The word “pressure” has been bubbling around in my thoughts for the last few weeks. Have you ever had that happen? A concept will invade your psyche and then show up everywhere, light bulbs popping right and left?
It feels to me as if pressure is the descriptor for the times, as if the world is ramping up exponentially, and we’re all feeling it in our bodies and psyches. Not all pressure is a bad thing, of course. It takes a certain amount of force to propel us through our resistance, and that is exactly what so many of us are doing…forging ahead through layers and layers of emotional muck we didn’t even know we had. Great things, magical things, are happening as a result, too.
But unexamined pressure creates anger, and this is what I want to talk about. I suppose this isn’t really new news, although something about that combination of words – pressure creates anger – literally leapt off the page at me when I recently read The Mindbody Prescription, Dr. John Sarno’s bestseller from many years ago. Anger is an emotion I, like many, struggle to consciously experience, because I’m so afraid of it. I don’t want to experience it, so I push it away. According to Sarno, anger that’s pushed away builds to become suppressed rage. And suppressed rage becomes physical illness…from back, neck and shoulder pain, to inflammation of all kinds, as well as digestive disorders, anxiety and depression. Pretty much any illness can be traced back, from Sarno’s perspective, to the unacknowledged pressure of being human…pressure placed upon us from without and from within.
Pressures from without seem more enormous than ever before. Worldwide economic, ecological, societal and political pressures are being pounded into our consciousness on a 24-hour news cycle, not to mention our own overwhelming personal challenges. How do we possibly examine all that? And then, of course, there are the subconscious, anger-inducing pressures from within: worry, self-criticism, guilt, fear, perfectionism, blame, and all kinds of stressful, negative thinking.
Early Sunday morning I got up and drove to the beach, with an aching back, a sore jaw from clenching my teeth during my sleep, and a mind overrun with thoughts, but determined to do something good for myself. As I made my way through the breathtaking, dawn-lit vistas of Malibu Canyon, the now iconic image of that little Syrian boy lying face down dead on another beach on the other side of the world flooded my psyche… and broke me in two. The juxtaposition of the agony and the ecstasy of this world, and the huge question of my responsibility to it, became so overwhelming in my heart that I just cried my eyes out all the way to the ocean. I can still feel it as I write this…the emotional surge that rises up in my throat, and the knee-jerk, intellectual tamping down of that feeling with all kinds of thinking instead – political thinking, blaming thinking, numbing thinking, even big-picture-wisdom thinking. That day, though, thinking of every stripe was washed out by the tidal wave of feeling that needed to happen.
I wonder if that is what we all need right now? Maybe what is trying to happen, what the pressure is all about is that our hearts are under pressure to break wide open, and we are scared to death to let them.
One of my favorite Pema Chodron teachings is called The Big Squeeze: that realization on the spiritual path of the large gap between our spiritual ideals and the far less than ideal reality of our daily lives. It’s breakdown time, examination time, transmutation time. We look at ourselves, not with finger-pointing or throwing in the towel, but with great curiosity and compassion. We feel ourselves, including all the previously hidden parts, both ugly and beautiful. Who am I really? Not who I project myself to be, nor who I am striving to be, but who am I, right this minute? Am I worthy, just as I am? Can I stand in this squeeze, fall down and get up again, each time a little more fully awake and in love with this rich and raw human experience? Can I give over to the forging?
“It’s the rub between those two things – the squeeze between reality and vision – that causes us to grow up, to wake up to be 100 percent decent, alive, and compassionate. The big squeeze is one of the most productive places on the spiritual path and in particular on this journey of awakening the heart.” Pema Chodron, Comfortable with Uncertainty.
Blessings, my friends. We are in this together. Let us hold each other tight.