it "rational," though there is an old "reason" for it. Iím wise enough to know that, despite my parentsí best efforts, I (like many of us) suffered for lack of unconditional love as a child. I also know that now, thank God, I am loved for myself. But the old unlovable feelings linger, unexpressed emotional remnants of the hurt-but-brave little girl hiding deep inside. I needed to nurture her, by letting those feelings come, so as to let them go.

So thatís what I did. I set aside everything else on that recent spring morning and let "poor little Suzie" shed her tears. Holding and loving myself as best I could, I cried and rested, and cried some more, till I was spent, with nothing left but my empty, clear Self.

Who knows Ė or much cares Ė why sad, lonely feelings resurfaced just then. I imagine that they were there waiting, and that so much alone time catalyzed and encouraged them to come up into the light of consciousness. I suspect, too, that in my flurry of prideful solo productivity, Iíd been taking myself, and my need for both Self-nurturance and the friendship of others, for granted. My soul, my very being, felt neglected.

Whatever the cause, pain was a reminder that it was time (adding the words of Marianne Williamson to Shalomís) to return to love, which is the "natural wholeness that is our birthright." The good news is I got the message, got back in touch and have been more present with myself since. I hope youíll stay in touch, too, with me Ė and with yourself!

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