I notice two themes in my writing:
- God and this body – which is not other than God’s body – are to be trusted. I enjoin you to relax, to trust, to attend to them, and to live in the present, for you and God are here and nothing else has real and lasting meaning. Joy is here. However…
- Discomfort – which has many faces: pain, anxiety, dissatisfaction – is a part of life and that to pray, far from being an escape from discomfort, is to enter into an encounter with it.
These two might seem at odds. How can you trust and relax if at times this leads to an encounter with discomfort?
There are many answers to this. Here are a few:
- Only acknowledged pain can find healing. And healing can only be found in the accepting and empathic presence of a trusted other, whether that other be a doctor, a friend, a psychotherapist, a spiritual director, a tree, a landscape, a pet… or that great Other, God. (Here’s a paradox: you, the tree, the pet… are none other than ‘that great Other’.)
- “The universe was not designed with the comfort of human beings in mind.” Some discomfort is from your own inability or refusal to accept this and other truths of our condition. The gap between wish and reality is its own pain. That life discomfits is the case. You can rail against it if you want: anger has its place. You can try to make sense of it if you want: making meaning has its place. In the end you must give in and accept truth.
- And, of course, some pain you cause yourself and others. There is no one else to blame. Acknowledge your failures to love; learn to accept forgiveness.
To pray you must accept this and that: the need to trust; and the need, when necessary, to meet with pain.
There are five instinctive responses to danger: fight, flight, freeze, submit and attach. We have the same reactions to pain:
- fight with drugs, carrying on regardless, blame;
- flee into distraction: TV and other forms of entertainment; go to sleep;
- freeze: stop breathing, tense up;
- submit to inactivity and depression;
- form an attachment to what or who hurts you.
There is an alternative. Attend to the pain with kindness:
- leaving everything else to one side, focus your attention on the place of pain;
- get the measure of it, the place, shape, size, quality – dull, sharp, diffuse, focussed, throbbing…;
- realise it is you who hurts (not a part of you that is somehow separate from you) and you’ve been holding yourself, tensing against the pain; but now…
- breathe, relax and lean into the pain;
- be kind to yourself, especially to the place of your pain;
- be open to whatever the hurting part of this body wants to tell or show you;
- be patient: this body has its own language and logic more akin to the way the unconscious wells up into dreams;
- accept the story this body tells;
- be thankful for whatever comes.
Life is rarely straightforward for long. The practice of prayer in times when you can easily relax and trust gives a foundation for times of difficulty. The strength gained by praying in times of difficulty leads to greater trust.
Let these two – this and that – interweave in your life.