“We live in a world of constant juxtaposition between joy that’s possible and pain that’s all too common.” —Marianne Williamson
I have been burdened by pain lately. Pain is a funny thing—it can be the physiological reaction to a purely physiological phenomenon—you burn your finger, and pain is the messenger that automatically pulls your finger from the heat source. You don’t have to think about it. Pain is your friend in this instance. Emotional pain can also be ’embodied’—emotional anguish, especially prolonged, can sink into your tissues and find a vulnerable spot. From there it calls out for attention with inflammation and pain. Eventually it can wreak so much physical havoc that disease occurs.
I like the word ‘juxtaposition’—an act or instance of placing close together or side by side for comparison and contrast. Artists consciously do it or use it all the time in their act of creating. Nature and Nature with the influence of humans, create scenarios where side by side comparisons and contrasts are sometimes subtle, sometimes glaring, sometimes puzzling. Human nature, as Marianne Williamson alludes to, is no less likely to contain a myriad of juxtapositions where we stand between two ideas or possibilities and have the power to choose.
One of the most striking juxtapositions we encountered on our hike at Warner Lake County Park was the sandy swimming beach and the ice-covered lake water. The sand extended up from the water into trees that would provide shade on a hot, summer day. Benches were tucked under the trees for moms and dads to sit on while the kids built castles in the sand and splashed in the water. But at this time of the year, the ice crawled up the beach, and instead of kids and castles in the sand, there were sticks and leaves.
Ripples in the sand, sculpted by wind and waves, are now preserved and displayed under a layer of clear ice. From movement to stillness.
Most of the time we think of ice as relatively smooth, but the sheltered north side of Warner Lake had an intricate design etched into the ice.
The white brightness of a piece of birch bark lay among the brown, fallen leaves in the woods. The postcard size and shape made me imagine that it was a harbinger of season’s greetings, a bringer of hope and light in the dark and ‘dead’ time of year.
One more puzzling juxtaposition we found at Warner Lake Park was a stairway in the middle of the woods. Stairway to where? The lure of the answer compelled me to climb the leaf-covered stairs. At the top was….a parking lot! From the top, it made perfect sense to have a stairway from the parking lot to the fishing pier, but from the bottom, it looked like a stairway to nowhere.
I took a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) class. The program began at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center almost forty years ago as a way to empower patients with chronic pain and disease. Six weeks into the program we had a retreat day with six hours of meditation, movement, and silence. As I lay on my back on a mat during a body scan meditation, all I could think about was the pain in my back and how uncomfortable I was—silence and pain, breathing and pain, relaxation and pain. MBSR teaches awareness and acceptance—including of pain, but I just wasn’t having it. The pain was too big. But as I stayed with it and gave it the attention of my breath, something shifted. All of a sudden I felt deep gratitude for my body and for all it had been through over the decades. The feeling of deep gratitude reached over to Chris for his love and loyalty to me through all those years. The deep gratitude grew and enveloped our children and the rest of our families. It spread over our teacher and the other people in the class who were challenged by this MBSR process in a myriad of ways. And then….I felt joy! The juxtaposition between pain and joy. There I was—right in the middle of the two, right in the midst of them both. And the pain lessened as the gratitude grew.
We are each an intricate design of creation—our physical bodies are the most amazing living mechanisms, yet paired with our mind, emotions, and spirit, we transcend even our most abundant, far-reaching definition of ourselves. If we become curious about the juxtapositions in our lives, curious about the pain, aware of our breathing, aware of connections, and accepting of where we are right this moment, we have a better chance to see our lives from the top of the stairs where things make perfect sense. The Bringer of Hope and Light can suddenly appear and chase away our pain and darkness.