Why is pain so painful? What is it about the inevitable loneliness of life, that feels so threatening? Why do I experience such a strong compulsion to push away the pain escaping into anesthetic, denial, or distraction? What is it in me that so quickly defaults to resistance when I find myself afraid?
The problem is that, when I feel pain, I fear the pain is bigger than any other reality in my life. It feels as if I may be annihilated by the pain. Pain places me on the edge of the dark abyss of nothingness. I peer over the edge and am overwhelmed by the sense that, if I slip into this void, I will cease to exist. I experience myself as fragile. I feel vulnerable to a malignant force that lurks at the dark edge of my consciousness seeking my destruction.
In the dark recesses of my being, I fear there is nothing at the heart of nothing. It feels as if I am ultimately alone; nothing holds; nothing is solid. The centre of life feels like an unpredictable, anarchic swirling vortex. There is no reason, no pattern, nothing that is dependable except painful uncertainty.
The loneliness that hovers around the edges of life is terrifying because it so familiar; it feels like the only reliable reality. To my senses and my intellect, the emptiness seems empty.
Jeanne De Salzmann sums up my fear saying,
We are afraid to be alone because we are afraid not to be, not to experience.
I am the victim she says of
my incessant desire to perpetuate myself. (De Salzmann, Jeanne. The Reality of Being: The Fourth Way of Gurdjieff, p. 167)
Pain comes from the perception of my need to prove that I exist. I feel alone, invisible, unappreciated, dismissed, neglected, so I struggle to balance myself on the safe side of the knife edge of nothingness. I exert all my energy to resist the elimination of my being that seems to be the inevitable outcome of plunging off the edge on which I precariously balance by exerting my feeble efforts at control or illusion. But the effort is exhausting. I long for a place of rest that my experience seems to deny.
Jeanne De Salzmann, expresses in the most bleak terms, the human experience that “solitude appears as a void.” She goes on, however, to contend that, when we are willing to hold ourselves in that emptiness without resistance, denial, or judgment then,
At the same time, there is a feeling of truly entering another world, a world that seems more real. I am a particle of a greater reality. I experience solitude not because something is missing but because there is everything – everything is here.
Only in the intuitive subtle realm of faith am I able to affirm that there is something/someOne at the centre of the dark abyss that feels like abandonment. No intellectual exercise will ever bring me to this land. I cannot feel my way into the deep inner knowing that there is a presence at the centre of the abyss. My intellect and my feelings will always fail me at the edge of the void. Death is the only path into this place of ultimate being.
De Salzmann points the way saying,
We must die to the known in order for the unknown to be revealed.
‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.(Luke 9:23)
To “take up” your “cross daily” is to be willing to die. The cross is the place where I surrender my need for all consolations. I give up my need to feel, or to know intellectually that there is something at the heart of the abyss. Death is the path to life, because when I have finally surrendered all need to know or feel the reality of presence, there is no longer anything anyone can take from me. When I am carrying the cross, there is nothing worse that you can do to me. There is no longer anything you can take from me, because I have already laid it all down in order to “take up the cross.”
I do not need to fear the loneliness because at the very heart of what feels like emptiness, everything is present. All the changeable, uncertain realities of human experience are held. There is a greater, deeper dimension to human existence than the pain that accompanies my experiences of loss and loneliness.
By entering into the apparent emptiness, I enter into “another world.” When I am able to remain present in the midst of pain a whole new dimension of existence opens . The emptiness is not a dark threatening vortex. It is not a malignant force bent upon my destruction. It is a window opening into light.