"Spiritual by-pass" is trending in new age conversation. But dealing with our pain and trauma, as spiritual practice, is not just the flavor of the month. Embracing suffering has been a venerable tradition in Yoga practice, Buddhist Tonglen, and Tantra for centuries, and was quite the cult in Medieval Christianity.
This identification with pain can be as much a spiritual trap as pouring a layer of honey all over ourselves and calling it “ananda.” One trap is often a reaction to another. Today it’s sometimes hip to define spirituality, not as "holier than thou," but "more traumatized than thou."
On the one hand, we bury our fear, our anger, our lust, our envy, our chaos, under a sweet self-induced hypnotic coma. This trap is easy to fall into when we employ a master hypnotist, the "spiritual teacher," who sits cross legged on a stage and charms us with his, or her, mellifluous voice.
On the other hand is the trap of egotistical woe. We identify so completely with our past trauma, and invest so much energy in telling the old story, that this pain becomes our spiritual ego. We regard the trauma story as our very self. In fact, the notion that we might be free of this old pain threatens our identity. We become indignant at the suggestion of healing.
In reality, the Self cannot by-pass its Self. Our pain and our Self are the same substance, the same energy. And our trauma, if it is alive and not just stored up in the mind’s memory library, is always in the present moment.
The old story does not need to be told, because healing is never in the past, but always now. No one has ever been healed in the past. Now is where the energy is, and therefore the healing.
The healing begins when we are willing to de-link the energy of pain from the mental library of images and stories. If we are not willing to do this, the pain will become so intense that it will eventually do it for us, demanding all our attention as a furious Presence, a “Wrathful Deity” as the Tibetans would say, on whom we must meditate with our whole heart. Now we can plunge into the fierceness of pain-energy, as a living wound that contains its own maelstrom of healing.
In dynamic meditation, we not only embrace our pain, but merge with it, hug it with our whole body, on a cellular and molecular level, co-mingling the breath of Awareness with atoms of stored trauma.
In the healing balm of pure Awareness, knots of stress loosen and unwind. Pain first intensifies with focus, then lightens up, transformed into a rainbow of available possibility. When Awareness penetrates pain completely, pain dissolves into Awareness.
So even our pain is vibrant, clear, and useful. For it was never anything but furiously condensed consciousness.
Awareness cannot by-pass Awareness. The Self cannot by-pass the Self. Only thought can fabricate a temporary illusion, a by-pass. Therefore we practice the meditation which transcends the mind, but does not transcend the body. For true meditation draws us deeper and deeper into the body, through the cellular, atomic, and even sub-atomic strata of energy, unbinding knots of trauma and stress, until we rest in the Source of creation, and divine silence pervades every photon of our Being. Here in the field of unity, we are the pain, we are Awareness of the pain, and we are the healing. Dissolving the body into silence is not a “spiritual by-pass.”
Around every battle is a stillness. Around every trauma is a space. But we must widen our Awareness in compassion for ourselves. A block of ice becomes water when surrounded by warmer water; so a block of pain floats in Awareness, and melts into Awareness. The beauty of this meditation is that it actually fills us with energy, instead of requiring energy. It is not work, it is grace.
Our shadow, our trauma, does not require energy to heal because it IS the energy of healing, locked and knotted in neurological stress. That energy in its subtlest form is pure Awareness. Even our pain is made out of Sat-Chit-Ananda: being, consciousness, and bliss.
Unconditional vulnerability is invincible strength. When we touch our core, the dark broken flower that seemed so heavy with the toxins of human experience suddenly blossoms into what is so light, so fragrant, so whole. Why? Because it is no longer the mere content of our awareness, it is Awareness itself.
Beneath the pleasures and torments of our world is a continuum of awakening: an empty mirror underlying its reflections. Whatever disturbances appear, the nature of the mirror remains untainted. Even while reflecting the most violent troubling image, the mirror remains still and clear.
I do not say, “imagine you are this mirror.” Of course you are, but until it becomes a direct experience, this would only be imagination, a false mood, a plastic joy. I do say, however, practice deep meditation and embrace your pain.
You will inevitably observe that what embraces must be larger, more expansive and spacious, than what it embraces. What embraces must also be clear and empty. Only clarity and emptiness can embrace and embody.
Embrace and embody the energy of your pain in the present moment, without super-imposing mental images of the past, and you will be embraced. You will be embraced by your Self.
For y are neither pain nor pleasure, sorrow nor joy. You are unbounded Awareness, encircling the furious battle of opposites with exquisite serenity, as if they were your little children. There is room in you for all, for all. Because you are the mother of your own heart.