“Behind every beautiful thing, there is some kind of pain.” ~ Bob Dylan
Like most humans, I have a PhD in pain. I want to believe that it’s not me who plays with fire, but fire that plays with me, more often than I’d like. I must smell really good when burning.
Or maybe this is just the case with highly sensitive people: their hearts are made of alabaster, they break too easily.
There’s another side to being sensitive, that is often overlooked. Everything in nature is a double-edged sword, including us. Every real Yin admits and leaves way for the Yang, the dark, sad and vulnerable side.
Darwin (or someone who sounded like him) said:
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but rather the one most adaptable to change.”
The very fact that we’re alive also means that we’re highly improbable: out of all the possible combinations of your parents’ genes… of your parents’ parents’ genes, here you are, an unlikely creature with hands and eyes.
It also means that at more than one point, we broke through the concrete of existence against all odds, like a flower or tuft of grass springing through what seems like impossible stone.
There’s nothing short of miraculous about our lives. We’re revolutionary by nature.
So, in my dictionary, sensitivity is synonymous with flexibility, adaptability, being affected but unbeaten by change precisely because you’re sensitive, not despite it. And flexibility is basically the art of paying attention.
When you pay attention—when you really pay attention—you bend through life in its wholeness. Everything affects you because everything and everyone is related to you, in some way. You can’t help but hurt for yourself and for others—or be hurt by yourself and others.
And let’s not even get into Love. Or, better yet, let’s call it Beauty.
So what? I’ve got a heart, so sue me.
You’re the extreme kind, you’ve got pores. They’ve known all kinds of weather.
That same heart that twists and groans in pain, also gets soaked in overwhelming beauty. You can walk on ice like a cat only because, if the situation demanded it, you’d also be able to sink, drown and freeze on the bottom like a heavy, old lion.
“No man is an island,” said John Donne.
So, if dropped by life right in the middle of the ocean, no man should be sued for swimming until they reach the shore. Because that’s what you do when you hurt: you move.
“Action is the antidote to despair.” ~ Joan Baez
My entire life, I’ve been taught how to get rid of pain: hide it, lie about it, deny it, ignore it, run from it.
Hush, keep it down, don’t trust your feelings. No time for drama. “The heart is deceitful above all things.”
And yet… there’s so much hurt estate inside of me, over which I have no jurisdiction.
I’ve always felt a little guilty for all the boiling water under my skin.
I shouldn’t feel so much, the Inquisition said, It’s dangerous. Good thing I wasn’t born in the Middle Ages — I would have probably been one of the first witches on trial.
There’s an invisible school of thought infiltrating every classroom of our westernized life, according to which, pain should just go away. Be removed. Cut out. Severed. Cured.
But it’s a lie. Please, spread the news. It won’t.
Because if it did, we’d have to be cancelled as well.
“There is no escape… You say yes to the sunlight and pure fantasies, so you have to say yes to the filth and the nausea. Everything is within you, gold and mud, happiness and pain, the laughter of childhood and the apprehension of death. Say yes to everything, shrink nothing. Don’t try to lie to yourself. You are not a solid citizen… You are a bird in the storm. Let it storm! Let it drive you! How much have you lied!” ~ Herman Hesse
You’re a full package, an entire meal of slow, digestible food. You’re an all-or-nothing kind of deal. Think of your life as a sandwich, you being the filling between one slice of pain and another of beauty.
Just like you, your pain is organic, compostable. It never vanishes because nothing in nature just disappears. The natural mechanism of life is change, transformation.
Pain is not a waste byproduct of our happiness, but its inevitable, darker twin.
And, like everything else in nature, including our own selves, pain can’t be wasted — only recycled.
But it can also turn into a toxin and poison your blood when ignored. Covering your eyes won’t make it disappear. Like a virus, it will stay in hiding, until it finds other—less honest and more sickening ways—to pop back up into your life.
So, let’s fast forward to the point where you and I finally realize that we only have a few years left of this human experience, mostly because it’s a fact. Our impermanence—that is, our life—is perhaps the only thing we really own…for now.
“Face your life, its pain, its pleasure, leave no path untaken.” ~ Neil Gaiman
Now, say you cut yourself open and you uncovered your eyes and stared at your imperfect, human, messy and painfully beautiful life in the mirror, long enough to force you to notice it.
Say you decided to stop ignoring the pieces of your broken heart you usually just sweep under the rug in a hurry.
Say you got down on your knees and finally picked them up, one by one, and then spread them out in front of you, and all you had right now is a pair of bleeding, pointless hands and every story written on every piece, came back to you like undigested food, without a word…
“We must become so alone, so utterly alone, that we withdraw into our innermost self. It is a way of bitter suffering. But then our solitude is overcome, we are no longer alone, for we find that our innermost self is the spirit, that it is God, the indivisible. And suddenly we find ourselves in the midst of the world, yet undisturbed by its multiplicity, for our innermost soul we know ourselves to be one with all being.” ~ Herman Hesse
Then, your divine, indivisible, whole essence, slowly dawns upon you, and you realize that nothing or no one can take it away; not even death—especially not death—if anything, death reunites us with the whole).
But wait, what should we do about the shattered glass? And “who shall save us from this body of death”?
We’ve got a skeleton, a personality, a human shell, after all. How do we glue these back together?
Because see, we are still lizards in a way, we have to get new skin when the old one no longer serves us.
Truth be told, you’ll never be the same again after any storm. This life is not a puzzle to be reassembled, but a collage to be recreated. Time after time.
There is no Way. You are the way, the truth and the life, you’re your own religion, your eyes are the gateway through which you enter and eventually leave the world.
Whatever else they teach you here, in 80 years of human adventure, it lives and dies with you.
The following is an excerpt from the Instruction Manual to my own Pain Recycling Plant.
I work on it daily, sometimes against my will. On certain days I’d like to quit my job and others, I’m in love with scars.
1. Create: a new job, a new life, a work of art, a revolution, a new reality—a new religion, for god’s sake!—a more palpable skin to your inner world.
Make, make, make. You’re an artist. Here and now. As long as this improbable heart is still beating.
Your life is your canvas. You don’t get to paint it twice.
2. Unconditional (but healthy) service. Give, give, give. Not to people who steal your heart away and then eat it for dessert, but to the hungry and the poor and the equally broken.
This is one of the best ways to check in with your ego and cut off excesses. In this busy buy & sell world, free service brings a taste of unconditional love back into your life.
Doing without expecting anything in return, loving for the sake of loving. There is no interest, no arguments, no yours or mine, nothing to fight over when we’re freely giving away our time and energy.
By loving others without demands, you remember that you too, are loved just ’cause. Though it’s true that receiving is as important as giving, there’s a greater vulnerability (and power, as such) in being the giver.
3. Take care of yourself. Extreme self-care is not selfishness but the Number One requirement for an inflamed heart to return to its regular, healthy size.
Start by investing in your inner health and beauty, and the looks will come. It doesn’t matter what you do to your face and body on the outside, all revolution must begin inside.
We’re one whole item. You are what you do. In this case, what you do to yourself.
4. Search. “Seek and you will find.” Let your mind get expanded by new ideas. Get inspired. Click only on what really matters, on what will push you forward.
Memorize, learn, stretch your brain. Most of us have just been born. If you’re unhappy about your current state of affairs, start looking for other options.
Hire Ralph Waldo Emerson as your unpaid, life coach:
“There’s nothing capricious in nature, and the implanting of a desire indicates that its gratification is in the constitution of the creature that feels it.”
5. Connect. We’re clearly different than monkeys, yet we share around 99% of our DNA with them. The details that make us, humans, different are in that 1% — and they are too small compared to our alikeness. It’s a terrible thing then, that we’d choose to keep our love and pain to ourselves.
If your heart is broken, chances are all the hearts you come in contact with on a daily basis, have also been broken or are being broken as we speak. Most people know how you feel. Accept that hand and get to know them. Some of them will save your life at some point.
Nothing makes sense without loving someone. I believe Napoelon Hill when he says: “You may be hurt if you love too much, but you will live in misery if you love too little.”
Loving is giving — with a chance of losing.
1. Ignore your pain. “You know quite well, deep within you, that there is only a single magic, a single power, a single salvation… and that is called loving. Well, then, love your suffering. Do not resist it, do not flee from it. It is your aversion that hurts, nothing else.” ~ Herman Hesse
Don’t let unrecognized pain clog your arteries. Do weekly check-ups and regular pain detox sessions. Otherwise it will rot inside of you and you’ll affect —and by that I mean destroy—everything and everyone you touch.
Detoxing regularly is not easy or pleasant, but it is preferable to a terminal illness.
2. Invest it in things. Don’t buy plastic stuff that lives longer than you. It won’t make it better. Everything we do in life (from the smallest to the greatest action) is some kind of investment. Your time, your energy, your money, your food, your love…You make daily choices that will get you where you want…or where you don’t.
Nothing is without consequence. So don’t invest your broken self in even-more-broken things. They’re not a substitute for pain. They’re not even an asset that will bring you greater joy further down the road, but a liability. There’s nothing in them, and the special, marketing-effects will quickly wash off.
Suggested easy-to-say-but-hard-to-do advice: Instead of acquiring more useless shit to add to an already overcrowded existence, get rid of the existing junk.
Declutter your outer and inner home. Give away every single object that you can’t count as an asset to your life. You’ll grow wings instead.
3. Invest it in people. In people, all we should invest is love, but only after we’ve invested it wisely in ourselves, ’cause you can’t give what you haven’t got.
Your heart is a delicate thing. Treat it like a hurt child (because deep down, it still is).
People are not band-aids. And if they look like it at some point, beware. Just like you, they’re organic and free-willed and this means that they will most likely come off on their own at some point and leave your wounds out in the open, again—or even reopen them for you.
Nobody’s perfect. And when we fail others it’s only a consequence of failing ourselves in the first place.
People are just like you. And you’re just like rain. And rain just doesn’t know how to fall upwards. So don’t get mad, bring an umbrella. I have another one with your name on it.
An umbrella is both: the perfect shield and perfect weapon. Much better than a wall. It’s light, it opens and it closes in a second. It kind of reminds me of children. It’s also the most easy-to-forget item in the History of Items, which means you can get rid of it anytime and save yourself some shrink-money.
And who knows, Dear Sufferer, maybe some day we’ll evolve to understand all things, before we get lost in them, and learn to walk on water, before we drown. Or we’ll be one with both our beauty and our suffering, and not stuck in between, like an improvised, heartbroken sandwich.
Maybe after all our amazing discoveries, we’ll have a second chance, in this lifetime, to rediscover ourselves.
But for now, we still need to master the craft of recycling our pain in such a way that we can turn storms into art and tears into soil fertilizer, with our slow & shaking magic wand.
This is not a song for the brokenhearted. It’s for the open-hearted. Because that’s the kind of heart you need in order to know and love your life for what it is, even as it’s quickly passing through your fingers, in sickness and in health, in making and in breaking, in you & in me, ’til death do us together.
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