Fear as a Companion
Chipping away at fear
like shards flying off a marble block.
Fear not gone, just underfoot,
a rough and shifting foundation
under the swinging hammer,
the shapes emerging
above the “scattered brothers.”
I cannot imagine being fearless,
not yet anyway.
Fear will be with me, always.
But I can befriend it,
pour wine on its fissures,
split the block apart,
make it smaller,
the shapes more pleasing,
the surface smooth and silky.
“Gordon Carving the Standing Eagle” watercolor and pen by Kathy Park. The poetic image “scattered brothers” comes from Gordon Newell, my sculpture mentor.
The key to joy
Most of us either run from pain or silence its message. We navigate by pain as if it were a stationary star, but not one to move towards. We steer in the opposite direction. We don’t want to feel pain; we don’t want to hear its message nor do we wish to heed it. We fear pain. All we want is to make it go away. Western medicine colludes in this phobia by dedicating its considerable resources to nullifying symptoms, as if simply being pain-free were the cure. But in doing so, we kill the messenger and thus the message. And we unwittingly move further from joy.
I’ve only been here for sixty-two years, but I’ve learned one thing: pain is a teacher. At the very least, the existence of pain proves we’re still alive. There’s still something to face and deal with. Life isn’t over, because to be beyond the reach of pain means we’re unconscious, drugged, or dead.
Pain carries a critical message. It is the steering mechanism that guides us, an inner GPS system that tells us to turn left or right, proceed, or stop. Pain tells us something is wrong in the body. Something is off kilter, pinched, obstructed, toxic, wounded. Why would we want to silence these messages?
And if we return the message as undeliverable, what recourse does the body have but to amplify the message, become insistent that we receive it? Are worsening symptoms a function of our refusal to listen to them?
My left arm tingles and burns with pins and needles, sometimes excruciatingly so. I could try to ignore the pain, override it, dumb it down, drown it, simply gut through it. I’m a tough warrior woman; I could do that. In fact, I have done that, more often than not in my life. No pain, no gain, right?
Or I could listen to the pain and change course accordingly. I could stop what I’m doing, stretch my neck and shoulders, find the right yoga position or acupressure point that speaks to the problem, wrap my neck in an ice pack, or lie on two balls stuffed in a sock, my own personal masseuse. I could drive over the mountain to see our favorite chiropractors who listen to what the body is saying and attempt to help it realign so the nerve isn’t pinched. I could heed pain’s message? Slow down, work within my limits, ask for help if something is too heavy or too hard to move. Pay attention to the fact that my body is getting older and can’t do what it used to. Considering the wise counsel of all those messages, why would I want to turn a deaf ear?
Pain teaches me about compassion for other people in pain, and all my fellow creatures. If I let the message of pain in, it softens my heart and opens it. It leads me to joy. It makes me remember my vulnerability, fragility, impermanence. It makes me grateful for another day alive and conscious on this mysterious planet, for Orion rising in the east and setting in the west, the drift of large wet snowflakes quenching the land’s thirst, the warm breath of a horse’s muzzle, the way wood polishes to satin or how cobalt blue spreads from my brush, the reassuring touch of my lover. If pain is part of the deal in order to feel joy, I’ll take it, any day.