—His Holiness the Dalai Lama, “The (Justifiably) Angry Marxist“
I recently remembered another childhood situation that seems to support my intuition that I was probably programmed by early experiences to actively (unconsciously) accentuate the pain that I experience in my body.
The other day I was meditating, and I remembered something I have never actually forgotten, but that I haven’t thought about consciously in my 30-some years as an adult.
I remembered how when i was a small child, my mom and dad fought a lot. They had good times too, but many very painful times and there was usually a lot of stress between them.
When the parents I loved and depended on for everything a child needs–love, affection, faith in myself, food and shelter and above all a sense of safety, that “everything was going to be all right” so that I could be a child and play the way a child has to play in order to live and grow and develop in a healthy way–when those crucial people in my life fought about me and my brothers like this, they seemed so completely unhappy that I became convinced they were in total agony because they had ever had us. Because we were such burdens.
I remembered how it seemed that, no matter how much I loved my parents at that young age, or how much I wanted to please them, I could never control what I said and did so completely that I did not unthinkingly and childishly do things that caused them to suffer so much they had to yell at each other and shout about me and my little brothers. When they fought like this, each of them seemed to become so overwhelmed with a sense of despair; it seemed to my young mind that their lives were shear and total misery because of us. Because of me.
I remembered how my mom would crumple up on the living room couch at such times, crying and moaning about how Dad never helped, how he didn’t understand her and he never did the things she needed to discipline us. He always wanted to be harsh on us when we had gone too far but never wanted to work with us to guide our behavior on a daily basis.
Dad would always yell back at mom about how her expectations were too much, how she never disciplined us herself, how she was too soft on us, and how he had enough to handle working such long hours at the plant. Dealing with us was way too much for him to be expected to do. Then he would stomp in his gigantic dad body, out of the room or even out of the house, slamming all the doors behind him.
When they fought this way, it seemed to me that all of my mother’s and father’s plentiful suffering flowed from us boys, and I knew I was the oldest, the most responsible, even the “ringleader” of our misbehavior. I remember feeling like I was falling into the center of a bottomless hell of self-hatred and misery, and that this hell was our living room, lying on the floor with my mom crying alone on the couch and the echoes of my Dad’s shouts in the air as the living room door slammed, announcing his departure from our world, perhaps for the last time–perhaps forever. What would we do now? What could I do?
In these times, I remember that Mom never pulled me to her and held me; she never seemed to think to comfort me and reassure me that I was ok, she was ok, she and Dad still loved me and my brothers, and that things would be all right. I never even thought to want those things. Instead, my giant adult-sized fears just grew, churning and fermenting in my young, very child-sized mind and body. I remember such a terrible sense of falling, into myself forever, with nothing and no one ever to catch me; and at the same time, a burning sensation in my gut, as though my insides were being eaten up by some un-named acid-like substance, until i was just a thin rind of a shell of “boy”, filled with this dissolved and still hungry churning mixture of self-hatred and despair.
Sounds pretty awful, right? Well thank god at this point in my life I can look back on memories like this with a lot of peace and contentment and know that most of them have already been healed, and these that I’m now remembering are already moving in that direction simply by the very fact I am again consciously re-discovering and feeling them. By now I am an old hand at this kind of healing–but if you’re new to it, I empathize with you–it takes a lot of courage to start looking within, at these kinds of memories and emotions. And you don’t want to take on too much too quickly either, because it can disorganize you quite a lot to start pulling stuff like this up and out into the open.
Any way, as I meditated about these things, I remembered how without any conscious thought or decision, I had instinctively become convinced that the only choice I had was to actively make myself suffer a kind of bodily self-torture in order try to spare my parents from the suffering I had been causing them. I had to try to save the two people I loved and needed most in the world, so that they would be ok, and also so that they could take care of me. It was a matter of trying to love my parents into not suffering, and it was a also a matter of trying to save them so that I would not perish. It was both a mandate of a child’s love and that child’s survival.
And I knew too that I probably couldn’t really do all that, and so i was utterly certain that we were doomed to some un-imaginable form of complete destruction. But I felt as though I had no choice whatsoever but to at least try to pay for all this unspeakable suffering I couldn’t help causing them. I thought it was all my doing; I was too young to object to such an unspoken, accusation and summary verdict; I thought I must be unspeakably evil, and the only way to fix what I had done just by being there, was to destroy myself and in this way neutralize my effect, to whatever degree that I could.
Simply put, I had to hurt myself.
In the years following, I remember I found many ways to do this (the list is long and sad, and I won’t bore you with it here). But I also remember that I knew my parents loved me, and that I needed to honor that love as well–I really did believe consciously in taking care of myself; so no conscious forms of destruction were allowed: I couldn’t cut myself or abuse drugs or alcohol; it had to be subtle. So I learned instinctively to turn myself-hatred inward, within my own body, in a way that no one including myself could see or identify as an act of self-destruction. I turned my rage into an invisible power for torture and destruction; a very formidable force to create a physical experience of pain that grew and grew with practice, until by the time I was in my mid 20’s I was experiencing full-blown fibromyalgia—at least that’s the label my doctor finally settled on. I had most of the major symptoms, but it was somewhat a-typical.
Now, if you have a chronic illness or pain disorder of any kind, please know that i am not in any way implying that you are doing to yourself what i seem to be doing to myself. Each of us is different, and there are many causes for any such disease. Even in the case like someone such as myself who may be creating their suffering psychosomatically, I believe I probably have a genetically predispositioned weakness to the experience of pain, either in my sensory nerve endings, my nerves themselves, or in the pain processing areas of my brain, or possibly all of the above.
And, I want to make it clear; I in no way have ever felt that i was “doing this to get attention” or anything of the sort. If you read the above description of the dynamics that I believe are creating this experience of pain and suffering, and you come to such a conclusion, you either haven’t been paying attention, or you have some unexamined (and unfounded) prejudices about people suffering from pain. Please understand I am assuring you that in my experience anyone who suffers from chronic pain, SUFFERS. This is not a game. It is a personal, unrelenting hell. Period. And like the vast majority of people who suffer in this way, I would like to end this suffering as soon as possible, as much as possible. Only our bodies generally don’t seem to cooperate with our desires to heal. And in my case, it is maybe because unconsciously, I am paying a debt I believe I owe, trying to solve a problem that was too big for the child me that it was handed to so many years ago.
So now, to summarize, I have come once again in contact with mental energy turned toward unconsciously driving my own physical suffering. What does a person do when faced with such evidence?
Well, we yogis see this as an example of karma—it is consciousness energy attached to a belief that I can only be ok by suffering pain. Consciousness energy is extremely formidable; you can’t ever fight it. This is because it is the very nature of the all-powerful Self of all things.
The only way to stop this cycle of suffering is to release my attachment to the suffering and allow this fragment of my consciousness to return to my own soul or center of consciousness. I need to experience this self-hatred consciously, remember the goal of saving my parents and myself and why I thought I had to do this; to keep myself safe and protect my parents from agony I thought i was causing; to love them into being ok. I need to feel the fear of dying that underlies all this; and underneath that fear, I must once again come in contact with the illusion, the erroneous belief, that I need the love of someone else and the experience of physical safety–the mistaken belief that I, pure and infinite non-material consciousness, need condition at all other than my own beginningless existence, in order to be “ok”.
When this conscious identification of the illusion occurs, as i have experienced many times now, this mistaken fragment of my consciousness will no longer bound to drive the karmic wheel of my desire, attachment, disappointment, anger and sorrow, but rather it (I) returns to the incredible peace and bliss which are my own true nature.
Thus I experience incremental enlightenment.
I have found, as my teachers promised, that when I give up such attachments to Consciousness, the suffering I am driving through them gradually (or often quickly) fades into nothingness, and my own experience of peace and happiness rises measurably. Each such dissolution of an attachment fuels an increasing experience of bliss and energy. All of this adds up over time into a whole lot more personal freedom and energy to be and act in the ways that i consciously choose; to spontaneously express the self that i feel inside, and to freely love, myself and others in a way that causes no suffering at all and creates and experience endless joy.
So this experiencing and dissolution of my attachment to self-injury through pain, is what I plan to explore in the next few days. I will write more about my experience of this process as I undergo it, and hopefully I will also soon be able to write about some significant alleviation of painful symptoms. But I will not commit to such a change, nor to posting on these explorations for now. I plan journal them so that when the process is over and I am free to talk about it without interfering with it, I can share some of what I experienced if people are interested.
I shared my plans to write this post today with a dear friend, who responded with the following comments that she gave me permission to include. I found them quite interesting and potentially very rich in possibilities for healing:
“I believe the opposite is true, too. If parents make sure to love each other around their children, or take the time to go out of their way to make their children known to themselves, then those people (I include myself in this category) are able to find happiness in burdens. They can really enjoy the moment (which is all this life truly offers), and maybe can even manage pain better b/c they inherently know that the pain doesn’t have to define them; they know who they are already (don’t know if I’m in that category!) and know that, this, too, shall pass.”
Thank you, S; I see several good ideas in your comments, and hope to build on them in coming posts.
Peace and Bliss and Healing to us all
***As always, everyone is invited to share your ideas, insights, experiences, and suggestions in the comments; please share so that we call can journey with and learn from each other.