Here and Now: Pain and The Present.
I’ve stopped and started this article a thousand times. Each time hitting a wall of personal fear. How could I write about inner adventures and knowledge of self during a time in my life when I was struggling to take even an inch of my own advice. Feeling betrayed by life’s magic and fighting hard the old instinct to take drugs, smoke fuck loads of weed and not give a flying fuck about anyone just to momentarily forget the pain in my chest. How could I write even one word on how to cope with life, how to embrace it with open arms, when all I can experience is the hardship it seems to be bashing me over the head with? The biggest hurdle of my life so far; my mum’s death. Something which crept up on us. Something we didn’t want to admit we saw coming as soon as we all saw that lump.
“Grief is an incredibly strange thing. It surpasses every single emotion I’ve ever felt, a grey dreary mix of them all”
The cancer tore through her still reasonably young body in a matter of months and I used every technique imaginable to stay centred, be positive and as useful as I could to my family whilst not revealing the depths of the hurt in my actions. I expended every morsel of energy I could to not crumble in fear and panic and instead to stand tall, open and strong. I just wanted to be helpful, to ease the pain, to prove that the things I believe in actually do help. Especially when going through such a torturous time. And especially as a lot of what I say and do can be seen as hypocritical when I act like a human, instead of a monk. Obviously attempts to do so are fruitless, because this is not how it works. We’re all human. Our perfection exists exactly in its lack. Some of the time my techniques worked. My happiness manifested, I could cope. It became a learning curve even, as powerful events often prove in our lives. But so often they didn’t. It’s engulfing this kind of experience, all-consuming and dark. I felt hypocritical to preach methods for contentment. Feelings of overwhelming sadness and anger at the world replaced my inner calm and general love for the moment. And they were strong, raw and completely new to me.
“my sister and I spent our time engrossed in adult colouring books… as though we were just overgrown children, longing for distraction.”
Now some time has passed. I understand these moments are okay. More than okay. They’re necessary and profound, amazing even. I realise now that without feeling everything fully and accepting the immense power of those emotions, I wouldn’t be able to understand life on this level. Grief is an incredibly strange thing. It surpasses every single emotion I’ve ever felt, a grey dreary mix of them all, and even some completely new to me.
During the last few days of my mother’s life, my wee family and I stayed by her side. Dad had been her 24/7 nurse for months now, devoting every waking minute to her wellbeing. My sister and I visited as regularly as we could and eventually both made the decision to move home as things became worse. We knew we should be there. We made the living room; where her hospital bed was, into a calm and peaceful scene. Her favourite meditation music playing on repeat, incense burning around the house. The wall-to-wall windows framing a stunning view of the valley for her to gaze onto through morphine-induced eyes. Every nurse who visited commented on how peaceful and calm the place was; how they couldn’t imagine a nicer place to go. The house was always quiet. I would do reiki on her. We would whisper to each other plans for food and my sister and I spent our time engrossed in adult colouring books in between the morphine doses and toilet breaks, as though we were just overgrown children, longing for distraction. We were there completely. And it was these moments I will never forget. We were all a team and never have I felt so proud to be part of that team. I re-learned something during this. Something I thought I knew how to do. How to be present. Really present. Here and Now present. Not telling a story about the situation and getting lost in my own hurt and pain. To be still. Concentrate on my breathing. On the sound of the wind in the birch trees outside. The call of the crows outside. The Blackbird and the Robin. To not question what my life would be like without my mum. To not make a sob story about how unfair it all is. To wonder if anyone was thinking about me. To be there fully, feeling it fully without judgement. Accepting it exactly as it is. And to just be.
I was reading the power of now. A book by Eckhart Tolle which at times verges on philosophy too Godly for me, but the general concept I understood and I was grateful to be reading it. I stopped the ‘story’ of me. And most of the time could be present and helpful instead of reactionary. I could quite easily allow emotions to overcome and to spiral into a world where I would not be able to cope. It’s easy to let it all wash over you. But I realised that during the worst times of our lives it’s the story we tell of it that creates the suffering. I learned that without the mind making up reasons why this was so sad for us all, we were actually coping very well. We still laughed, when we could. And we still walked the dog, enjoying the break and the sun on our skin. Enjoying right now.
“She only left once we had all accidentally fallen asleep. As if our conscious thoughts had been holding her there.”
The night she passed I used this technique the most. Although it was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. The emotional reaction of hearing your mother’s body shut down is an incredibly painful and traumatic thing. But I stayed by her side. We all did. As much as we could of course. I used my breath and heartbeat to be able to stay with dad as we took it in turns to sit next to her as her body slowly stopped working. Her lively, witty, intelligent self with just a dash of sarcasm was long gone. We spoke our last words and tried to not break into a thousand pieces. The room was alive with vibrations. Both myself and dad were shocked by how our skin was tingling. I sat with the power of now in my hands remembering the words I had just read and trying to not tell a ‘story’. To just be. But I’ve never shaken so violently.
She only left once we had all accidentally fallen asleep. As if our conscious thoughts had been holding her there. I won’t go into the rest. It doesn’t matter. None of this really does. I’ve learnt more about what’s true in life, really important in our time here since that night than I could ever have imagined. I’ve learnt how to detach from the ‘story’ my mind will make about pretty much anything, and to understand fully that I’m actually OK. I’m doing pretty damn well actually; I just have to remember to choose to know that.
So my words have finally found themselves on the page before me. I couldn’t write about the things I thought I had wanted to write about because every time I started a sentence the words I put before you now seeped out. This learning process of being present seemed to be the most prevalent in my experience so far.
My best friend gave me a journal to write my experiences of home in, so I could look back one day and see all the learning, I began writing in it the day I moved home.
In it, I wrote a quote from the power of now which has rung true throughout:
“ Focus attention on the feeling inside you. Know that it is the pain-body. Accept that it is there. Don’t ‘think’ about it. Don’t let the feeling turn into thinking. Don’t judge or analyse. Don’t make an identity for yourself out of it. Stay present, and continue to be the observer of what is happening inside you. Become aware not only of the emotional pain but also of ‘the one who observes’, the silent watcher. This is the Power of Now, the power of your own conscious presence. Then see what happens.”