I feel the pain like real personal pain, like when you’ve had a fight with your partner and it breaks your heart and agitates you at the same time. You carry around a shadow, always wanting to know more, to get some further development, and yet wanting it to be over, however it ends, because the tension is too great to bear.
I remember when my heart began to open, and let love in. It was early in my healing journey, at the healing workshops that Martin Brofman ran. It was not love as I knew it I was uncovering, but a different kind of feeling that embraced pain and yet was at the same time infinitely tender and accepting so that the pain was visible but just melted away. I had begun to give this love to myself, or rather give it to that far away child within me who had stormed through all her disappointments and defeats and buried them deep in the past. Once she began to emerge from her cave and sweeten up my life I found she had brought with her a legacy: a heart that was open and sensitive – so sensitive that I could feel that sweet bitter taste of releasing pain as soon as I walked into a workshop where people had come to find healing. It seemed strange to me that I should feel overwhelmed by sadness when one of these workshops started, until I began to perceive a pattern and recognized that this is simply the nature of love.
Love creates everything – catalyses the energy of the unmeasurable and turns it into new objects, arrangements, new realities, new people. And everything that is created must at some point die, so the whole energy of love contains within it acceptance – acceptance of what is and of what must die. We want to hold what we love. We want to feel its physical presence. Grief is losing that. Compassion is loving and letting go. Love in its broadest sense encompasses us. It allows us to communicate and connect to that which is beyond our self. It is beautiful, powerful, but, as soon as we hold it, love is painful too.
So I remembered this feeling when I was thinking about Ukraine, and understanding that mentally or spiritually, we have truly reached a new era, because all over the world millions share this pain. We do not speak Ukrainian, we do not know the country or the people, and yet they are us. They are our brothers and sisters. We want to share our food with them, our clothes, our homes. But most of all we want to protect them and their homes and their food. And we are powerless. That is the pain of the paralysed person who suffers from locked in syndrome: we know, we see, we hear what they are suffering, and we can do nothing to prevent it.
Powerlessness is an acutely modern disease. It is not that others have not experienced it as we do. It is that we have had the illusion of power, because of our communications, our instant knowledge, and yet we turn around in circles and find there is nothing we can do that would make the situation better. This feeling can be dangerous too, when it becomes extreme. Because anger is an expression of powerlessness also. Anger is an attempt to control that which we feel we cannot control. Ask President Putin.
I do not feel anger, but I do recognize another dark friend. I feel guilt. And I know that guilt is heavy on my head. I remember then what I have discovered about guilt. It is that nobody else cares how guilty I feel. My guilt changes nothing. To everyone else my sense of guilt is invisible, trivial, perhaps annoying if they care at all. But to me my guilt is a heavy cloud, glued around me to obscure the view and pleasure of where I am, of what I’m doing. I have learned that once I see my guilt, I can gather it up like an old coat and bury it in an image of the all-consuming earth where everything that is dead can be buried. I do this and I feel physically relieved of a burden that is of no use to me or anyone else. And the space inside my head is clear. Electric circuits connect and confused feelings crystallize so that I see my way clearly again.
What I see in the focused picture is an image of my family during the last European war. When this war began none of them knew how it would change their lives. My mother was an innocent 17 year old. My father was a barely trained soldier just past his 19th birthday. Perhaps my grandfather, who had won a medal for his escape from a German prisoner of war camp in the first World War, had more idea of what was coming, but the reaction of all of them was the same. It was to concentrate on the task in hand, to comply with whatever was asked of them, even though what was asked was often ridiculous and inappropriate to the situation, but to do it anyway. My mother and grandfather, and my father, as an army captain with unlooked for authority over 30 much more experienced men, concentrated on the moment in front of them while the world they knew burned and cruelty and abuse raged. This acceptance of authority was a kind of love, not love of authority, but love for humanity. They ‘dug for victory’, at the front, and at home. Social barriers broke down as they worked together, accepting chaos, lack of control, offering their bare hands and their homes where they could. It’s this kind of ‘digging’: digging deep into the unity of a shared humanity that is the one flicker of brightness in the cruel disaster of war.
So far, we are not much affected in England in a physical way by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, bobbing on the edge of continental Europe as we do. Perhaps it is this situation too that engenders all the intense feelings I have mentioned, because this is how it was for my parents and grandparents before me. We expect that we will be physically affected and currently we accept that. Strong emotion can act like an anaesthetic to physical pain.