Writer’s Island Prompt #10 “MOST AMAZING EXPERIENCE”
Pain is the shell that encloses your understanding. __Kahlil Gibran
Thirty-plus years ago, I gave birth to my fourth and last child. She was beautiful and healthy, but I seemed to be in almost constant pain after bringing her home. I’d had arthritic pain since age 17, always in different joints, most consistently in my lower back and hips. This was different. It seemed to concentrate in my hands and the joints of my fingers. I was tired most of the time. When the pain continued, I made an appointment with my regular doctor.
He took x-rays and told me he thought I had Rheumatoid Arthritis. I went blank (actually drifted up to a corner of the ceiling and watched) as he explained to me that this form of arthritis was painful and crippling. I remember going directly to the library after leaving his office. After finding, and checking out, four large books on Arthritis, I brought them home and attempted to read them. It didn’t go well. Each of the tomes had a chapter on Rheumatoid, and each of those chapters began with exactly the same sentence: Rheumatoid Arthritis is the most painful and crippling form of this illness.
I carried the four books back out to the car and drove into town to the library, dropping them, one at a time, in the outside drop box. They each made a resounding thud when they landed. I drove home in a fog. The doctor had given me a prescription for an anti-inflammatory drug and I began taking it immediately. Although the pain diminished to some extent, it was always there, and the exhaustion never really lifted. Most evenings, after cleaning up the kitchen, and putting the kids to bed, I would drop into the rocker in the living room and just sit there, feeling whatever energy I might still retain, oozing away, as though dripping off my fingertips.
My husband told me that he felt really cheated by the diagnosis. When I asked him to explain, he told me that he felt that he’d been cheated out of a full partner, and might now be saddled with a cripple. If I wasn’t suffering from what has been termed the after baby blues, I was definitely dealing with a lot of depression. I took my medication regularly and also took time out to take warm baths because they relaxed and soothed me.
Meanwhile, I was trying to get on with resuming a rather hectic life. I had always been a veracious reader and continued to do just that. I was interested in a wide variety of reading material and much of it pertained to psychology and the spiritual aspects of life. In doing that reading, I had come across the idea of creating ones own personal space inside ones own being. At that point in time, I desperately needed just such a place and began to seek it actively.
My two youngest were only fifteen months apart in age, so when they went down for an afternoon nap, I would go in my bedroom, sit crossed legged on my bed, and actively seek to create an inner space that would allow me to rest, relax, and possibly refuel. After many attempts, I settled on an image that both pleased and refreshed me. I would watch myself walk through an open, but very old wooden gate into a small meadow dotted with wild flowers and tall grass. There was a path there, through the grasses, that led to a huge boulder. I would climb up onto the boulder and sit, again crossed legged, and just breathe.
Once atop the boulder, I could see for miles. There were no signs of habitation anywhere in view, but there was a fast running wide river and mountains in the distance on the other side of the river. I was pleased with my creation, and got so good at it, that there were moments when I would feel the breeze caress my skin, and could even smell the faint scent of fresh earth, flowers, and even the water. And when I left that inner space, to resume my physical existence, I actually felt rested and more peaceful for having been there.
Then, one day, he came. I was in my usual spot, atop the boulder in my imagined inner space, looking out at the beautiful landscape when my eye caught movement in the tall grasses down near the river. The grasses seemed to be swaying from side to side, as though bowing to whatever was passing through their midst. I was mesmerized and watched as he stepped from the grasses to the foot of the boulder where I was sitting. A larger than life, fully grown Siberian Tiger.
Amazingly enough, I wasn’t in the least bit frightened. I knew that this was taking place in my imagination, but I had always had a great deal of admiration for the Big Cats. No visit to the zoo was complete without a long slow stroll past their habitats. To me, they were the epitome of power and grace welded together in extraordinary physical beauty. So, I eagerly leaned forward and said, “Oh, yes. You are perfect,” and then grinned like a kid set free in a candy store, preferably in the chocolate section.
He gracefully settled on his back haunches and then spoke. He didn’t move his mouth, but spoke quite clearly into my mind. “I have come of my own accord, and at no ones bidding. I have come to teach and you will not treat me like your pet dog. I come of my own choosing, sent by the one you call Lord.” Then just as gracefully, he lowered the rest of his incredibly beautiful body, closed his eyes, and went to sleep.
I was stunned and past exhilaration. I wanted to jump up and down, hug myself, and ask him a thousand questions. What he’d said sounded a great deal like some sort of rabbi riddle. What was his name? Where had he come from? If he came at his own choosing, why did he say he “was sent?” Why would I even think of treating him like my dog? I loved my pet, but this was way beyond anything even similar to that.
Over the next few days, I went eagerly to my secret place, always hoping he’d still be there, and he was. I did ask a great many questions, but his answers were again, more riddle than clear statement. He continued to tell me he had come from a long way away, a far off place that I wouldn’t understand. When I asked about his name, he avoided giving me a direct answer, and said instead that I might call him, ” by the lesson he came to teach.”
By the third evening after his arrival, although I was still eager and even excited, I had begun to think this was a useless waste of energy. I couldn’t understand, either because I was just too dumb, or because he wasn’t a very good teacher. I began to prepare yet another warm bath, when suddenly he was there in the room with me. His voice was deep but gentle as he said, “I come to teach you about pain.”
I recoiled away from him and the words he spoke. How could he, the most beautiful and graceful creature, teach me about pain? He had said I was to call him by the lesson he came to teach. How could anyone expect me to call him by that word? Was this whole thing just some sort of cosmic joke played out at my expense? I was instantly crushed and wounded. I said, with deep deep sorrow and regret, “I think you better go now. I have enough pain in my life as it is, I don’t want or need any more.” I was in tears.
He said, just as quietly, “Do you remember when I came? How joyous and eager you were? Would that all would greet me in such a manner. ” There was deep sorrow in his eyes and his voice as he said that. Then he continued, “If you say I must go, I will do so, but I would ask you a question before I leave.” He paused, then asked, “You would put away all of that joy and eagerness because of four simple letters, arranged in a random manner, defining a word you may not clearly understand?”
By then, I was sitting down on the floor, tears rolling softly down my face, but I heard his question. He hadn’t shouted, hadn’t raised his voice, but those words were caught forever in my mind. I thought about what he said, and what he meant. No, I didn’t understand, not the word, its meaning to my present life, who or what he might be, or why he had so suddenly appeared in my mind. And how bereft I felt at the thought of never again, seeing him, even if only in my imagination.
After a great deal of thought, during which he waited silently and patiently, I slowly nodded my head and said, “Okay, yes, you can stay.” And he did, teaching me many lessons about pain. One of them is here on this blog. It’s the story of the little seed (Story Time, Sept.23, 2008), and I learned that story as I weeded the huge garden my husband had planted, with my dog following along slowly beside me, and Pain’s deep gentle voice accompanying us the entire time.
He has never left me and has taught me many things and in many ways. I had always thought that the tigers I saw at the zoo, suffered a great deal from their captivity. Just looking at them, I could see how their skin was slack, hanging from their bellies and had thought it was because, in captivity, they couldn’t run freely and so their skin and perhaps, even some muscle had gone slack in the process. Not so. That is a natural condition, meant to secure life and help in survival. Big cats are predators and that means they hunt to live, battling other wild creatures for the very food that will sustain them. That slack skin and fur is meant to preserve and protect vital organs during that continuous battle. I had to learn the same lesson: not to live so close to my skin and the skin (surface) of my own life.
I did get a second opinion from a Rheumatologist. He took magnified x-rays of my hands and found no distortion of any kind, which would definitely appear if I had Rheumatoid. He suggested that I might be suffering from a sleep disorder that actually mimics arthritis conditions in lab tests. My own doctor said that that sounded fishy. But the pain did diminish to its usual, and mostly, tolerable level.
Several years later, I entered college and took some basic courses in psychology. One of them was about different personality theories, and the men who had defined them. One of those men was Carl Gustav Jung, and I read about how he felt that each individual actually held a ‘guru’ within their psyche. A voice that spoke to the answers we all search for. But, a voice that could only be heard if one got still and quiet in some form of meditation. I knew my guru, he didn’t look like a Tibetan monk, he was a huge Siberian Tiger, named Pain.
While I taught for several years, I actually led groups of people through imaging techniques that I had come to understand were called “spontaneous imagery,” or “guided imagery.” Imagine my surprise, when one night after class, a shy quiet woman approached me with a question. She said that while following the sound of my voice, really getting into her own inner space, she was shocked to find herself, face to face with a great big tiger. She wanted to know if that was okay, and if it was, what she should do next? I laughed out loud, told her of my own experience, and advised her to go home, get quiet, and ask him his name.
The image above is one of my first doodles with Artist Pens and once I realized where it was going, had to put it here.