Believe Your Pain
The company I enjoy most is of those who have figured out there is nothing to figure out: no answers, no enduring, irrefutable, undeniable solutions to the riddle of life, despite the nagging temptation to doubt this insight of all insights, firstly, because we can question we believe there should be an answer, and, secondly, because the embrace of this truth can strike a chord of such dread inside us we find it more comfortable and convenient to believe the very opposite. But W. H. Auden was on to something when he said believe your pain, for belief in that which immediately makes us feel better, safer, and stronger is rightly held lightly, at first, and with a sober mind of healthy skepticism, while the disquietude of our pain, uncertainty, and despair has much to reveal and even more to smash. Disillusionment, yes, but also the destruction of our most cherished fantasies accompanies the will to believe our pain, as does rootedness in the fact of being — in all its glory, madness, and utterly exquisite messiness. The Buddha understood this all too well, naming it the first noble truth of what later became the foundation of a religion. The Christ, too, reminded his first followers, regularly, and in various ways, in this world you will have trouble, for each must bear their cross. Objective evidence and certitude are indeed very fine ideals to play with, William James remarked, but where on this moonlit and dream-visited planet are they found? Pain, on the other hand, is found all too commonly, and in defiance of our most ardent efforts to secure peace and happiness. Pain finds us, and, contrary to popular belief, is not the enemy. Pain is an anchor to being, an invitation to the woundology of human experience. Devotion to disbelief in most else offers an unfashionable kind of freedom, a way of wandering off well trodden paths, into the wild of life’s wilderness where there are no maps, and a journey once embarked upon there is no turning back.