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V. 2. "SIFT": FEEL AND TRANSFORM OUR PAIN

Feeling our pain fully, and then transforming it into energy for life, is key

to being truly alive.

 

The fundamental movement towards life-affirming death awareness in this life - a lifetime's journey because there would always be more to experience until death made experience impossible - is a minute-by-minute, two-step process:

(1) FEEL our pain about our death, as fully as we can; and

(2) TRANSFORM our pain into appreciation for life, by thinking or saying aloud how precious life is.

Both steps are necessary. If we simply think "life is precious", it is just a thought. It only becomes a meaningful experience when we invest it with the energy derived from feeling our pain about its loss. And, of course, just feeling our pain about death without it being transformed into love for life is usually harmful.

Maintaining a minute-by-minute life-affirming death awareness in this way is far more difficult than it may sound, as it requires a regular practice to actually feel our pain and transform it into energy for life.

To develop the capacity to do so, a practice called "SIFT" can be particularly useful, in which we:

(1) S urface our pain about our mortality, rather than using our energy to repress it;

(2) I nquire into this pain, trying to understand and above all look at it;

(3) F eel our pain as fully as we can; and

(4)  T ransform it into love and appreciation for life.

(1) Surfacing our pain

Because we usually live in denial of our most painful feelings about our death, we usually need to focus on "surfacing" it, i.e. bringing it to consciousness.

This is not a "morbid" process. On the contrary. The fact is that sadness about death plays an active role in our day-to-day life, in the form of unconscious death anxiety and other feelings we repress. It is far healthier to bring these feelings to consciousness where we can work with them. It is far more morbid to ignore them, and let them continue to drain us of energy, deaden our feeling and relationships, and act them out in a myriad of unhealthy ways.

We can practice "surfacing", first, by simply paying attention to the many times in a day when we are inevitably exposed to death - on TV, in our newspapers, through talking with people. We can think of past situations where death was present in our lives. We can read the obituary page of our newspaper or contemplate our own mortality. We can engage in the kind of experiences  which trigger concern about death. Our focus in this step is on our feelings , on allowing emotional pain to surface. When we do so consciously we can find not only that we can handle it, but that it can energize us.

(2) Inquiring into our pain.

 

When we dare consciously surface our pain about our mortality, we find not only that we can handle it, but that we can learn and derive energy from it. It is useful to inquire as deeply into our pain as possible. Where is it located in the body? What does it feel like, e.g. a steady pain, a throbbing, an on and off experiences, waves, etc.? What most triggered it? How much of it is pain in the moment, how much of it old pain? How contracted or decontracted is it? How does it change, e.g. from contracted fear to decontracted anguish? How long does it last?

 

(3) Feeling our pain as fully as we can.

This is the key step. It is useful here to focus in on contracted feelings, like fear, anxiety or depression, and to work on decontracting our muscles, to allow ourselves to feel the actual feeling that we contract to avoid, i.e. to feel them fully . If we notice that we are depressed, for example, and decontract, we may find ourselves experiencing a fuller sadness or even anguish.

If we can feel these feelings fully, we will often find that they transform themselves into very different feelings, e.g. sadness or anguish often transforms themselves into love, compassion and empathy, and/or a profound experience of the poignant preciousness of life.

(4) Transforming our pain into true aliveness.

We often find that we cannot feel our painful feelings fully, however, and that at some point we start pull away from them. If we notice ourselves doing so, it is useful to actively seek to transform them into experiences of being truly alive and loving life. One way to do so is simply to think of how precious life is, in the context of the pain we are feeling about its absence. Another, after we have noticed we are pulling away, is to actively reenter our pain, to push ourselves to stay with it and to feel it as deeply as we can.