loving what limits

So many popular strains of spiritual healing and coaching, frequently referencing popular spiritual modes like The Secret, are revamped and de-Christianized forms of Evangelical prosperity teachings that wealth and success go to the spiritually adept, and those who experience pain or suffering in this world have manifested it through their own failings. Like many popularized teachings, I think there were one or two profoundly insightful truths that at some point got blended up and watered down to be accessible (and marketable) to a wide audience.

Nearly every religion and spiritual system has something in it that we can use to try to avoid, minimize, or rationalize our suffering, just as most or all of them also have teachings that we could use to deepen, strengthen, and bring more resolve to times of difficulty. Even in the same church or coven you might hear one person saying a chronic illness is a sign of poor practice and another saying this is the time when one most needs their practice.

United States culture is not particularly friendly to limitations, restrictions, restraints. Like the capitalist system we tout, success to us looks like a continuous upward path of constant growth. When we experience contractions and constrictions, we respond as though these are crises engendered by some bad actor and not something inevitable when living in mortal bodies in a finite planet.

Image of a green snake curled up upon a thin branch in a forest.
Photo by Chris Barton

We’re not here to grow upward and outward indefinitely. Sometimes we must move downward and inward. Sometimes we must experience those unpleasant, messy, painful feelings to discover the next path of growth. Contraction, grief, anger, resentment—none of these have to be anybody’s “fault”, but they can very well point out larger causes of suffering that need to be addressed for future health. Like pollution of our lands and water sources. Like cultures of sexual coercion and entitlement that elevate a narrow range of human experience and demean the rest.

Or, more personally, those experiences of grief, pain, and anger that have secretly ruled us for years, things which we’ve taught ourselves not to look at too closely. Those sources of envy and jealousy that show us our secret insecurities, the things we long to achieve but are too afraid to risk trying for.

Few people are excited to face unpleasant, toxic truths about ourselves and the cultures in which we live. Naming our poisons helps us to discover the antidotes. These “dark” emotions are connected to our deep needs, needs we have yet to know well enough to meet. These needs are not the face they wear—my envy won’t be satisfied by my neighbor being less, but rather by me becoming the more that I am afraid to be.

Sitting in meditation, some days I find myself lost in thoughts not matter how much I practice. Other days, when I sit I feel pain and discomfort in my body. The pain roots me in the moment, it calls me back to presence. Parts of me despise it, but this limitation is no longer allowing me to move through life like an automaton.

This does not mean I simply endure it, believing this suffering is warranted and I should just suck it up and not complain. This pain is something to work with, to learn about, to discover where it leads for healing. This pain is a wakening.