The other day my mom and I were having a conversation about Glennon Doyle Melton’s Warrior books, and the ideas of laying down our armor, unbecoming what we’ve been taught, and sharing the raw hidden parts of ourselves. Glennon’s blogs about vulnerability and authenticity have spoken deeply to me, as you might have guessed from my last blog. At this point in my life, this notion of dropping shields and opening my bleeding heart to the world is second nature to me. I was surprised when my mom probed the question, "But isn't it important to have soooome armor to protect yourself, so you don't get hurt? I mean, you don't have to lay it all down do you?"
I could see the concern in my mother’s eyes and her rooted want to protect me from pain. Like every mom, I’ve always known my mother hates to see her beloved children suffer. My sister’s despair, my brother’s distress, and my desolation are my mother’s greatest and deepest pain. The conversation unleashed a flood of thoughts about humanity’s severe aversion to pain. We aim to be freed from suffering, and avoid discomfort at all costs. We fear it. But, why?
Pema Chodron says, “Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.”
Could pain and suffering lead us closer to truth? What would happen if we embraced our grief with gratitude the way we sing praise for our joy? Is it possible to see unhappiness as the doorway to peace? Sorrow, the gift to unwrap happiness. Heartbreak, the answer to more love.
A few years ago, I was hitting the mat hard, strengthening my asana practice, so, naturally, the universe sent me something to slow me down. I fell onto broken glass and cut my leg open. It was my first time getting stitches, and I had to get 38 of them. There goes that handstand I almost had. Frustration, anger, and depression took their seat inside me as I longed to move my body and resented the flappy sewn-up skin of my leg. It was a nasty wound. The kind even the doctor’s knew wouldn’t heal pretty. I had to clean and re-bandage it multiple times a day. Once the initial bitterness wore off I started to become curious about the wound. I would poke at it. Ow. And pick it. Gross. And eventually I started proudly showing it off to people. Look at this badass cut!
And then, it started to heal. I was fascinated! Look at my body…it’s healing itself! How does it do this? It was incredible. People would ask, did it hurt? And I would say yes, but I really don’t remember it. The initial worst pain had passed. I was reminded that pain is impermanent, temporary. I also learned that I can heal. My body has an innate healing system in itself. All I had to do was pay attention to the wound. Wash it, examine it, check in with it, give it my time and energy, and my body would take care of the rest.
Looking back at that time, I wonder: What if we did that with all our wounds? What if we invited the pain in with curiosity, trusting and knowing that this, like everything in our lives, is just another teacher? Because it’s usually a really good teacher.
The injury on my leg was physically painful, but personally, I think emotional pain is harder. Still, it’s a teacher. It can be examined and mined for golden nuggets of wisdom. Each time I survive heartache, there’s a part of me that stands a little taller. It’s like the pain has destroyed everything false and left only the truth. And the truth is that I am so much stronger than I thought. There is a part of me that no pain, suffering, or trauma can destroy.
Pema Chodron also said, “Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible in us be found.”
So, back to my vulnerability discussion with my mom. My answer to do we really need to lay it all out there is why not? No, you don't have to lay it all down. But we can handle more than we think. I refuse to hold back because of potential pain. Of course, I don’t wish for pain. But I’m not scared of it anymore. Sometimes, I put myself out there unprotected with a target on my head. And sometimes, people shoot. They take the open punch. And it hurts. And I cry. And the pain is so hard it feels unbearable. But then I bear it. I survive.
My mom can’t protect me from the world, but I hope she knows that she raised a woman brave enough to take whatever is thrown at her. I’ll take the impermanent pain, sit with it, examine it, and use it to destroy the veil that separates me from my infinite, impenetrable Self. Besides, I’m a yogi, not a weight lifter, and armor is heavy.
Walking in this world without armor is hard, and pain is inevitable. But as Glennon says, “you can do hard things”, and it’s all temporary. In the words of Rumi,
Live where you fear to live.
Destroy your reputation.
Thus, I surrender my shield and my weapons, and I open my heart to pain; I will sit with it, look closer, and examine where it hurts, how it hurts, why it hurts. I will invite it in as a friend, curl up with a cup of tea, breathe, and settle with the wound and a journal nearby to extract those precious diamonds of truth yielded from the dark coals of pain. Because I know I can take it. Because I know the truest parts of me will survive. And because I know…I will heal.