Thursday, April 29, 2010

...carrying old pain?...

"Overcome any bitterness that may have come because you were not up to the magnitude of pain that was entrusted to you.  Like the mother of the world who carries the pain of the world in her heart, each one of us is part of her heart, and therefore endowed with a certain measure of cosmic pain.  You are sharing in the totality of that pain.  You are called upon to meet it in joy instead of self-pity."
~Pir Vilayat Khan, Sufi teacher.

Asked by one of my dear readers to speak about the grieving process, I am preparing a little primer on the subject.  In preparation for that post I thought I would offer you some of the gentle wisdom of Wayne Muller, from his book, "Legacy of the Heart - The Spiritual Advantages of a Painful Childhood". 

First, let me say that painful childhoods do not have to be ones of abuse.  In fact, neglect is now being categorized as a form of abuse by the field of psychiatry.  Perhaps, you were bullied or ostracized during your school years.  Perhaps you lost a loving parent at a young age.  Perhaps you had a kind parent who suffered from depression.  There are so many ways in which we may have experienced a 'painful childhood'.

It is common for people to minimize their particular circumstance and the emotional pain that accompanied it.  However, left unattended it makes itself known to you by means of any manner of symptoms.  It is your job as an adult to decipher the meaning hidden in your particular symptoms, address your past, heal the wound and move on into the one and only life you have.  Here is a bit of the wisdom of Wayne Muller:

"As we make the journey out of childhood, we are invited to grieve what we have lost.  However, many of us who explore our childhoods are not ready to let go of the old stories.  For some, the anger we feel toward our parents has become a source of personal power; we were treated badly, and now we deserve to be heard ... we have a deep remembrance of the way it should have been for us, and we want to convince our parents to apologize, to love us, and to make right what was done so horribly wrong.  We are still trying to work out the same old story, trying to make it turn out right, trying to wrestle a happy ending from the protagonists in our unsatisfactory childhood ...

"How can we allow that loss to simply be true, to feel the truth of our emotional orphanage and know that it has never changed, and probably never will?

"We begin by acknowledging that the old story is over.  How long will we keep looking for someone who can make it all turn out differently?  Our challenge is simply to let what was true be true:  We were hurt.  We never had the parents we hoped for ... When we feel the deep sadness of that loss, the pain and the loneliness, we simply grieve the loss of our childhood, the childhood that never was and never shall be.  That story is over ... if we finally allow ourselves to feel the depth of that sadness and gently let it break our hearts, we may come to feel a great freedom, a genuine sense of release and peace, because we have finally stopped running from ourselves and from the pain that lives within us."

~Wayne Muller, Legacy of the Heart


  1. This posting meant a great deal to me, Bonnie. Although my father was a good and loving man, his alcoholism created a tremendous amount of pain during my childhood. Fortunately, however, I was able to disengage from "my sad story" when I left home for college. Once that occurred, I entered a world of hope and infinite possibilities, a place where I could design my own life and write my own story.

    As Muller recognizes, far too many people refuse to let go of their stories, and, instead, use the stories to bolster their own identities, one of the most prominent being that of "the victim." Hope reigns eternally, however, for those who understand that, by grace, we each have the right to personal happiness and fulfillment. As always, we must make the right choice.

    I loved the photos. Each radiates a kind of peace and tranquillity.

  2. Oh Bonnie.. this post was just for me today..
    I am getting myself ready to go spend 5 days with my father is going into the hospital and I have to be there for my mother.
    Lots of old pain comes forth when I visit them..but as thier only child I find I have to be there more an more..When they are gone from your life it is easier to say goodbye to the old story.. but when they are there and memories flood back and old family dynamics replay themselves..the old story becomes your companion once least for me thats how it has been played....I look forward to reading others post and thier success of letting go of thier old story...

  3. You are going to continue to help a lot of people who will take comfort and solace in your words and perspective, including me. Thank you... it does seem to be a whole community of us either preparing for or already going through loss and grief.

  4. Great post, Dear Bonnie- You know how to get right to the middle- that everyone shares everyone's pain so - get over it because it is not doing any one any good- at least that is what i take from is too brief to make ourselves miserable - reliving horror-could be a stuck record- tell it to the war guys who have been lied to, romanticized, paid in full with promises ...when does the horror become physiological ,when does the damage become totally broken- unfixable...there is whining and there is the other. Personal responsibility, understanding, compassion- sometimes just isn't enough.

  5. It is so true. Embrace it and then let it go and move on. I have been able to do that and the freedom I have now is fabulous!! I can even love my parents again. What a great gift I have received.

  6. Thanks for the honesty.
    Me too.

    REIKI and age have helped...

    Aloha from Waikiki

    Comfort Spiral

  7. The words of the Sufi master are so beautiful, as are your images. "Overcome any bitterness that may have come because you were not up to the magnitude of pain that was entrusted to you." But it's so hard to approach it with joy.

  8. Like Meri, I also appreciate that opening quote. And too, what you've offered here from Muller ties into the explorations of healing story I've been been re-introduced to since I took a writing workshop with Deena Metzger in March. But especially, what you wrote was helpful: "painful childhoods do not have to be ones of abuse... There are so many ways in which we may have experienced a 'painful childhood'."

    This was what I had in mind when I asked for elucidation on grief-work - I'll save the details for my blog except to say that as a child I'd known my own suffering but when it wasn't recognized, I didn't deal with some residual aspects of it. What I mentioned in my March 17th post was: "The judgment through which I understood my entire life up until that point was affirmed by my advisor's bored indifference: I hadn't had the "right" suffering - there were scales by which our right to compassion and acceptance are measured, which grant us the worth required to qualify even to be listened to, and I hadn't ever matched up."

    There is much I am working on and with- related to my heart dream, creativity, Story, healing, and I find so much cross-fertilization wherever I look which feels very supportive. I'm looking forward to your next post on this.

  9. Bonnie, I wish this post was in French (although Google could help a bit with that). My companion's two sons suffered from painful relationships with their mothers - they could really benefit from reading this. Maybe I'll find a way to introduce it to them and we'll get over the language problem.

    Wise and helpful and thoughtful. Thank you.

  10. Such wisdom in these words! You write such profound posts, Bonnie! You always make me think! I love that! Love, Janine XO

  11. Dear Bonnie,

    thank you for this article. I have long learned to put the past away and forgive my parents, myself and all who may or may not have hurt me then.

    I have also learned not to rely on anyone but take care of my emotional needs myself, before considering the needs of anyone else. Perhaps that was the wrong way to go, but that is what I did, for better or worse.

    There is one other thing I have learned, namely that sadness and unhappiness are part of the human condition and don't need to be swept away always. If we allow ourselves to grieve, to feel sadness, we will also have a far greater capacity for joy.

    I don't like the modern way of thinking that permanent happiness is either possible or even desirable.

    So, let us carry a little pain at times.

  12. Muller's quote is so meaningful and should be a guide out of the grieving process for many.

  13. I don't know why family's have such problems. Why don't they remember the happy things, that has saved me. I try not to look at the worst in
    mankind, live is so short it can be Great.

  14. Very wise words, Bonnie. Thankyou.

  15. I so so agree with everything you've offered here.
    I would say it's a steady climb up a mountain sometimes.
    I certainly hear this to my core.


Comments are always read and appreciated.

(I am grateful for all awards received. However, I ask that this be an "award-free zone" and meme-free zone. Thanks for understanding!)