And a woman spoke, saying, Tell us of Pain.
And he said:
Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.
And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;
And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.
And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.
Much of your pain is self-chosen.
It is the bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self.
Therefore trust the physician, and drink his remedy in silence and tranquility:
For his hand, though heavy and hard, is guided by the tender hand of the Unseen,
And the cup he brings, though it burn your lips, has been fashioned of the clay which the Potter has moistened with His own sacred tears.
by Kahlil Gibran
Excerpt from The Prophet, first published in 1923
We all have our own particular version of human pain. It changes many times over the course of a life, but some painful patterns and experiences circle back to us over and over with a familiar shape and feel. My own perennial ‘cross to bear’ is headache pain and it has accompanied me throughout most of my adult life. I find Kahlil Gibran, the Lebanese-American poet and artist who wrote over a century ago, a source of inspiration on how to be with this.
Today I chose this poem because I felt that to authentically embrace writing about a poem, it needed to speak to where I am. Here I am in ‘headache mode’. Headache mode describes a whole body, mind and heart ‘state’. Being in headache mode points to more than just a pain in my head. It describes a feel of being vulnerable and open, soft and raw. Often these days the pain is bearable if I can provide myself with particular conditions of comfort and ease. It invites a gentling of how I am with myself and kindness from others.
This sensitive self exists in a twilight world and shies away from bright lights, animated conversation and busyness. It feels necessary, like an oasis. I need to drink from this deeper well regularly to reunite with myself. In reality of course, apart from when the headache is at its worst, work and parenting don’t completely stop when I’m in headache mode and so I take the gentleness with me into work and into being with my son. It becomes an internal stance of self-kindness and a softer presence in the world.
So, I have shared with you a glimpse of how my longstanding headache pain was the ‘breaking of the shell’. It broke the shell of the part of me that wanted to be always out there and strong. The headache ‘season of my heart’ is tender and precious and it sheds a mellow light on my days, bringing peace, if I let it. I’ve learned to trust the physician of my body, who presents me with this pain and I drink the remedy with serenity (usually!).
The last line of the poem speaks to the core of me; communicating something fundamental. That pain often has meaning and can be essential. Essential in that it is needed and essential in that it strips us to our essence. Perhaps some greater mystery is at work, that we are part of, that makes pain into a ‘sacred’ path, if we find a way to heed the call.
Ps. Join us for our indepth mindfulness course where we can explore together how acceptance of challenging situations, like pain, can help make them more bearable, and how we can cultivate a relationship with the body that supports our wellbeing. There is also the Mindfulness Meets Mystical Poetry contemplative online course which will bring alive the poetry of ancient and modern day poets who write of mindfulness, compassion, wisdom and mystical themes.