4 – There is nothing you can tell yourself about pain that will heal it

Melissa: I experience a lot of fear about time. Anything ivith a dead-line can bring on a panic. If I have to get papers ready for school or catch an airplane, I get thrown into a terrible anxiety. I wish I could
come to a better agreement with time. I never seem to have enough time.

Planning and organizing this workshop gave me a great deal of anxiety. But now as I sit here, I feel good about everyone and what’s going on.

You don’t feel anxious right now.

Melissa: No.

I hear what you are saying and I respect it. However, one of the most difficult aspects of working with people in some healing role is that it is virtually impossible to deal with an issue or difficulty that’s over.

Maybe it’s just the limitations of my own perspective, but I draw a blank when a question is brought up which relates to something that doesn’t exist right here. We would have to go into a fantasy to work with an anxiety that you are not feeling right now.

I’m not saying that you asked a wrong question. I’m not being critical in any way. A meeting such as this one should be an encounter with what exists here, and not an attempt to deal with a fantasy.

Melissa: That makes perfect sense. It’s been a pattern for my whole life, and I don’t know what to do about it.

I totally respect that. It’s true, though, that you can hear the difference in the tone of a person’s voice when they are trying to deal with something that is, at that moment, an abstraction. It sounds less connected to the body, a little tighter.

When we have experienced something over and over again as a pattern and are not experiencing it at this moment, then our urge to solve it must be oriented toward a future time and place. Making an attempt to solve something that we know once occurred and that we assume will occur again, creates an unsettled relationship to the present.

We actually have to reconstruct the past and invent the future in order to begin dealing with the so-called issue of your anxiety about time. Such an invention can be very confusing because all the solutions must be conceptual, in the head, and not organically arrived at.

If we were to pursue your anxiety about time in the way you initially wanted to, it would eliminate the possibility of a living encounter, an experience outside the frame of reference which is causing the conflict in the first place. We would get kind of stuck.

When the orientation is toward solving something that we remember occurring in the past and then anticipating its reappearance in the future, we lose sight of the real motivation that has drawn us together. We want to have an encounter in the present which is outside the usual ways of defining our-
selves. If we attempt, as our sole purpose, to deal with an experience that doesn’t actually exist at this moment, we begin to travel down a road which can lead us into very perplexing misunderstandings.

We are here together. Some vital possibility exists which can’t be fully understood from a conceptual frame. You have brought up a difficulty which arose a few days ago, but somehow your desire to communicate holds a more profound opportunity than simply discussing the problem as you remember it.

Lets begin to settle into our experience together as it is. Notice the body. Stay easy with it. Breathe and allow. If there is tension somewhere, uneasiness, discomfort, just breathe and give it permission.

We are looking for an actual experience. Ideas solve very little when it comes to the realm of our internal experience, we want to get outside the frame of reference which is causing the conflict and making us uptight.

When you speak about time, or any other condition, you are really speaking about a locater, a frame of reference, which is by its very nature limited. Each of us has access to an explosive, expansive space which we are keeping at bay. This space is non-conceptual; it is not governed by the ideas we use to cage ourselves in so much of the time.

Whenever people tie themselves down to any particular frame of reference, it is inevitable that conflict will arise. Whenever we clutch to an image, negative or positive, and thereby avoid the space that lies outside, beyond that image, we are going to collide with walls. We are also going to find that we long for that which is free of conceptual references, while we hide inside an appearance.

Deep within, we are looking for a way to come into something different, something outside of conflict and predicaments that have no solution on the level at which they appear. We begin by coming to the body as it is, in a relaxed and gentle way. We let the whole body be easy, consciously experiencing the breathing and staying attentively open to what is.

How does your body feel?

Melissa: I have a sense of everyone breathing together. I feel very much at one with you and everybody here. I feel quite comfortable, a little tingly and relaxed.

Can you allow your attention to be with me through the front of your body for a few minutes?

Melissa: Yes.

Do you feel us together? Do you feel me with you?

Melissa: I don’t know. 1 can’t really describe it. I’m staying with my body and breathing, not expecting anything. Yet I want something.

Is the wanting a feeling or is it an idea?

Melissa: It’s an idea. I really feel very much at ease.

Do you have any problems?

Melissa: On the thinking level, I do.

Right this minute?

Melissa: Right now, I don’t feel like I do. I could remember what the problems are, but they don’t come easily.

In the experience at this moment, there is no problem?

Melissa: No.

And you haven’t had an insight nor have your outward circumstances changed.

Melissa: That’s right.

You are exactly the same person who you were before, except that you don’t have any problems.

Melissa: I’ve been feeling that a lot today.

You and I both know, for better or for worse, that somewhere down the road, you are going to perceive yourself as a person who does have problems. But at this moment you are having an actual experience of living with yourself without dilemmas or difficulties.

Melissa: Yes, that’s true. But I really do have lots of issues.

They are waiting for you somewhere.

Melissa: Yes.

Can you conceive, as you sit here, of the possibility of entering into your life without the dilemmas? Does it feel like a remote possibility that you could leave here and have none of the troubles that disturbed you before?

Melissa: That seems so far out. Would I be walking in a haze or some other odd state?

Do you feel clear right now or do you feel hazy?

Melissa: I feel clear.

Since your life hasn’t changed and nothing in your environment has changed, where are the problems

Melissa: They are in the future or the past.

They simply and truthfully don’t exist at this moment.

Melissa: Right.

But when they do exist, can you locate experientially where they occur?

Melissa: Yes, they cause pain and worry and arguments about how to deal with them.

Do the circumstances which usually cause you pain have that pain inherent to them? Are they inherently problems or is the problem the fact of the pain?

Melissa: I’m not sure I understand.

Is there something inherently problematic about the circumstances which causes your pain? Or is the pain itself the cause of the dilemma and not the circumstances? If you didn t have the pain, would there be conflict about the circumstances?

Melissa: Probably not.

So when you say to me that there are circumstances which cause you pain, you are really saying that the fact of your pain causes confusion and conflict, not necessarily the circumstances?

Melissa: I think that’s true.

If the circumstances weren’t causing you pain, if you felt clear even with certain events going on, while there might be decisions to make, there wouldn’t be the kind of suffering or struggle that you usually experience around them.

Melissa: I’m trying to understand.

I’m saying that part of your conflict is about pain and not circumstances. It’s the pain itself that is so troubling.

Melissa: I have a grown child that needs money. I feel guilty, give her the money and then feel angry because I think I have been manipulated. I can’t free myself of this cycle. I don’t want the responsibility anymore. It’s all old stuff.

I have another grown child who sort of cut himself off from me and that hurts when I think about it.

It’s the hurt that you don’t like and not the fact that he cut himself off?

Melissa: That’s right.

This is very important. When you look at the difficulties you are having in life, it is not the circumstances you don’t like, it s the pain.

Melissa: Yes, and the conflict of feeling guilty.

The conflict is a little different from the pain. You are experiencing something in your body that you don’t feel comfortable with, and the conflict relates to how you can maneuver the outside so that the feeling will go away. Isn’t that true?

Melissa: Yes.

When you speak about a child who has cut himself off from you or demands money, there is nothing objectively conflicting about those events. It’s that those circumstances evoke a pain that you don’t like.

Melissa: I understand. I got you.

When you have conflict, struggle, when you don’t know what to do, it’s not about the child who demands money, etc., but rather about how to deal with your own pain.

Melissa: You are right. This is so great. I want to know how to deal with the pain.

The child who makes you feel manipulated is trying to solve her own pain through you, and so you are trying to solve your pain through her. This is not a criticism at all. It is an observation.

We are all, on one level or another, trying to deal with our own pain by trying to get someone else to behave differently.

Melissa: This is instead of coming to the pain warmly?

If I were able to magically take away the pain whenever your children behaved in a certain way toward you, the fear and the confusion about what to do would go away. You would know what to do. It’s really not the circumstance that you are struggling with. It’s what to do about your own reaction.

You are looking at the way in which reality is invented by the mind. There is no objective conflict in your relationship with the children. While you try to solve your own pain by dealing with them, you are creating a phantom reality which only appears to be objective.

Our whole concern in this life is Narcissus. We are looking out at others and seeing in them a reflection of our own concerns or pain. We are not really trying to help them; we are attempting to deal with ourselves.

Melissa: This is especially true with ones children.

They are capable of evoking a lot of guilt and confusion. At the same time, however, we can see that at least in part we don’t want anything “bad” to happen to our children because we don’t want to experience the pain. There are other elements, of course, but we must be able to observe this one if we are to be honest.

Melissa: I see that in myself.

If we knew that we were going to respond to our own pain with compassion, warmth and softness, there would be less glueyness in our intimate relationships.

Compassion for another person is quite different from the panic which occurs when we are using someone else to deal with our own pain. It is enormously empowering to understand that the pain is not being caused by an event which is objectively pain-causing. The pain has been evoked. Our obsession about how to deal with the event relates more to our own body than anything else. We don’t like the pain.

But who doesn’t like the pain? Where does this “not liking” come from? Can we observe the difference between the pain and not liking the pain? We might assume that not liking pain is inherent to the pain, but when we slow things down a bit, we can see that the pain is occurring in one location and the “not liking” is occurring in another.

The pain is not inherently conflicted. It can be clear and steady. A conflict did get imposed onto that pain. The idea makes the pain appear conflicted. “I don’t like this pain,” is a conflict. It is an assumption that what is happening in the body is wrong or foreign.

“I don’t like the pain,” is an irritant to the pain itself. When the “not liking” is fiercely fastened to the pain, we may experience both events as if they were the same.

When we shift toward that space in which the problem doesn’t exist, even though there may be pain, we discover that the part of ourselves which does not like the pain is different
from the pain itself.

“I don’t like the pain,” is the imposition of a conditioned response onto something which is occurring in the body. When we don’t like the pain, our perception of it is immediately distorted. It becomes more difficult and demanding than it actually is.

The primary problem that you are having with your children is that they are evoking pain in you, and your mental reflex is to not like that pain. You respond to it as if it were a foreignness, a disease. The body creates a peculiar defense against an innocent experience. It tightens down and holds back.

Each of us has been taught to resolve this kind of pain by either manipulating the circumstances or by manipulating ourselves. We manipulate ourselves by tightening the body and using it as a mechanism of suppression and also by creating concepts, story lines and ideas which are fantasized substitutes for self-care.

We think that we are struggling with our husband, wife, child, etc., but we are actually struggling with our own body. The reason that we don’t know how to appropriately serve that person is because we don’t see them. We see only our own pain. We are trying to get rid of something we don’t like by dealing with someone else as if they were the cause.

From a particular paradigm, it seems natural and obvious to dislike pain. The “not liking” is rarely questioned or understood to be different from the pain itself. The pain is a subtle
physical event which can’t be fully dealt with through either insight, self-manipulation or pushing circumstances in certain directions.

The approach to the interplay between pain and circumstance that we take here is different from the one which is habitually taken most of the time. We don’t know what to do about our child, etc., because we are not feeling warmth toward ourselves. If there were the kind of warmth toward self that we experience in this circle, what steps to take and how to serve appropriately would be relatively clear.

The healing that you seek has little to do with your children and the mental conflict which seems to surround them. It relates almost entirely to how you are treating your own pain and the discovery that disliking it and trying to make it go away is the cause of your suffering at this point in time.

Melissa: Wow! I feel that.

We have not been given an education about how to deal with that bodily force that we call pain. We have been taught to treat it as a virus which must be eliminated synthetically,

through some form of suppression or denial. We have not been taught why or how to take care of it. We’ve been taught to hate and distract, but not how to embrace and respect it.

Waiting, not doing anything for a certain period of time about the so-called external circumstance, is far more practical, more resilient with possibilities, than the struggle which has been going on for so long. The first step in self-care is to accept the way it is for even just a little while.

The initial impulse, when we are faced with pain, is to manipulate circumstances and ourselves. The initial impulse of emotional self-care is to leave the circumstance and attend

to ourselves. There are some who might argue that such an approach is impractical and self-centered, even though years may have been spent obsessing in the same old way.

What you call reality is nothing more than a particular frame of reference; what your children call reality is their particular frame of reference. The actuality, although beyond words, can at least be described as much bigger than any particular frame of reference.

The frame that is used to define reality becomes a cage. It is a confinement. It isn’t the objective circumstances that are causing the problem, but the fact of the frame itself. If we aim,

in our problem-solving methodology, to deal with the circumstances that seem to be occurring within the frame, we can make only limited headway.

The process of opening ourselves into a deeper dimension, a different relationship to life, involves shifting the frame. The problem then begins to solve itself organically. The blinders

are lifted. We can suddenly see more of what’s really there.

If we drove our car with the windshield covered with ice and had only a small opening through which to view the road, driving would be experienced as a problem. If we never were

shown anything else, we might assume that the car and all the mechanisms in it are inherently problematic. We might end up hating it, thinking that it’s our unfortunate lot in life, our condition, our fate. If a hole were chopped in the ice and our view could be expanded, driving would have a different feel to it altogether.

It is so important to understand that the most sublime response to situations that are difficult for us is to wait and enter into ourselves warmly, openly, and then return when the perspective has changed.

Melissa: I am so moved because I was taught so thoroughly to hate my pain, to be tough and to keep a stiff upper lip.

In order to live that way you must tighten the body and live in thoughts of fear and doubt.

Melissa: The fear is so prevalent for me. I always think I must stay in control.

All you can actually control is your body and in the end that’s what you are trying to control. It may appear as if you are trying to control the circumstances on the outside, but you are trying to control your own pain.

Melissa: I’ve always thought that pain is a sign of weakness and that I shouldn’t be weak.

In that picture of yourself is a sense of shame about the body. The body is wrong and dangerous. It doesn’t have a wisdom or a beauty. It isn’t related to truth. The body is kept in chains.

Eros is dangerous. Life then becomes a technical struggle in thought. We miss the unfolding process, the holism of this life. There is nothing that you can tell yourself about pain while it is occurring that is actually true. There is nothing that you can tell yourself about pain that will heal it. Pain is not healed by ideas. It can never be healed by adjusting our thoughts. Pain can’t be solved by conceptual struggles with what is going on. Pain is healed by coming to it directly and attending to it as it is and not as we want it to be.

The pain does not leave; it is transformed. The very energy that lies at the base of pain is the energy that we want. It is the energy which gives us the strength to live. It is appearing as

pain because of interpretation and contraction.

Melissa: Is the attacker, the one who hates the pain, an enemy?

To look at that voice as an enemy is to give it a reality and a strength which it doesn’t inherently have. We simply offer the attention, the mother love, to our whole experience one step at a time.

As the attention is brought to the body in this way, that attacking voice stands little chance of staying alive as the demon, the dominant force. As long as it is given the energy of the fight, however, it seems to function as an independent force. It stabs at us, attacks and remains out of control.

Melissa: I know all this, Stephen, and I can help other people. But with myself it is so hard.

But as you learn to work with it in yourself, the ability to help others, in this regard, will dramatically increase. The depth and certainty of your relationship to this will be apparent to anyone who sits with you.

If you haven’t resolved this in yourself, then a certain fear is going to pervade your approach to others, and the ability to relate in unflinchingly direct and unsentimental ways will not be as clear as it might be.

Melissa: You have helped me so much by just separating the hater from the pain and by giving me such an understanding of the frame. Thank you.