Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Prescription For Pain

This image is a portion of the mixed media piece "Quan Yin". I recently added some text to it. If you look closely you will see om mani padme hum in tiny letters and then the larger text "She who hears the cries of the world". The prayer for all sentient beings appears in the upper right of the piece (not shown here).

On the topic of compassion, this evening I listened to a recorded webcast by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche called Turning Pain Into The Path. His talk, from the Dzogchen perspective offered fairly simple (not easy), straightforward suggestions for approaching our lives. First he talked about how mostly we try to escape our own pain and that of others. If we have a problem, in the hopes of feeling better, we might say, oh, look at John over there, his problems are worse. Mine are not so bad. But Rinpoche points out that all we are doing is replacing one thought with another. We haven't really addressed the basic problem. Our pain will pop up again. It exists. Attempts to pretend it doesn't simply don't work.

His solution to our pain is to be with it, to acknowledge it, to care for it. Mostly we just want it to be over and use our energy to push it away. He offers a prescription, 3 pills: stillness, silence, and spaciousness. These are the things we want to apply to our own pain and that of others. We want to surround our pain with these medications (or is that meditations), just to sit with them, to care for them. Normally if we have a problem we feel agitated and restless. We want to do something, say something. We want to eat something, have a drink, go to a movie. The chatter in our heads can drive us crazy. Or if it's someone else who has the problem we want to solve it for them, offer advice rather than support. "Think of your pain as a friend or family member in trouble," Rinpoche suggests. "What would you do that would really feel supportive to them" Ultimately the most helpful thing is to offer them your undivided presence.

Of course surrounding pain with silence and stillness and spaciousness, whether it's physical or emotional pain, whether it's our own anger or a friend's problem, is not easy for us. Rinpoche suggests that is because we are unaccustomed to doing this and because it is so unfamiliar we doubt its ability to be helpful. He suggests that this still place inside of us is who we really are (not our busy chattering egos) and that we can access it by, yes, get this, by being still. He teases that if we have a lot of pain we will need to take a lot of pills. And I don't know about you but I think I am going to swallow a whole bottle of these little pills and still need more. So I am hustling my little Rx down to the spiritual pharmacy. I think I'll take 3 pills and call you in the morning.


  1. Easier said than done; stillness, silence, and spaciousness. I wish I could remember this kind of advice when I really need it.
    I love your new piece. Powerful words, symbols and beings.

  2. Some good medicine I need right now. Thank you for the reminder.

  3. As you might guess I love this post and the Rx: stillness,silence and spaciousness. I will try to remember to carry those pills in my pocket... :)

  4. Hi!

    I just had to see the whole picture - so scooted over to your great new site! Wonderful stuff!

    And yes, definitely, time to take my medicine! Again!

    Marcus _/\_

  5. Good medicine..wonderful reminder...lovely piece of serenity.


  6. This is so perfect. Of course. :-)

    One of my teachers taught the 4 brahmaviharas as pills: metta and joy are like vitamins; we take them to build resilience in ourselves and others. Equanimity and compassion are like antibiotics; we take them when we and others are ailing. We need both pills to have a healthy life. So I will add your 3 pills to my 2 and take them faithfully everyday!

  7. Listen to the sounds; the breath of the Gaia....there you will find joy. That is my pill. Thank you for such an insightful blog.

  8. Beautifully written post...the three medications errrr..meditations! Can't be reminded often enough...this way, this way...thank you.

  9. It's funny, this business of offering up our loving presence, rather than council - what I have come to think of as a cultural compulsion to give advice - is something I consider often. (Especially as my husband, an architect, is a "problem-solver" by trade, and so can't simply listen! But, as I am tuned in to this, I hear it pervasively, among women, friends, etc., the knee-jerk advice-giving response.)
    Loved this post.
    And as always, love your paintings! (I've been water painting!)

  10. you really connect your self and your beliefs to your art pieces-- such balance and light and meditation to come across in your work.