“I said: ‘What about my heart?’
God said: ‘Tell me what you hold inside it.’
I said: ‘Pain and sorrow.’
God said: ‘Stay with it. The wound is the place where the Light enters you.’”
Once, I read a story about a little horse that was staying in a warm and cozy place. He was safe there and didn’t want to leave. Suddenly, he saw a tunnel of light and felt a force pulling him out of his shelter. He was so scared; he thought he was going to die. And then he found out that he was just being born.
The moment of birth is the first moment of separation. It must be horrifying for a baby to come out of its mother’s belly into such a strange place: to breathe air and to hear, smell, see, and touch the craziness of a new world.
Our birth, which is the most natural thing in life, is also a scary and painful experience. With the first breath, the human heart is broken. And then, duality spreads its wings. The story of love and pain, connection and separation, light and darkness, unfolds in time.
Yet, it is not easy to see pain as natural. Why? Because it hurts! And our deepest desire is to be happy. A paradox of human life is that avoiding pain is as natural as its existence. In the animal world, the escape from suffering is the immediate reaction to it.
Rumi, a thirteenth-century Persian poet, said: “Stay with the pain. The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” This statement may not seem logical. Why should we stay with the pain? Why should we suffer?
The wound is present in every human heart… it is growing and aching from the moment of our birth. We can try to escape it by using anything the world offers us: food, drugs, work, sleep, alcohol, a hyperactive lifestyle, and other strategies. But finally, it leads to even more suffering, loneliness, and separation. By avoiding pain, we multiply it.
Facing Our Suffering
When pain comes, we have a choice: to face it or to escape it. In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist and a prisoner in a World War II concentration camp, wrote: “The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.”
Viktor’s mother, father, brother, and wife all died in concentration camps. He was left alone in a place that was an expression of the deepest darkness of the human soul. He could have committed suicide, as many prisoners did, but he chose to embrace pain: “When a man finds that it is his destiny to suffer, he will have to accept his suffering as his task; his single and unique task. He will have to acknowledge the fact that even in suffering he is unique and alone in the universe. No one can relieve him of his suffering or suffer in his place. His unique opportunity lies in the way in which he bears his burden.”
When pain comes, the question “why?” arises in us. This question is a trap since it doesn’t have an answer. To be human means to be born with a broken heart… and to have it broken again and again and again. Pain is there to be felt, to be experienced, and, often, to reveal a deeper reality of human existence. Viktor Frankl and the other prisoners could see it: “For us, the meaning of life embraced the wider cycles of life and death, of suffering and of dying. Once the meaning of suffering had been revealed to us, we refused to minimize or alleviate the camp’s tortures by ignoring them or harboring false illusions and entertaining artificial optimism. Suffering had become a task on which we did not want to turn our backs. […] But there was no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer.”
It is not necessary to be in a concentration camp to experience the ultimate depth of human pain. Every day people commit suicide because of unrequited love, health issues, financial crisis, loss, rejection, and loneliness. There are moments in life when suffering seems unbearable.
From Pain to Peace
My friend Susy from Mexico City lost two children to incurable diseases. She didn’t have any other children. Her pain was unimaginable. She told me that in her darkest moments, she still had a choice. She could choose between hate and love. She could reject life, people, mothers, and children or embrace everything. She decided to love and the magic happened. She radiated so much light that her son’s friends sought out her presence, friendship, and advice. Her house was full of young people. She posted a picture of her daughter’s wheelchair on Facebook, offering it to anyone who needed it. The picture was shared over one million times and many parents of sick children wrote to Susy asking for the wheelchair. With the help of her friends, Susy collected money to buy more wheelchairs and ended up creating a foundation that helps poor and sick people in Mexico. In honor of her children Diana and Daniel, she named the foundation Dianel. Every conversation with Susy is magical; it feels like crossing the boundaries of the ordinary world and diving into a planet with different rules: a kingdom of giving. Her boundless heart has become the source of miracles. Her Facebook messages inspired a mother who hadn’t seen her daughter for over twenty years to visit her, make peace with her, and meet her grandchildren for the first time. The Dianel Foundation is constantly growing, bringing help and relief to the lives of hundreds of people in unexpected ways. Susy has become a rain of light, but the pain and the longing for her children hasn’t disappeared. The wound is constantly present, even when she laughs, sings, and dances.
Transforming Suffering: Staying with the Wound
At times, life hurts so much that even the act of breathing is painful. We seem to be inside a dense cloud that absorbs every ray of light. There is only pain, spreading through every cell of our being. The only thing we want is relief from our suffering. At any cost, even the cost of our life itself.
Outside everything might seem fine. We might not be able to explain to others why we are suffering. They wouldn’t understand. But, we feel it with every breath. Void, fear, loneliness stir inside us. The dark space in our souls wants to be acknowledged, accepted, and honored. Yes, the pain is there. Yes, it hurts. Our bodies express it. Tears fall. And this time, we stay with the wound. Without anesthesia, we enter our broken hearts. It is just us, being human. It is us, facing our humanity, experiencing its very core. It is us, exercising our highest freedom: the freedom to choose our attitude. It is us, expressing our greatest courage: the courage to feel the depth of our hearts.
Suffering doesn’t have value in itself, but our attitude toward it does. Facing the pain is an inner journey each of us must make alone. It is an intuitive task, difficult to express with words. Great poets, like Hafiz, have tried:
“Don’t surrender your loneliness
Let it cut more deep
Let it ferment and season you
as few human or even divine ingredients can…
Something missing in my heart tonight
has made my eyes so softy
My need of God
Seven centuries ago, Hafiz and Rumi understood that facing and accepting pain opens the human heart. It is the path of the transformation of our deepest wound into a channel of light. And then, the magic happens…
In the middle of suffering and humiliation, Viktor Frankl contemplated the memory of his beloved wife. This moment revealed the essence of life to him: “For the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth—that Love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. […] For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words: ‘The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.’ […] My mind still clung to the image of my wife. A thought crossed my mind: I didn’t even know if she were still alive. I knew only one thing—which I have learned well by now: Love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved. It finds its deepest meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self. Whether or not he is actually present, whether or not he is still alive at all, ceases somehow to be of importance.”
Surrendering to life, with both its light and darkness, is a path to the secret mountain that changes our vision of the human drama. It is a door to the deep understanding that love goes beyond life and death. It is stepping into a reality that cannot end.
The nineteenth-century Polish poet Adam Asnyk wrote:
“And the heart, the human heart
runs away to infinity
through tears, longings and torments
It wants to absorb in its womb
space and eternity
and to embrace all heaven.”
The Longing of the Heart
Poets and mystics perceive human suffering as the echo of the pain of separation from God, the Heart, our deepest Essence and most intimate Truth. They see it as an expression of the desperate longing of the human heart for the Infinite.
We cannot avoid or escape pain. But, we can witness it in meditation, listen to it, and discover God’s voice in it, yearning for us and calling us to Him. In the depths of our soul, we can hear the torment of a lover who is desperate for union with the beloved. If we surrender, this longing will become our guide to a Reality in which life and death disappear in an eternal embrace.
Beata is a Hridaya Yoga teacher. You can read her reflections on the 49-Day Prathyabhijna Retreat here.
Beata shares: “The From Pain to Peace workshop is a loving embrace that will allow you to face your pain. The heart opens in the atmosphere of trust, and the light of awareness reaches the soul’s dark places. Every courageous step into your soul will be a step toward deep connection with others, love and forgiveness. It is a journey into the mysterious reality described by Rumi: ‘Everyone sees the unseen in proportion to the clarity of their heart.’”