What would it be like to awaken to a day when we meet our pain with compassion? And how surprising to find we can cultivate compassion for others by beginning with our selves. When we no longer mesmerize ourselves by our wounds or make a religion of the pain by which we so often define ourselves, we stop running for our lives.
If you watch, you’ll notice that when you experience pain, you ostracize and isolate that part of yourself. You close off what is calling out for your help. We do that same thing with our grief.
When you stub your toe, more than physical pain is generated; grief is released into the wound, followed by a litany of dissatisfactions and the poor-me syndrome, even a damning of God. When we trip and fall in the dark we are all-too-ready to curse ourselves for being clumsy, for not being able to hold our bladder till dawn, for not counting the hours in our just-burnt-out 1000-hour light bulb—and thus the bruise on the toe is conflated with self-judgment and an irrational sense of responsibility.
So, as an experiment, send love where pain resides in your body, softening and introducing mercy into a place that is perhaps captured in the constriction of fear. Let go the tension around physical discomfort, trusting that working with physical pain demonstrates a means of working with mental pain as well.
The next time you have a minor wound—a stubbed toe or bumped elbow—note how long it takes that wound to heal when you soften to it and use it as a focus for loving kindness. Then compare that with the number of days it takes a similar wound to heal when you turn away from it, allowing the fear and resistance that rushes toward it to mercilessly remain.
When you contrast the healing of an injury in the mind or body, in which loving kindness has gradually gathered, to the healing of an injury that has been abandoned, you find that the former mends more quickly than the latter. This softening and opening around pain has been shown in several double-blind studies to provide greater access of the immune system to the area of injury. It opens the vice of resistance into a never-considered acceptance of the moment. It denies hopelessness a home. It proves we are not helpless, that we can actively participate in what we previously believed we had only to endure.
Working with our pain, or the pain of loved ones, cultivates a mercy that allows us to stay one more moment at their bedside when we are most needed. It allows us to not run away.
To open some of our healing potential, soften around the pain to melt the resistance that isolates it. Enter it with mercy, instead of walling it off with fear. When we pass through the barricades of fear and distrust that attempt to defend the pain, we let what seems an improbable love—the ultimate acceptance of our pain—enter the cluster of sensations that so agitates the mind and body.
It takes patience to let go of doubt. So many fears warn us against opening beyond the numbness that surrounds pain. But when we allow ourselves to be open to and investigate these fears, we come to see them and our negative attachment to them, our compulsive warring with them, as a great unkindness to ourselves. As we open into our pain we can weep with gratitude when at last the pain does not so much disappear as become less intense and dispersed through a gradually expanding spaciousness in which it can be experienced.
As pain teaches us that fear can be penetrated by mercy and awareness from some inherent knowing, there resonates from our suffering a perfect teaching in compassion. The heart expands as “my” pain becomes “the” pain—the inevitable effect of softening around pain with mercy instead of hardening it with fear. Odd as it may sound, when we share the fruits of our pain we become more able to honor it.
Following a tributary from the personal to the universal, we can find in our pain the pain of all others as well. And at the root of our own wish to be free of suffering, is their calling out to be freed from their own suffering too. Finding them in ourselves, the loving kindness that we extend to all sentient beings moves Earth toward Heaven.
When we meet pain with mercy, there is a silent sigh of understanding and relief. This simple, counter-intuitive act of intentional consciousness can serve the whole world. It exposes a meaning to life—a connection through ourselves to all others, that offers a healing balm to the suffering in the world.
In 2000, after decades of service, Stephen and Ondrea Levine retired from public life. They have spent the last ten years in seclusion in northern New Mexico.
LevineTalks.com is a new venue for Stephen and Ondrea to share their teachings. The videos and writings available on the website offer a means of using technology as a catalyst for spiritual healing and reflection. The goal, as Ondrea puts it, is “to continue in the healing that we all took birth for.” To find out more, visit the website.