On the verge of … verging
2 August 2009 2 Comments
The title of this post came from a comment by my astro-blogging friend, Neeti Ray. I was trying to describe the weird sense of limbo I’m feeling that I can’t shake, like being on the verge of something that hasn’t yet manifested, and she wrote: ‘On, the verge of, verging’. Perfect! My original title was going to be ‘How to be in two places at once’.
As Venus opposes Pluto this weekend, continuing to put pressure on my own natal Venus-Pluto square, my thoughts turn to how one might process, or, indeed, metabolise, pain. With her customary bluntness, Lucy describes Venus’ recent ingress into Cancer as being akin to putting a ‘Band Aid on a gunshot wound’. It made me think again about the nature of Plutonian pain. And then there is what Elizabeth Spring describes as the ‘core pain’ of Neptune (no doubt accentuated by its conjunction to Chiron). If Plutonian pain is like a gunshot wound, I’d say Neptunian pain is like a bruising — you don’t notice it at first, until you accidentally press on it, or bump into the furniture again!
As the next eclipse looms ahead on 5 August (useful coping strategies here), the veiling of the full moon will apparently unveil (for those who are interested in minor planets) the centaur planet Nessus, itself no stranger to pain. According to Eric Francis, the pain of Nessus has to do with the pain of abuse (more here), and it seems like quite a lot of collective abuse has been coming to light quite recently. I have Nessus conjunct my descendant and what I get often is a kind of indirect abuse from people who have been badly abused themselves (that’s a story for another day). But as I concluded recently, despite the pain, I still want to open my space to others, but perhaps it has to be done with greater awareness than I have previously applied. Francis writes:
This eclipse is informing us that if we want to be close, the only way to do that is by being vulnerable. That, in turn, requires both experimenting with and building trust, which I would propose is the basis of all functional relationships. This in turn requires being willing to be hurt as a result; not desiring to be so, but recognizing that it’s one of the risks of vulnerability.
So perhaps it is not so crazy that I am thinking about pain this weekend, despite a Venus return (been cooking up a storm though). It strikes me that pain is like a threshold to something or somewhere else; but while it’s there and throbbing you can’t see how it will ever pass. The common Zen teaching about pain is to sit with it, to feel the pain without attaching any story to it. But I struggle with Right Effort — when is doing too much and when is not doing too little, and is a happy medium even achievable? When were in pain, do we do something about it? Or do we sit and not act? When, I once asked a Buddhist teacher, is just sitting productive restraint, and when is it being a doormat? His answer, as ever, is that only you will know where the line is drawn, and even then that line may differ from time to time, from circumstance to circumstance. For instance, it may not be very compassionate (or wise) to sit passively and let oneself be bullied; in doing so, one might even be hindering the evolution or enlightenment of the bully.
In other words, there is no rule book to say that by doing such-and-such-a-thing, or sitting in such-and-such-a-way, you will never be hurt again, and that you will never hurt someone else again. There is no safety net. But in cultivating awareness and practice, in time, perhaps the intervals between hurting will get longer, and the periods of hurting will get shorter.
Jack Kornfield offers two paths to practising with Right Effort. One is goal-oriented, i.e. you try to achieve something; the other is the right effort of just being aware and sitting with clarity. Are the two mutually exclusive? Not really. I was listening the other day to an audio dharma podcast (I forgot to note the source, or even the name of the speaker), in which the teacher spoke about sitting with long-term chronic pain. She was talking about physical pain, but her advice speaks to psychic and emotional pain, too. She said that it was like having two tracks run at the same time, like how you mix tracks in music: one track is to do everything you can to eliminate the pain; and the other is to practise sitting with the pain in case it is never eliminated. The two are concurrent and not unrelated; call it a goal-less goal, if you will.
Indeed, I would add that perhaps the two are most usefully related, because learning to sit with the pain might actually keep your efforts at pain elimination from going too far (taking drugs, blaming others, suicide and so on). Awareness keeps you on an even keel.
Keeping the right balance is not easy though, nor, if I may say so, pain-free. The razor’s edge is thin and often precarious, always the verge at which we are ever … verging.
Image: The Tightrope Walker (1895), by Jean-Louis Forain (1852–1931). Source: Wikimedia Commons.