In Jackie Summers’ experience, people are always telling you to “just get over it” when it comes to emotional pain. They rarely, as Jackie does here, tell you how.
There are three schools in the art of transformation.
In the first school a man is walking along his path when he encounters a poisonous plant. He considers the damage the plant might inflict on him, turns around, and returns from whence he came.
In the second school the poisonous plant obstructs the path of another. He reflects on the potential harm it could cause and decides to detour. He goes around the plant and circumvents danger.
In the third school, advancement on the path is once again impeded by the poisonous plant. The man whose progress this plant impedes, contemplates his options, and makes a different kind of decision. He sits before this venomous vegetation, and removes from his satchel, a knife, a fork, and a napkin. Carefully, he cuts the plant into tiny morsels and begins to ingest it. He allows himself to become one with the essence of the plant and the poison. The poison is no longer poisonous to him because it is now a part of him. They are one and the same: good and bad together, no longer in disharmony.
This ancient Yantra was shared with me years ago, and resonated instantly. The tertiary path is typically the choice I make, but I was never able to properly articulate why. Then one night, my good friend Insomnia stopped by for one of her frequent nocturnal visits and found me channel surfing. Together we watched one of my favorite movies of all time.
Those of you familiar with The Princess Bride know it to be “a classic fairy tale, replete with swordplay, giants, an evil prince, a pirate, a beautiful princess, and yes, some kissing.” For the uninitiated, it is a tale of true love.
The Hero demonstrates his perspicacity of the above Yantra when he challenges “the Sicilian” to a battle of wits. The game is simple: one bottle of wine, two cups, and a deadly poison. The Hero pours both wine and poison, and sets goblets before them. The Sicilian is asked to chose a cup: whoever survives, wins.
After a dizzying display of intellect, and some trickery, The Sicilian chooses. They drink, and the villain launches into a victory gloat. Mid-diatribe, he keels over dead. When Princess Buttercup asks how her savior bested the fiend, our Hero admits to some deception of his own: he’d poisoned both goblets. He, however, was unaffected by the poison because he’d spent years building up an immunity to it.
This was a clarion call in my mind. The Hero confidently, consciously, deliberately imbibed poisoned wine, because to him it presented no danger. I harked back instantly to my Yantra; my third school of transformation.
It only took several drops of poison to kill the Sicilian. In order to build sufficient tolerance, the Hero must have imbued minuscule amounts of the toxin, suffering deathly ill-effects each time. Upon recovery, he would have had to subject himself to ever increasing amounts, over the course of years. Each time the effect of the poison would be less pronounced, as he developed a tolerance. As Sun Tzu taught, he “created invulnerability in himself.”
This has always been my approach to heartbreak.
Nietzsche’s oft repeated maxim “that which does not kill us makes us stronger” may be true, but it’s a damn shame what you can survive. While there’s veracity in the essence of his statement, that which does not kill you still hurts like fucking hell, and without proper care and attention may leave you subject to re-injury. The basic principle of inoculation, however, still applies: allow yourself a tiny dose of an antigen, and your immune system will produce antibodies.
Which is why when relationships end, I’ve learned to sit with my pain.
When love ends, everyone will tell you things you already know. The initial sympathy will die down and eventually be replaced with “get over it” and “just move on,” but nobody can tell you how. As stated above, there are three schools in the art of transformation.
The first is letting yourself become jaded. It’s so easy to just give up, to lick the frosting off your pity cake, and choose to allow fear of being hurt again to deter you from the path of love. You’re transformed, into someone who’s lost hope.
The second is avoidance. You can try to bypass your pain, but avoiding anything keeps you vulnerable to it. Any issue you try to ignore is certain to resurface, and usually at a most inopportune time. You’re transformed into an accident waiting to happen.
The third is to actually allow yourself to feel what you feel. There’s no anguish like heartache; it’s inescapable. Trying not to feel pain, however, is delusional. I’m not encouraging extended self-indulgence, or extolling the virtues of self-flagellation. There’s nothing cute or enlightened about falling and choosing to stay down forever. But in order to truly transform into someone who can not just walk, but run the path of love fearlessly, you have to accept the inherent dangers. Like the Hero above, boldness can be acquired by digesting your pain in teeny tiny bits, over time.
Make no mistake, the hurt, will hurt. But by being present with it, you can vaccinate yourself. Suffering itself is not the path, but the ability to embrace your whole self—light and shadow, bright and dark moments—will give you the confidence to approach love audaciously. The path of love is the most rewarding anyone can choose, but it is not for the feint of heart. I eat my pain, not because it nourishes, but because the lessons it provides prepares me for the path ahead.
There may or may not be “a classic fairy tale” in my path. There will definitely be some kissing. And whether or not my pain leads me to true love, I will live the words of Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet”:
To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully.
To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving;
To rest at the noon hour and meditate love’s ecstasy;
To return home at eventide with gratitude;
And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart and a song of praise upon your lips.
© j summers 2011
photo: emzofc / deviantart