The Body in Pain
December 2014
illustration

Lost Soul (unattributed)

The emphasis should be more on the private than on the public. You have to find your private face. And you should start learning how to love the private — because the private is the way to godliness… And enjoy things which are private: music, poetry, painting, calligraphy, gardening, something that is absolutely private, something that you live from the inside towards the outside, something that rises as a wave in the innermost core of your being and spreads outwards… During Vincent Van Gogh's life, not a single painting was sold, but that didn't matter; he enjoyed himself… The real prize was not in their being sold and appreciated, [it]was in the painter creating them… In the moment of creation, he becomes divine… a participant, no more a spectator. Osho: The Art of Dying

Recently, I have been travelling in Kerala and Tamil Nadu with my mother. Somehow, even though I've just turned 44, the dynamic of a parent-child relationship is one that I suppose most children (even those who are parents themselves) never quite know how to negotiate for every situation. One example I've noticed from this trip is when my mum ‘tells’ me to do things for her in the same demanding tone she used to have when I was 12 years old. And although I am past the stage of throwing a tantrum or shouting back at her, I still feel her carelessness as a reactive emotion running through my body.

Practically everyone I've met in my life (family, friends, colleagues, clients and strangers) has experienced conflict with their parents on some level. What is truly shocking though, is just how many people grow up in an environment of physical violence and aggression and think it's ‘normal.’ Parents shake, beat, slap their children to channel their own frustrations, with no understanding of the psychological and emotional consequences for themselves or for their children.

The subtler forms of violence, such as yelling, shouting, lack of attention, indifference, hurtful name-calling and negative statements, are less visible, yet can have a profound emotional effect, because children do not have the capacity to comprehend violence on an intellectual level; they don't understand that parents have their own problems. We grow older, and as our mind and psyche adjusts to the environment, so we also carry in our physical body all these different forms of conflictual and unhealed modes of pain — manifesting in adulthood as violence towards others and ourselves. For example, the critical admonishments we give ourselves (internally) when we ‘fail’ or make mistakes; we probably sound just like our mother or father did. Thus the primitive cycle continues through subsequent generations.

Violence is a thread of our lives that we do not often discuss. When we think about ‘self-development’ or ‘growth,’ we look at what we want as a dream for the future; in a sense focusing on our ‘public persona.’ On Facebook, we put together the perfect profile to show people how spectacular the current and forthcoming events of our lives are. We even have the ‘filtered’ photos to prove how happy we are. Seldom do we talk about the hurts we carry behind the persona.

The process of looking inwards is a leap of faith, in a similar sense to how Osho talks about being close to our ‘godliness,’ because we do not know what we will find. That we might find violence is a scary prospect. However, it is impossible to heal and be ‘whole’ (the root of the word ‘health’) without traversing this inner territory. If we believe the baseline of life is that we are beings of ‘free will,’ then regardless of how violence got there in the first place, free will means we do not have to accept or keep the violence within us.

When I was a young adult, I was not so attuned to the pain that my body held. I had the vitality of youth and avoided thinking too much about my health in general. As I get older, I've noticed particularly through giving and receiving regular massage, how my body expresses physical and emotional pain. Often after a massage, my muscles and joints will feel a surge of repressed energy, as well as being achy, and I will cry. The crying feels healing because I don't question the sadness or the pain; I just let it be and allow it to pass out of my body.

Writing has also been one of the creative tools I've used for healing the pain in my body. The process of writing is taking the journey inwards, the participation of the ‘whole’ — body, spirit and mind together. It feels strange to say to people that I love to write. This sounds too intellectual, because when I'm actually writing, I don't think about whether I love it or not; I am wholly engaged in the doing. And my confidence and joy improves in the production, not in the contemplation of how it will be viewed or received. Unlike the rest of life, there are no exams or deadlines to feeling the abundance of our creative nature, which is both a freedom and a huge responsibility, because at the end of the day, whatever distractions there are in my environment, it is up to me to make it important and carve the time. I am the one who has to sit my arse down and practise my art.

So how about an experiment? Close your eyes and imagine. What creative practise/art would you love to try, simply for the enjoyment of it? For no other purpose than purely for pleasure? I don't mean a passive pleasure, like watching television, or going to the theatre to see a West End show, or visiting an art gallery, or even reading a book. I mean for the pleasure of doing — dancing, painting, writing, playing music, etc. Once you've decided, find a location (a class, a lesson, at home) and have a go. Being in the process of the creative practise is when you ‘lose’ your ‘self’ — which includes losing some of the violence. Do not fear that losing the self is an act of annihilation. This is a myth. To lose yourself suddenly opens a brave new world of possibility again.