Holding Our Struggle in High Regard

"We can keep our dignity even within our imperfections and failures by having a high regard for our own struggle. When we develop this attitude, we begin to experience other people in an entirely new way. Our life and their lives intersect and touch in the most intimate way. We become more human." - Jason Shulman

Having a high regard for our struggle is not self-pity, clinging to victimhood or obsessing over what's wrong. It is something very different. It is self-compassion. And most importantly, it is not abandoning ourselves in our suffering. It is turning towards our pain, whatever it may be made of, and whatever it's source is. Resistance, guilt, shame, agony, depression, you name it. It is practicing not always resorting to turning way, to rising above, to illusorizing, to going stoic with a radical attitude of neutrality and zooming out into an overly detached witnessing so as to look at it, but be unphased. It is no longer resorting to only mechanizing our feelings, our difficult inner experiences, as merely bundles of physical sensation, and thereby dehumanizing them. That can be an important life-saving tool in some situations, but we have to be careful because if this becomes our only tool, our only way of coping, to our painful emotions, we can end up feeling robotic ourselves, numb, zombified and suffer more down the road because of that.

Practicing, learning slowly to use expand within to create a space around the emotions that can hold so we can be in kind contact with them, from an attitude of warmth rather than affectless, turns into caring for the struggling, as a living, breathing part of your humanity. In many cases it is a younger part of yourself that was hurt and still carrying the pain as if it was just inflicted today. Crying out, for whatever empathic, loving response that a lack of led to the emotional bruising in the first place. Imagine looking at a child, or any other person in a moment when they're standing in front of you hurting, in pain, and just looking at them, observing them with a stoic look on your face, offering no gesture of affection. Now imagine being that person, and having someone do this to you! If this is the way we always treat ourselves when we're struggling, defending against having to bear the weight of witnessing real human affliction. Though neutrality beats self-condemnation, beats telling ourselves to shut up, to stuff down the pain with an attitude of brutality, mechanizing and neutrally witnessing it in service of being less phased by it, we don't grow our capacity to compassionately bear witnessing and validating the suffering - no, not indulging in self-pity, rather opening an even wider space around self-pity too! Then even compassionately including wallowing too, your practice might instead be about how wide you can expand your heart open to include your/its' own suffering, not just the aperture of neutral/izing awareness, but the aperture of your heart. Stretching your heart open wide enough to include itself within it!

Taking your own brokenness, your fragility, under warm and loving, mothering wing - perhaps this is what it means to hold our own struggles with high regard, not hating the one, or the parts of yourself, often those younger parts that seem so stuck in the past, repeating "pathetic" self-defeating patterns, etc. Maybe it's finding a way, cultivating, constructing with our mind-body unity, with intention, to create a felt sense of cradling the jagged and jarring, even what might feel disgusting in you... dignifying the young in you and the storing up of those tender brusing moments of your life, deciding there is no other way than for you heart to break open... and the flood of feelings, our shared interwoven suffering, with blazing dignity, tenderized by the sense that we carry it together, that pieces of our shadows live inside of one another. Dignifying our struggle, we might bless our little bodies for their strength in carrying so much invisible weight, the weights between our rib cage, and bless our stalwart breath, our heartbeat, and we might hold our share of shadow with greater gentleness and willingness, in solidarity with one another, with every other living creatures we forget we're interwoven with. And we might then light the torrential floods that pour out of us on holy fire, holy bitterness, finding ecstagony is a medicine that helps us release, opening to let in the shock of how huge our tiny hearts can be, and how much more real and magnificently (still) alive we are, than a machine.


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