Pain as an impetus for growth

April 12, 2006
The Hero’s Journey

I have been looking back through emails that I wrote as I prepared for the Sweet Darkness Intensive and this one caught my eye…

March 9, 2006
In a letter to a friend who spoke of her pain as a trilogy of flow I wrote:

I think pain is a powerful impetus for growth – *if* our instincts are undamaged and we are able to access the deeper aspects of the pain to get to the hidden treasure. I experience you as a woman in touch with her powerful wild and instinctual nature.

In Theatre of the Imagination, Clarissa Pinkola Estes tells of the psychological experiments where a dog is locked in a cage and half of the bottom of the cage is electrified. The dog learns to sleep on the other side.

Then the experimenters change sides and the dog learns to sleep on the side that used to be electrified and is now neutral. Then the
experiments electricfy both sides of the bottom of the cage. No matter which way the dog moves, she feels pain. So she learns to lie down and be in pain.

CPE’s punchline for the story is that later the experimenters open the door of the cage and the dog doesn’t leave. She has learned that moving is painful and that she can manage the pain if she stays still. This dog has lost her powerful, wild, instinctual nature…and without dreams or inner work to save her – she is in pain and she suffers.

For much of my life, I used pain to switch from one side of the cage to the other and didn’t even know I was in a cage or that there was a door. For the most part – the pain was transient and not unbearable.

Even if someone had told me or showed me the “answer” the “way out” the “truth of existence” the “meaning of life” – I was “content
enough” and without a need to walk out the door because the pain
seemed reasonable and just part of life.

It is likely I could have gone on this way for a long time. I am sure
this is why the first time I picked up WWRWTW it did not capture my attention. I wasn’t needing to hear the message yet.

The death of my father precipitated these last two years of inner
work.” I am sure I would have stumbled on this soul path eventually – but the shock and unbearable pain of losing someone that close to me led me first to a reactionary depression where I was not functioning and later to an INTENSE journey of self-exploration and listening to the Summons of the Soul.

I am drawn to depth psychology and the people who have expanded on Jung’s ideas because in the Jungian belief system, all the answers are within and there are no answers “out there.” Being an introvert by nature (as are most Jungians) this meshes with my fundamental way of being in the world.

Your imagery that you used to describe the trinity of flow is
powerful. As I read that my thoughts went in several directions:

Your natural ability to name your pain and create imagery to express the intensity of the experience is heroic. I am using this as Joseph Campbell uses the term:
A hero is any male or female who leaves the world of his or her
everyday life to undergo a journey to a special world where challenges and fears are overcome in order to secure a reward (special knowledge, healing potion, etc.) which is then shared with other members of the hero’s community.

Because of the work that I do with projections and shadow reclamation – I see pain in relationships as pieces of myself that my Soul is projecting onto others in my life so that I can see them and bring them home. And the corollary is that those things we adore in others are our heroic nature longing to be named and reclaimed!

Also because of my interest in “inner work” I would work with the
three flows and see if I could bring them into the world somehow.

Drawing, painting, deep imagery, or perhaps going out onto the prairie and looking for symbols of three, or if you are near a watershed finding a place where three flows coalesce into one. And sitting at the confluence of the flows and asking each tributary if it has anything to tell you.

Working with the Three Flows:
Indifference: Thank you for coming into my life and flowing into the whole of me. Is there something you need me to learn? Help me remember my earliest experiences of indifference. Is there a pattern of indifference that you can show me from my family of origin? Where have I felt indifference from a male figure in my life? What do I want instead of indifference? Where do I shine indifference on others in my life and who am I when I am doing that to others? How does receiving indifference serve me? How does giving indifference serve me?

And then sit and listen to the flow of the water and see what it tells you…listen for the whisper…

Husband’s Eyes: (Need to name the emotion or feeling…is it
disapproval, fear, love, anger, disappointment…?) Do the same for
this emotion. Thank it for coming into your life. Ask what you need to learn about this. Explore other experiences with this emotion. Take it back to your earliest patterns of relationship in your family of origin… and then listen for the whisper.

Fear of cutting off a piece of yourself:
The last part of the trilogy of flow that is leading into the river of
your wholeness… Same as above… Ask and listen for the answers as above.

The depth psychologists are proponents of “acting out” these
conversations and the ecopsychologists are proponents of letting
nature be the mirror upon which you project these feelings (instead of projecting them on loved ones and strangers).

This technique is something that I just am adding to my “inner work” repertoire and I am astounded at how much comes out of me when I do the ritual of acting out the imagery in nature.

I do so hope that you have flowing water somewhere near you and that you can find a place where three tributaries flow into one…but if you can’t – I think you can find another physical representation of this imagery on the prairie and work with it that way if you think it would be helpful.

I wonder if the paradox will feel less prickly when it is welcomed in and given tea and cookies and asked to speak to you… And of course there is always the dreamworld… Perhaps as you sit with this, the Riddle Mother will come visit you.

I look forward to the unfolding of your hero’s journey! From the
snippets you have shared it is going to be epic!


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