It’s 4am. I just woke up from an intense dream, where I leaving an enormous shopping mall, and when I got back to my parking spot, I found the huge 1980’s station wagon that I had borrowed from a friend, swinging 7 feet in the air, suspended from some kind of massive amateurish steel and rope rigging. The wheels were missing, body panels and doors were missing. I remembered I had thrown something of value in the wagon before I went in to the mall, thinking it wouldn’t be a problem. I imagined it had been stolen, too, but wasn’t sure from my vantage point, taking in that bizarre view. Broad daylight. Lots of people. How did they manage that?
I searched around the lot, looking for help, found some strange characters, but nobody helpful. I noticed I had a photo of a credit card lying on the ground, thinking it could be clue to the thief. I felt bad about losing a car I had borrowed, would have been somehow easier if it were my car, and wondered why anyone would want anything from that old wagon anyhow.
I woke up from that dream, and had a thought about graffiti I had seen last night: pain is power. I thought about how that does and doesn’t make sense in a yoga context, and wanted to write about it, but first I had to pee.
When I got to the bathroom, (disgusting trigger warning, skip this paragraph if you don’t want the gory images) I found a toilet filled with feces and too-much paper. Yuck. I tried to flush, but this clogged the toilet and brought it near to overflowing. I knew to quickly shut off the water valve to halt the ascent of the brown water. Just in time, nearing the brink. I pushed the bathmats out of the way in case of spilling, and carefully began to plunge. It took much much much longer than any plunging I’d ever done. “Is this more dream?” Nope. I plunged away, thinking about what wonderful metaphors I’ve used in classes about plunging and if there’d be some new wisdom in this experience. Old thoughts surfaced about pushing and pulling to dislodge what’s stuck in our system, but nothing new came through. Eventually I got it down and came back to write.
So – “your pain is your power.”
Seems like a statement that could lead to people hurting themselves, but there’s truth in there, and I love to mine for truth, so let’s go.
First of all, I do not, at all, advocate anybody creating new pain to create new power. If only it were that simple.
Where the truth lies* is in the intricate ways we avoid our power by avoiding our pain. All those regretful experiences from our past that we “painstakingly” avoid contain the buried treasure of our power.
Painstaking (v): (1) the subconscious process whereby one takes the story of their life, and puts warning markers at all the painful moments. (2) subconsciously marking the place where, during a traumatic moment, one hides the part of themselves they didn’t want destroyed, so they can later find it.
The power is in there, but to access it, we need to face our shit. We need to plunge our clogged pipes and get the flow back 😉
In my story, the pains I’ve faced were rejection and being bullied as a kid, my middle child syndrome, getting caught in the emotional crossfire, antisemitism, my parent’s divorce, heartbreaks, guilt for being the heartbreaker, disappointments, failures, and the whopper, (deep breath) taking someones life in a car accident. Yes, I am an accidental killer.
In each of these cringe-y circumstances, I’d stay as present as I could for as long as I could, but something would get too intense, and I’d have to protect myself. Protect myself… how? By tightening up, by losing a memory, by hiding, my making myself small, by apologizing even if I hadn’t done something wrong. Each are examples of not using my power fully.
It’s like I’d been taking the painful moments of my life, and sweeping them under the rug. With almost no practice at all, I learned a careful serpentine dance, that, while indirect, allowed me to cross the room without feeling any of my old pain, and without letting anyone else that wasn’t watching too closely know that I was sensitive. Each time there was new pain, I’d learn what I was ready for, sweep the rest under the rug, add another artful dodge to my path to avoid re-experiencing that, and continue my routines.
This allowed me to prance “carefree” through my life, creating many, regular experiences that I’ve been calling “winning at life.”
The cost, though, is that the path becomes a bit cumbersome over time. While it might seem to me like I’m artfully dancing across the room, anyone with any emotional sensitivity can feel the discomfort. I can certainly feel it in others.
This painstaking effort to hold down my past simultaneously has me attached to it: if I had buried my pain in a hole, and covered it with my foot, I could pivot around it like a basketball player, able to pass the ball, but certainly not available to run or jump or move without risking its escape.
This has me look at the following distinctions:
fear: the expectation of danger
danger: a circumstance where we could get injured
pain: an experience that indicates we might be encountering an injury
injury: what we want to avoid
In much of life, it makes great logical sense to avoid fear, danger, and pain.
In those traumatic moments, I am at my edge, bracing myself for whatever horror I am facing, thinking and acting fast and instinctively, my mind maps out how to survive. (1) tighten all muscles (set the “emergency” brake (2) fight/flight/freeze (3) hide anything valuable (4) go back to business as usual.
The good news is, that reviewing old pains is like watching a horror movie a second time. I already know who survives, and it’s clearly me. Deep breath.
I’ve become mostly unafraid of facing my old pain, and I have yoga to thank for that. You see, all those cringe-y moments… that cringing happens on the physical layer, too. It creates muscular tightness. I’ve been practicing clearing out those physical tensions for nearly two decades. Like a bow painfully drawn to full extension for a decade, when I release the the tension I get to experience the power. The trick to releasing that tension is that I have to feel it first, to know where it is. This kind of pain is the marker for the power. It’s the flashing arrow pointing towards it. This should not be confused with the kind of pain that tells us we are damaging the tissue of our physical body.
Sometimes pain acts like an invitation NOT to feel something. That’s the worst idea. I can only tell whether I’m damaging or healing by listening to the sensation. Obviously, I don’t want to leave my hand in a fire too long. Sometimes, the sting of cold from a nearly frozen foot straight out of a ski boot into my warm hands can help restore the situation. Better yet, the compassionate holding of a painful memory let’s me speak more freely about my life and my errors. Not needing to wear a mask, and able again to meet people eye to eye.
So I practice staying as present as I can to each moment, what is current, and what from my history is coming up. Allowing all of my experience allows all of my power.
*an amazing double entendre that I couldn’t delete