Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Possibility in Pain

Joanna Macy was being interviewed this morning on NPR. She always seems to come into my consciousness when she's most needed. Several years ago, she published some "Spiritual Exercises for Social Activists." As best I remember, it was during resistance to the Vietnam War. Peace people were tiring, becoming discouraged. No matter what we did or how many were mobilized, the war dragged on, seemingly interminable. Joanna wrote about how people needed to breathe in the suffering they saw, in the images and reality of the war. Rather than blocking those images, turning our head or turning off the TV, those images needed to be transported on our breath through our bodies. Those suffering breaths needed to pass through our lungs and hearts, and in doing so, be changed into rich compost that could be breathed back into the great world net. It was an encouragement to keep at it, though the pain and suffering of the war was great and the times discouraging.

Her comments reflected similar wisdom this morning. She was responding to a question about the BP oil spill. She said we can't shut out the pain of the planet. If we do, we end up building walls of denial and delusion. We begin believing that all we need is more oversight, more security, newer technologies, and everything will turn out okay. But the healthy response is to let the pain into our person. We need to look squarely at the oil slicked herons, the dead fish, the struggling dolphins. But once the pain of the suffering is with us, we can't hold onto it either. We have to let it go. Otherwise, it could break our hearts.

In short, Joanna tells us that pain can be faced faithfully, not fearfully. And like so much else in life, when we squarely face the pain, we remove it's power over us. Pain gets transformed into possibility.

There's an additional secret in the spiritual exercises. It's about the breath! In the Hebrew Scriptures, in the book of Genesis, God breathes into Adam the "breath of life." It's the sign of the "living." Breath is what "inspires," gives us "inspiration." Breath is exactly what the suffering of the planet requires; it requires our breath!

For those who have developed a meditation practice there is an understanding of the importance of the breath. The breath can help us be mindful! The breath can help us be focused! The breath can help us find wisdom! The breath can help us experience and overcome pain, even the pain of a planet and it's people in crisis!

Carl Kline

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