A very warm welcome!

Thanks for visiting this, my second blog! You can visit Heart and Soil to see what I get up to on our 40 odd acres of land in Exmoor, basketry, crafts and general things and stuff.

I thought I would start this blog off by doing a day by day diary of my 2008 solitary retreat. You can find my posts on the preparation for this retreat over at Heart and Soil on this link:

Many people have said to me that they wish they could do a solitary retreat, because 'they really need one'. That's why I decided to share one of my retreat experiences, to hopefully make going on retreat alone, a bit less mysterious and a bit more 'doable'.

Offered with much love for your continued happiness!

Solitary Retreat Diary

Please remember that in order for the diary section of this blog to make sense you should start from Day 1 and work your way through. At the moment the best way to do this is by using the labels list on the right.

I will compile a links list to make this easier when I have posted the last day... and when I have a minute!


Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Day 4 - The Reality of Pain

Last night I was reading more of 'Coming Back to Life' by Joanna Macy and something it said reverberated inside me like a ringing bell!

*We have to experience pain in order for the receptors in our mind to kick in with a response.*

There is plenty of pain in our lives, but we spend our every waking moment avoiding it, distracting ourselves with as many different things as there are different ways to feel pain. However, nothing we use/create/buy ever takes away the pain, in most cases it exacerbates it and leaves us blindly grasping. Trapped in a cycle of pain - distraction - momentary release - crashing into more pain - distraction - momentary release - pain - distraction...

This craving for distraction is based on the inane hope that the moment of release will never change. Well, as we all know only too well, change is inevitable. Nothing wonderful ever stays that way forever. So there really is no point in pretending that one day it might do.

*Pain cannot be separated from happiness.*

So in avoiding one aspect of life, pain, we are unbalanced and therefore incapable of truly experiencing the reality of our life.

Here I feel the need to quantify my use of the word pain. Pain has many forms, not just the obvious physical and mental pain that we all suffer from day to day. There are more subtle levels of pain that are possibly equally as damaging but less easy to identify. A general unsatisfactoriness or unease with life can be a result of these more subtle forms.

Joanna Macy makes a very clear argument about the effect the damage to our eco-system has on all of us. But that we find it hard to recognise that pain for what it is.

"Conditioned to take seriously only those feelings that pertain to our individual needs and wants, we find it hard to believe that we can suffer on behalf of society itself, and on behalf of our planet, and that such suffering is real and valid and healthy".

- Coming Back to Life' by Joanna Macy

We have to allow our pain for the world to be experienced in order to respond with the appropriate action.

Often I end up in an emotional heap after watching some disaster on T.V. or reading about horrific events in the news. I could never quite work out why I made myself seek these stories out when I knew how much pain they would make me feel. Well, I think I understand it now. This suffering has to be witnessed. I have a responsibility NOT to look away. Not just for the benefit of those who are suffering, but for the benefit of my own happiness and well being and the happiness and well being of those around me.

If I don't look does that suffering vanish?
Of course it doesn't.

If I don't look what can I do about it?

If I do nothing what is the point of me?
I really couldn't say.

If I look, what is the worst that can happen?
I cry a lot and feel a deep ache.

If I feel the pain, what happens then?
I am motivated to action

If I act on my experience of pain, what does that do for me?
Gives me a sense of purpose, awakens me to the plight of all beings and non-beings, helps me to experience interconnectedness and compassion. Leads me to fulfillment.

Which is nice.

How can I fully practice compassion when I am distracting myself from pain?

How can I fight apathy when I am distracting myself from pain?

The more I distract myself from pain the less empathy I feel and the more I retreat into my little unit. Tricking myself into believing I am more and more separate from the pain and suffering that is going on 'outside'.

We are not separate. We are a part of an intricate web. If one part of the web is suffering all of the other parts of the web reflect that suffering.

*We are not separate. We are interconnected.*

Experiencing pain is a scary thing. I think you need to be tooled up to open up to the pain of the world. Here are the tools I think you need:

A spiritual dimension to your life
A practical dimension to your life
The support of like minded people

In the book they write that we may have a fear of losing ourselves or becoming depressed if we let in too much pain.

"A sense of overarching meaning to our lives is as necessary as oxygen. We can face and endure tremendous hardships with heroic courage, so long as we believe there is some purpose to our existence, some value to our actions".

- Coming Back to Life' by Joanna Macy.

That is why we must face up to the pain in the world. We've lost meaning to our lives. Religion and business try to fill the gap, try to make the gap bigger in some cases, by feeding our need for distraction.

*Distraction dis-empowers us. Leaving us open to manipulation and apathy.*

The common reaction to the mention of any global threat is generally 'I don't think about that because there is nothing I can do about it'.

"Resistance to painful information on the grounds that we cannot 'do anything about it' springs less from powerlessness - as measured by our capacity to effect change - than from the fear of experiencing powerlessness...

We feel that we ought to be in charge of our existence and emotions, to have all the answers. And so we tend to shrink the sphere of our attention to those areas in which we believe we can excercise some direct control.

This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: the smaller our sphere of of attention, the smaller our sphere of influence. We become as powerless as we fear to be"

- Coming Back to Life' by Joanna Macy.

*We do not exert ultimate control over our lives*

"We don't break free from denial and repression by gritting our teeth and trying to be nobler, braver citizens. We don't retrieve our passion for life, our wild, innate creativity, by scolding ourselves and soldiering on with a stiff upper lip. That model of heroic behaviour belongs to the world view that gave us the Industrial Growth Society".

- Coming Back to Life' by Joanna Macy.

"The truth that many people never understand until it is too late is that the more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer".

- Thomas Merton

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