Too Much Pain

(Written in December 2008)
I’m at a retreat with Jack Kornfield at Kripalu.  The last time I came it was very helpful, but this time it isn’t working.

This is just being too hard.  I’m wondering if I should leave and go home but there’s nothing better at home.  I had trouble listening to Jack talk about Buddhist psychology — it all felt like things I can’t do, that I’m stuck in self-hatred and delusion, and although he says it’s possible to be free, to step out of it, I can’t do it.  All my efforts have resulted in being more stuck.  I can vaguely remember times intellectually, when I understood something and it was liberating, but there’s no feeling that comes to confirm it.

This morning, in the sitting, I tried to sit with depression.  First I imagined a grey stony figure sitting in front of me, then I had it be depressed Jenny.  She was in a small room paved and walled with stone, she was writhing and beating her head against the wall.  I did my best to stay with her, to witness her pain, but it was very difficult.  I was able to be with it for a bit, but I was also on the edge of overwhelm.  It’s just too much pain.  I called on Spirit to help me but no one came.  I tried to come out of it, to be in the room, feel my body, etc, and that helped a little but didn’t really give me a vacation.  I thought about that other time, when the pain was so intense that I understood why people would abuse children, take drugs, kill to avoid feeling that much pain.  But it didn’t last very long.  This time it’s too much for me, way too much.  I feel hopelessly inadequate to the amount of pain entrusted to me.  Isn’t that the definition of trauma?  I think “This is a traumatized baby,” and feel a movement of my heart in sympathy, but I also feel a degree of hopelessness and helplessness that keeps me frozen.  Isn’t that the definition of trauma?

What do I need to hear from some very kind, very loving, very wise being?  Dear, this is too much for you.  It was too much when you were a baby and it’s too much now.  You need to be very kind to yourself.  You need to stop trying to do a task that’s too adult for you right now.  You are putting in so much effort, yes beating your head against the wall, because you believe that this is the only way you have to help the world you love.  You do truly love the world — the world of nature, and the community of human beings that is capable of loving co-operation — you do care, and you have done many things to help the world, not least among them your intention for good.  But right now, you are unable to feel your own caring, your wish and capacity to do good.  You are caught in the pain of a traumatized baby.  Due to circumstances beyond your control, there is no community of support available to you.  Your life has become unworkable, and you need to support yourself with medication, you need to find a medication that works.

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