Everything passes: Work to transform pain into freedom

MARQUETTE – Watching curled red leaves swirl over roads and sidewalks, I can’t help but think of what comes next – with no little dread.

Despite luxurious record heat last week, the days are getting shorter. The earthy smell of autumn ushers in sweaters, pumpkins, football and cider, and invites us to crunch beneath flaming trees with awe and that familiar pang of sadness.

Autumn reminds me of the poignancy of death and continuation, of loss and longing, as well as the intense beauty of our fleeting existence.

Many in our community are undergoing terrible loss, with the tragic death of a young child in Gwinn, the man found dead at Presque Isle and countless other difficulties.

Time unfolds with its characteristic disregard for our hopes and plans.

I know many struggle with private anguish. Others wonder why, even when things are OK, nagging doubt and dissatisfaction confound their peace of mind.

This is the mysterious world we find ourselves in. Nobody asked if the arrangement was agreeable. Nobody warns us before precious gifts are spirited away or checks to see if we’re ready for bad news.

Panic and despair are all too real when we are tested beyond the limits of reason, asked to bear more than we can carry or find ourselves at a crossroads that will impact our entire lives.

Even positive change brings stress and uncertainty – a new house, a new relationship, a new job, a new pair of shoes, the calluses we haven’t formed yet.

Change is hard: what an understatement. Cities, homes, businesses and empires will fall, with people left standing in the rubble. Capricious mistakes can cause unbelievable damage; and death is never far away. No one is impervious to these things.

So how can we deal with the terrifying reality of constant change?

A teacher I admire once said there are two kinds of fear: the kind you run away from that chases you wherever you go, and the kind you turn around and face.

Sometimes, the pain is too much to face. Sometimes, we have to offer ourselves the kindness of taking a break, to catch our breath – remembering that pain is ultimately no one’s fault. It is the result of conditions arising from previous conditions, moment to moment, generation to generation.

But hiding from pain doesn’t actually improve matters.

As Shakespeare wrote: “The grief that does not speak whispers the o’erfraught heart and bids it break.”

Allowing and sharing our pain is the only way to heal.

But know there is also profound redemption in this agonizing, infuriating impermanence. And that is our capacity to grow through it.

When did you learn more: the dark night you struggled in the depths of your soul? Or when everything was going your way?

Impermanence is just another aspect of this spontaneous, creative life force we all take part in.

As change inspires creativity, so suffering inspires compassion. And these qualities are possibly the most beautiful things human beings have to offer each other.

We’re powerless against what is and what will be, but we are not doomed to play the victim.

By accepting our measure of sorrows and the suffering in the world – turning towards and not away, allowing pain to touch our hearts and change our minds – then we are truly making contact with this precious life. Only then can we feel free and unburdened.

Winter will probably kick my butt again, but even though I don’t feel ready – and never will – I can trust it has something to teach me. And as I allow the dread without criticizing myself, I can also feel it shrinking in the light of awareness.

No matter how bleak and broken, even then, life is nourishing our hearts as compost does a flower.

While it won’t be easy, by allowing sorrow and not running from it, you will bloom with more compassion, creativity and grace than ever before, and become more fully yourself.

Then one day, after time has healed the rawness of your experience, you will find someone in desperate need.

And you will share the gifts you cultivated in deepest darkness, and by doing so, find joy beyond measure.

Editor’s note: Mary Wardell can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248.


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