Do Not Worship At The Altar Of Your Pain

Do not worship at the altar of your pain. Do not get on your knees before it, or cling to some notion that it makes you special or holy. You are holy with or without what ails you. Holy is what you already are.

Do not let this pain define you, letting its name become your name. Your true name comes before and will sound out long after this pain is done. Do not call yourself survivor or warrior. Who you are runs so much deeper than what happened to you, so much deeper than what you’re fighting against or what’s fighting you.

Your vastness, your beauty cannot be defined by what’s hurt you or by what you’re working through.

Don’t hold this pain so tight that it uses up all your strength. So tight that you lose sight of where it ends and you begin. Do not tether yourself to it, even if it feels as though it has tethered itself to you.

Do not use all your light trying to brighten the darkness, instead make peace with the blackness and let the stars find a home reflected in your eyes. The light is here inside.

Don’t use everything you’ve got running, running so hard that you forget to rest, that you forget you’re even running, that you forget to stop and listen to songbirds. They sing for you. Don’t run so desperately, so intently with your head down that you forget to gaze up and see that this is but a speck of everything that is, and a small speck of everything that you are.

Do not let this pain take everything you’ve got. Do not give it every last drop. Invest some of your love in the living. Just a moment of deep rest can keep the heart going for days. Just a moment of cracking open to beauty can restore the brightness of soul in the eyes.

Do not believe that an experience is what you are. Think bigger. Open wider. This pain comes and goes but what you are is infinite.

Yes, this pain may ripen your heart. Yes, it may wake you up, and even transform you right to your core. It may leave you new or it may leave you broken in a pile on the floor. Regardless, do not shackle yourself to what hurts.

It is a boat that allows you to cross the stream. There will come a time when you will reach the other shore. You won’t need this anymore.

Hold what hurts lightly the way you would cup a tiny butterfly between your palms, like the ones you saw dancing in the meadow when you were a child. Leave enough space so that the precious dust of its wings stays intact, unharmed. Let it flit about, let it have a life of it’s own, this pain, let it do what it does. Let it move the way that it moves.

Do not take it so personally, this pain. So sure, you are, that it belongs to you, that it’s a reflection of you, that it’s punishment, or evidence of some deficiency. Is a rainstorm ever someone’s fault? And, when the sun comes out, it’s something that you did too right? This is the dance of life. Sometimes the sun is out, and sometimes storms take out trees and whole villages. You are the great space that all experience arises and passes away in. Remember?

Stop the war for a second, a minute, an hour. Set down the fight long enough to take a real breath, to sigh, to have a nap. Lay down your weapons, your ammunition, your reasons, your righteousness, even your understanding. Set it down for as long as you dare. Rest your weary bones from running.

It may not go away, this pain, this persistent ache, but for just a moment…stop the fight.

Our control is so small, like trying to steer a ship on a colossal ocean. It may not go your way, all the time, or ever. Why don't we just drift for awhile...

Fall through the floor of resistance, drop beneath all attempts at control or self-improvement to the place where you and this pain simply are. And then, for a moment, there is nothing to do and there is no one doing the doing. No longer you and it. Just breath. Just this. Sensation. Pulsing. Intensity. Movement within stillness. Breath. Ground.

Let it be as it is. Let it do what it does. Let it be what it is.

Do not worship at the altar of your pain. It does not belong to you. Do not get on your knees before it, or cling to some notion that it makes you special or holy. You are holy with or without what ails you. Holy is what you already are.

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Words + Images: Copyright © 2017 Marie-Ève Bonneau

 

Soul Child: Meeting the World with Our Truest Essence

I fell in love this weekend with a gentle giant I happened to walk by one afternoon while wandering out on wild land. This magnificent fallen log spoke to me and I even returned the next day to pay another visit and to spend more time walking, balancing, sitting, lying and playing on it’s smooth, sturdy surface. Weird? Perhaps.

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One of the gifts of my healing journey has been attuning to the more subtle energies of the world and myself. This is a gift available I believe, to anyone on retreat—whether that’s an hour sitting by a creek, a weekend away to meditate, or a multi-year retreat away from the bustle of the world, as I’ve been on.

At first the quiet is eerie, empty, and it takes awhile for the hum and whirl of the world to leave the nervous system and for the mind-factory to settle. Once it does, we see that the stillness, is in fact anything but still—it is full of subtle impressions, the drifting of a fine grace—like a spider web that catches the light and drifts on the breeze—the light has to catch it in a certain way, and our eye and mind must stop long enough to perceive what’s always there just below the surface of our frenetic pace.

We often resist slowing or stopping—it’s frightening for most to even think of what might surface in the space. We fear the worst of our demons will finally catch up with us when we stop running—and they do. This is true. But once that standoff is out of the way, our soul can use the space to unwind and unfurl its most precious tendrils and magic.

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For me, this process has returned me to the integrity of the one that I was as a child, to the ways of being and perceiving that are most innate, and most intimately me. It is beautiful to come home to myself in this way and to find that this precious one was not lost—only buried under pressures—many self imposed, and hidden away by ways of life that did not honor her tenderness.

When we live in a way that doesn’t take care of our soul, I believe, that which is most sacred in us takes cover to survive—it burrows deep, like a wild animal in soil—until it’s safe to come out again. For me, retreat has made it safe to be me again. It has opened the space and time for this innate one to come out of hiding again. I know this to be true when I fall in love with a giant fallen tree, an exquisite piece of driftwood that to me is so much more than that. This log spoke to my soul.

When I am out in the world being myself, I commune. Because I’ve been able to soften my edges, I perceive a more subtle essence in all things—it is this essence that speaks to me for I feel it as my own essence.

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Another gift of retreat is finding ourselves out of time and in timelessness. This is where the magic lives, in the moment when I experience what is with all that I am. My mind says, ‘its just a log’ but my soul knows that it is a gentle giant of consciousness, it is imbued with ancient wisdom and wonder.

I walked back and forth and felt the soles of my bare feet on its silky skin. It was both soft and sturdy and I felt stronger and softer just by walking with reverence on its surface. I felt surrender there—no matter its size or strength, at some point, its time too had come and it had been knocked and surged downstream in raging flood waters. I felt gentleness there, a presence of water-meets-wood that I find in all the driftwood that I collect, cherish, and craft with. I felt spirit there in its fibers and I laid my body down and let myself be held by its exquisite weight on the earth. I felt my own spirit stir-alive there and I let the child in me imagine, climb, squat, balance, and twirl.

I felt stillness there, an unspeakable presence of the beyond in the here and now and I sat and gazed in the distance and gave thanks that I too was a little piece of infinity residing in the now for a temporary taste of what it is to be alive.

Yes, I fell in love with a gentle giant this weekend and I fell more deeply in love with me and with life, with the honor it simply is to be here. And I sat and breathed in-harmony with all of existence. I gave thanks for all that’s been revealed as a result of my journey in retreat, for this exquisite coming home to myself, and all that I can now bring to the world as a result of becoming more myself.

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 :: REFLECT ::

In your journal or on a sheet of paper answer any of the following questions that intrigue you, stream-of-consciousness style. Do not over think your answers and keep your pen moving until you feel complete. May these questions bring forth in you the unique magic of your own innate essence and may they help you to reconnect to the goodness of your own inner innocent one.

  •  What did it feel like to be you when you were a child? What came to you most naturally?
  • How did you express the essence inside you? What activities did you enjoy most?
  • What captured your imagination when you were little?
  • Do you catch glimpses of that child in your life now?
  • Are there activities that you currently engage in that allow childlike wonder, joy, or awe to surface?
  • In your current life do you feel connected to your most essential self?
  •  If your inner child had a message for you today, words of wisdom for your life and for your adult-self, what might that message be?

 

Words + Images: Copyright © 2017 Marie-Ève Bonneau

Coming Home: How To 'Be' When There Is Nothing Left To Do

When we’ve taken the medicine and await relief; when the fetus grows steady inside the womb; in the space that lingers between apology and forgiveness; when we’ve watered and fertilized and there is still no sign of seed sprouting from ground—what are we to do? When we reach the end of our impact, when we’ve done all that we can possibly do? What then?

I hear the chickadees again. One calls, and the other responds in the same two-tones that emerge out of a near-silent dawn. Their simple duet lures me out of bed, where, in the window, I sit and watch as sunrise floods the sky with a pink and orange-gold glow. There is nothing else to do. Not in this moment. Beyond all notions of what should be or could be—this is what is.

I had woken up again to the infernal high-pitch ringing, to the rushing and thickness in my head, and to the oppressive flu-like feeling that seemed a constant companion since it had settled in. And the weight, this weight that made me forget that I had ever danced like light, a weight that felt like each cell was lined with lead. These assorted sensations had become my anchor—a tether of attention to body—but they were also the greatest teacher that I had ever known, a most ferocious guide that I resented at times for making me suffer so and that I gave thanks to at others for the continual awakenings bestowed.

Like a whack on the head from a tough-love guru, the manifold lessons of this passage are both painful and illuminating. 

Chronic illness had stripped me down to bare essentials. A state I couldn’t have possibly imagined from the bustling life I had led prior. I’ve long stopped making plans for my days never knowing what I’ll be able to do. This is a strange blessing disguised as catastrophic curse. Being present has become the foundation of my days as the symptoms ‘force’ me to be present with myself and to attend to my needs moment-by-moment. Preparing meals, eating, boiling water for tea, brushing my hair, showering, and getting dressed. Ordinary rituals likes these are practices in enacting love, in being present, and in continuing to animate this precious body—as difficult as it is sometimes. After years of hustle, bustle, and overriding the small, wise voice inside—coming home to myself, coming home to presence—even like this—has been a gift I never would have given myself otherwise.

Last week on a cocktail of strong meds I began to feel too heavy, too oppressed, and too sick to function. It was the first day in a long time when even my usual basics felt difficult. Every gesture, every movement counted as energy I didn’t have to spend. I had to keep lying down—releasing my whole self completely to the oppressive force that had me in its grip.

It’s still strange to find myself in such an extreme experience—I don’t think the alarming quality of this undergoing ever fully goes away. This experience demands total surrender. Not the kind of surrender that can be chosen at will or that sounds like a nice spiritual ideal, but the kind of surrender that is the only way. When the body is too weak to move, lying still is not a choice, because there are no other options.

Moments of mandatory surrender have been my greatest allies in discovering my true nature.

‘Worst-case scenario’ kind of experiences are the ones that we avoid and fear, the ones we don’t even like to talk about or acknowledge. I don’t suspect this will ever be a popular topic. We prefer our illusions of control over facing the inevitable uncertainties that comes with being alive. This is natural. Unfortunately, this means that those undergoing extreme experiences have little to lean on in the way of support, wisdom, and guidance—a gap I hope sharing my experience can fill, even just a little.

I’ve learned that this ‘no-mans-land’ of reaching the end of my own illusion of control, is a space of rich transformation—you simply cannot live through an experience like this and not be changed. It is also, perhaps more surprisingly, a space of tremendous freedom once resistance is dropped—a deep let-go beyond all questions, distinctions, and folly of mind, a wide-open freedom, like a bird soaring in an endless sky can be found when we wholly surrender. It is a space of grace and love—something we hear so little about in our cultural conversation about catastrophe. I feel that when it gets unbearably intense a field of grace opens around me, my heart opens into a space far vaster than the suffering, I am held in love. I feel tremendously present and awake to the simplest things.

Strangely enough, I feel whole—more whole than I felt when I was ‘well’. How mysterious is that?

I find myself here, along for a ride that is bewildering, and yes, sometimes frightened, but when I surrender to where this experience is bringing me in consciousness, I’m curiously often at peace. It is the deepest peace I have ever known, as though grace itself is being instilled in me, is permeating everything. I am centered within at the very origins of my existence—like the eye of a storm. I am the still everything, untouchable.

In this space of deep surrender, when I get past the fear, and past the loss of control, and even past the fear of losing my own life, I feel deeply relaxed. I feel the rightness of all things. I am in touch with the shining core of everything. When I let go deeply I’m actually moved to tears by the benevolence in simple things like hot water as I let it run over my hand while drawing a bath. I am disarmed completely by the warmth of my lovers’ body as he holds me close—still seeing not my brokenness, but my beauty. I feel immeasurably blessed by birdsong, by sunrise, by the minutest of things.

Before I had it all—the full-throttle life I thought I was supposed to have—but it was somehow vacant, empty, or I was vacant, empty—not fully there somehow. Now, stripped to bare essentials, it all lands deeply meaningful in my wakefulness. I am finally here.

No longer trying to direct the current, no longer swimming, or treading water even, I am floating, I am the current—allowing myself to be carried, out beyond, even my own understanding. I am learning to releasing my life, my relations, this body, everything, all of it, to spirit. And of course I am releasing nothing at all for this ‘meness’ was not ever mine to begin with. 

We like to believe that there is nothing that we cannot do in and of ourselves. We believe that we have choices, and that there is always something to be done. We take comfort in thinking that, no matter what, we can always pull another card out of our sleeve, that there is always another move, another plan that we can put into motion to get our way or to get life to go the way that we want it to. There is, of course, some truth to this. I believe both in the human spirit and in how incredibly resourceful we are. We are strong and capable beyond our wildest dreams—I recognize these qualities both in you and in myself.

The greatest wisdom of my passage however, lies elsewhere—not in the doing, or in the accomplishments of form, but in being and in the richness of the formless. I’m learning with humility, that there exists a space in which our efforts are not required, a space in which passivity, receptivity, patience, and non-doing are appropriate. As true as our limitlessness are the very limits to what can be done with our will. I am being shown this everyday and it is not futile, it is not a negative experience but one of receptivity, surrender, beauty, grace, and humility.

There is profound relief that comes when I stop trying to manage life.

When we’ve taken the medicine and await relief; when the fetus grows steady inside the womb; in the space that lingers between apology and forgiveness; when we’ve watered and fertilized and there is still no sign of seed sprouting from ground—what are we to do? When we reach the end of our impact, when we have done all that we can possibly do? What then?

Soaked in the moment, opening as the now, (sometimes brought here as a result of catastrophe or chaos), we find that we must let life take care of itself, we must hand ourselves, our very lives, over to the mystery. We come home to ourselves when we allow ourselves to be, when we pause to listen to the wind, to the birds, when we allow the sunrise to fill our eyes. We come home to essence when we allow the quiet grace of silence to nourish our troubled heart.

Allow yourself to float, my love. Regardless of where you are and how you find yourself. You are safe. You are held. Now and always.

“Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one's weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.” ~Mahatma Gandhi

 

Words + Images: Copyright © 2017 Marie-Ève Bonneau