The Pain of Presence

authentic relating May 27, 2014

by Sara Ness

I never know how to start an article.

I have practiced authenticity and transformational work for years now, and I still don’t know how to begin a sentence that will touch people to their bones.  I don’t know what to say when a friend tells me that their parents have passed away, or when somebody I love tells me that they don’t feel the same.

I started doing Authentic Relating – like so many people do – looking for a “solution”. I didn’t feel broken, but… there were things in my life that I knew could be improved.  I was in a fairly dysfunctional relationship.  I felt uncertain about my major in college, and my life beyond that.  I didn’t have much connection with my body or the physical experience of being me.  I wanted to fix all of that.

Well, two years later, I can successfully say that nothing about me has been fixed.

Some days it drives me crazy.  After all the work I’ve done on myself, I’m still not “better”?  My life has changed in so many ways, but I still run up against questions, insecurities, and uncertainties.

If I’m not going to become perfect, what’s the point?

I’ve become more present to my physical experience over the last two years.  Now, when I feel sad, I can be even more aware of how painful that feels.  I’ve become able to hold onto my own needs and desires in romance, but I still don’t have a relationship.  I have a better idea of what I’ll be doing after college (this), but almost every day, I feel afraid that I might be tying myself into something that might not be my highest calling.

What’s the point?

A Buddhist philosopher once said, “With enlightenment comes more pain, but less suffering.” Ken Wilber, the father of Integral thought, puts this as: “Pain hurts more, but bothers you less”.

Authenticity and presence are tied together like a Chinese finger trap.  I cannot be honest about my own experience until I know what it is.  The most aware I become of my own experience, the more aware I become of my shortcomings, my sensations and my sorrows.  Where before I was vaguely aware that loneliness felt bad, now I can distinctly feel the cavern in my chest as I think about it.  I can taste that feeling – cold, quiet, heavier than the air in my lungs, almost like the water in a deep pool.  I have become a connoisseur of my own reality, good or ill.

However… even though my awareness hurts more (now that I can no longer hide the feeling behind a blunted sense of self), I now have choice over what I will do with that awareness.  That cavern in my chest is intensely painful.  In the past, I would have felt it at the edge of my senses, and I would have thrown myself into work and activity to escape.  I would have fallen into a confused depression – aware that something is wrong with me, but not knowing how to look at it and scared of what might happen if I do.

It’s easier, in that case, to keep working until I burn out.  It’s easier not to spend time alone, because I don’t know how to be with myself.  I don’t actually have choice in this situation – I’m responding to my fear of my own emotions, like a machine of stimulus and reaction, running away from the possibility of pain without ever letting myself slip into sensation.

When I can actually look at myself, with both clarity and compassion, my experience hurts more.

I can see so many parts of myself that I would like to be different.  I can feel so many aches and pains and emotions that I don’t want to exist.

At the same time, each of those experience carries so much less suffering.  The fact is that I am human and I never get to be perfect – I only get to choose how much of my own experience I will accept into my awareness, and how I will feel about it.

I haven’t fixed myself.

Instead, I’ve learned not to think of myself as broken. 

I will always want to change myself, always want to be better than I am, always have an idea of what better should be, and that idea will always be changing as I grow and change myself.  I will never get from “here” to “there”.

But I can get from here to here.

For me, not needing to be anywhere else than now – not needing to run away from feeling, or sensation, or self, just being okay with where I’m at – that is worth the feeling of being human.

Excruciating,

ecstatic,

and alive.

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