The Cure For Pain Is in the Pain

In one of  Rumi’s poems, “There’s Nothing Ahead” (Coleman Bark’s translation on p. 205 of The Essential Rumi), the 13th century Sufi poet tells us that “The cure for pain is in the pain”.

This is a very enigmatic poem that begins:
Lovers think they’re looking for each other,
but there’s only one search: wandering this world is wandering that, both inside one
transparent sky. In here
there is no dogma and no heresy.

This idea echoes another poem where he says
Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere
They’re in each other all along. (Essential Rumi, p. 106)
By now we are beginning to get the idea that the ‘one search’ is not an outward one or a search for other.

After asserting that
The miracle of Jesus is himself, Rumi goes on to say that “if you can say, There’s nothing ahead, there will be nothing.” Then as though the reader is not confused enough, he adds
Stretch your arms and take hold of your clothes
with both hands. The cure for pain is in the pain.
Good and bad are mixed. If you don’t have both,
you don’t belong with us.

Faced with excruciating pain, I am more than glad to retreat to the coziness of a morphine drip, but it’s hard to come by. Lesser painkillers don’t impress me. Sure they can keep me quieter, but that’s about all. And over the counter pain remedies mess up my digestion and leave the pain the way they found it. So I am driven every so often to test this hypothesis.

I sat down earlier this week to get acquainted with the pain du jour. I made myself as comfortable as possible. No full lotus posture for me. If I’m going to look into the heart of darkness, I need pillows.

Whoa! It is bad. Really, really bad. Pull out of this dive. Just fear. Letting go never works for me. I have to own it. Hold it. Feel its center. Stay there. Stay there. Don’t fight it. This is not an alien force. This is me.

Forty minutes later, I seem to have sailed onto a clear sea.

The residual pain is bearable. I have no idea if that is what Rumi had in mind, but great poetry works that way. It is suggestive. What we make of it is up to us.

Rumi ends the poem:
When one of us gets lost, is not here, he must be inside us.
There’s no place like that anywhere in the world.

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108 Moves in the Right Direction: tai chi or NOT

The Tao Te Ching begins by telling us that the Tao that can be named is not the true Tao. That is true of many things, your love for your spouse or children, for example. Try putting that into words. And it is certainly true of tai chi.

Anthony left a request on my book Never Tell‘s Facebook page asking me to write about tai chi. I replied I would think about it. I have done, for several weeks and I still don’t know where to begin. So I’ve stolen the motto of an international tai chi organization and I’ll see what I can do.

If you follow my blog, you know I am ancient of days. (not The Ancient of Days note. That’s another dude, who, presumably is a tai chi master Himself.) But, TA DA, drum roll please, I can stand on one leg and luffa the other foot, I can lie down on the floor and get back up with no help, (shut up chair), I can get out of the car without lifting the outside leg with my hands and so much more. I have survived 2 malignancies, one for 13 years and the other, completely different one, for 10. So much for the score sheet.

It is also true that I am one of those lucky people who are earning their wings through suffering. My body thinks it’s amusing to be in one kind of discomfort or the other all the time. It scrolls through a punishing list of pains and aches on a regular basis: bowel spasm, back spasm, leg spasm, indigestion, dizziness, feeling faint, feeling faint while sleeping (!), fatigue, exhaustion and, my personal favourite, diaphragm spasm and weakness.

Now Body’s objecting that much of this is caused by me or Mind that keeps shoving stuff down into flesh and muscle and organ and bone INSTEAD OF PROCESSING IT IN A MENTALLY HEALTHY WAY. OK, stop shouting. I hear you.

And so I do tai chi.

I started 20 years ago, but I began serious study only 15 years ago. As late as 10 years ago as I was recovering from major surgery in So Cal, I still couldn’t do the whole set up in Kenneth Hahn park without a plastic-covered cheat-sheet on the picnic table. When I was more or less better and back in TO, I started going to class more often and ended up instructing beginners for 8 years.

Listen, you don’t want to start tai chi. It’ll take over your life. You’ll get addicted to all those endorphins. You muscles will ache at first and you’ll have to consult your teacher about whether you need to correct something to stop it. You’ll be in trouble at home for being out so much. Just when you think you’ve got it, your teacher will let you know you haven’t. Then you’ll feel as if you can’t do it at all. There is absolutely no end to it. I’ve heard people say it will take several lifetimes just to get one move at the end, call it “Turn to Sweep Lotus” down pat. Face it -there is no “down pat”. There is no perfection. Never. You can go on learning forever.

OMG, you actually like that last idea!

Well, you wouldn’t like that feeling of calm that settles on you during the set, once you have  learned it enough to follow. You wouldn’t like the group energy that gets going when you follow each other well. You’re an individual aren’t you? You’re a North ‘Merican if not actually an ‘Merican. (No apology needed Ozzies as you know. You’re even more so. And that 1 German viewer same diff.) You don’t want some tai chi master correcting you. Good grief, all the instructors in my club are volunteers and we are supposed to maintain our own club building and run the damn place. “This is not an exercise club”, we are told. Charitable works, open hearts! Come on!

Of course, you may be able to find a tai chi club that espouses closed hearts, uncharitable works, etc. Good luck! Your club may just charge you a high fee and let you go your own way.

I have to confess that last Saturday, at the good old volunteer-based tai chi club, when 7 of us foregathered in a work party to lift and drill and clean and eat a delicious lunch that an  someone had brought unbidden, then I was carried back to my childhood and the church hall with the women setting out the chicken pie supper. I loved that group co-operation and getting things done.

Doing a tai chi set later, a group of 6 just like doing it in a group of 35 or on occasion in a group of 700, has that same feeling, many-fold.

I hesitate to recommend tai chi to you. It’s a serious decision. You’ll be frustrated at first. You don’t want that. You may hurt sometimes. You’ll never actually know whether it’s the tai chi that making you limber and strong and keeping you alive. And all that peace that comes of a moving meditation, how’s that going to jack you up?

Better not.