Mindfulness of Pain

A dear friend created a zine, America I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down, that launched on inauguration day, 2017. I contributed the below piece. You can purchase the zine here. All proceeds go to the Equal Justice Initiative.

“Most people discover that when hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with their own pain.” ~James Baldwin

I used to react to pain with hate and anger.

Now, when I feel pain, I work with it. I sit with the pain in silence, with curiosity, observing how it feels in my body, watching my mind ruminate. I tell myself, “It’s ok,” placing my hand on my heart. I hold myself as I would hold a crying child — gently, patiently, kindly, and with love. I accept the pain. With this practice, the pain softens me, creating tenderness, understanding, empathy, and compassion. With time, the pain softens, too.

“Don’t surrender your loneliness so quickly. Let it cut you more deep. Let it ferment and season you as few human and even divine ingredients can.” ~Hafiz

For me, times of pain are the times of growth.

“There can be no lotus flower without the mud.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

When I observe anger or hate in others, I remind myself that they are feeling pain. The way the pain feels in their body is the same as it feels in mine. I try to hold them in the same kindness and gentleness as I hold myself. I try my best to react with understanding and kindness.

“If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.”

“Believe me, every heart has its secret sorrows, which the world knows not, and oftentimes we call a man cold, when he is only sad.”

~Henry Longfellow

“Each of us is leading a difficult life, and when we meet people we are seeing only a tiny part of the thinnest veneer of their complex, troubled existence. To practice anything other than kindness towards them, to treat them in any way save generously, is to quietly deny their humanity.” ~Derren Brown

Each time I feel pain, I have a choice for how to react. Each time I choose understanding and kindness, my mind and heart more naturally follow that path. This is the practice — to sit and tend the garden.

“The heart is like a garden: it can grow compassion or fear, resentment or love. What seeds will you plant there?” ~Jack Kornfield