Sunday, February 16, 2014


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Today has been an unusually eventful day in terms of my own insights into my psyche.

I attended my MCC congregation Sunday service this morning.  Our pastor is currently away at a conference.  So a different pastor presided.  He used the experience of cracked hands (due to the bitter winter cold common to Minnesota) to speak about the wounds we carry in our hurts.  Nobody on the planet will live a life without experiencing some amount of suffering.  At one point the sermon sounded as if it derived from a quote that is falsely attributed to Buddhism: "Pain is inevitable but suffering is optional."

According to (yes there really is such a website) the wisdom contained in the Sallatha Sutta is perhaps most relevant to this idea.  Here follows a part of that sutta relevant to the relationship we can cultivate with pain:

“When touched with a feeling of pain, the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person sorrows, grieves, & laments, beats his breast, becomes distraught. So he feels two pains, physical & mental. Just as if they were to shoot a man with an arrow and, right afterward, were to shoot him with another one, so that he would feel the pains of two arrows; in the same way, when touched with a feeling of pain, the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person sorrows, grieves, & laments, beats his breast, becomes distraught. So he feels two pains, physical & mental.”

It would appear a healthy way to relate to pain is to not be an 'uninstructed run-of-the-mill person'.  As with many challenges in life, instruction (read here also education, knowledge and the like) can be a key to relieving our suffering.  Put yet another way it is wise to learn to 'know thyself'.

Knowing what can be personal triggers for you is very important to living a healthy life.  And this is true regardless of whether you are in an active recovery process or already healthy and doing what you can to stay that way.  I was reminded of the importance of knowing myself yet again during the service this morning.

A group of people came into the church and sat in the pew just in front of mine.  And immediately I could smell the odor of cigarette smoke on at least one person's clothes.  And almost as immediately I could feel a sense of revulsion rising in my stomach.  I don't dislike smokers; I dislike the behavior of smokers.  I believe it is important to maintain a distinction between the fundamental dignity of human beings and the fundamentally less than optimal behaviors some people engage in that may annoy others.

I'm certainly not a person who has any just cause to judge either.  For example, I enjoy kink.  Kink, the leather community and the like are often misunderstood by the uninitiated.  And this is completely understandable when you are only looking from the outside in.  As my blog continues to evolve it seems almost a guarantee I will reference this part of my life more and more.  I am gradually moving from working through the trauma that is unique to my life history to other issues of trauma that have been the experience of many people.  More on that later.

The smell of cigarette smoke also caused my mind to spin off a bit into some much more ancient memories from my childhood.  I recalled how I would try to hide the cigarettes that one of my aunts would smoke.  It caused me anxiety to watch my aunt smoke.  I was a precocious child and knew at an early age that smoking was not a healthy habit.  So I tried to be a protective child and keep my aunt from smoking.  Obviously it was futile to hide her cigarettes because she could simply go buy more of them or smoke when I wasn't around.

So I saw how the smell of smoke on this February morning in 2014 somehow caused me to remember the persistent feelings of anxiety, helplessness and frustration I felt much of the time I was growing up over thirty years ago.  It was painful for me to be around as much illness as I was around as a kid.  Exposure to such suffering is challenging enough to deal with as an adult.  Being a kid in the midst of it was even more difficult.

I felt grateful at the end of the service that we had the pastor who presided today.  At first I wasn't enamored with the idea of a 'substitute'.  I've had so much change in my life lately that another surprise wasn't much to my taste.  But ultimately such a surprise might benefit me more in the long run than I may now know.  I've learned throughout the years that openness to the new is such a vital capacity to cultivate if you wish to live a healthy and rewarding life.

I titled this entry 'Contagion' because it's a very human response to fear that which we perceive to be sick, alien, warped, dark or of 'the Other'.  And yet we can miss out on so much of the world when we allow our prejudices to blind us.

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