What is The Language Using Us For #9

I wander into the staffroom and catch the tail-end of a conversation:

“…and then it’s gone. You just don’t seem to be carrying that emotional pain with you anymore.”

“Gone? Like…completely?”

“Yeah, as if it’s been dissolved in some sort of chemical substance.”

I don’t ask what they’re talking about, it could be any therapeutic procedure: biofeedback, rolfing, holotropic breathwork, chromotherapy, reiki, reflexology, focusing,  feldenkreis, cupping,  counselling, or even goold old psychotherapy. It doesn’t really matter as long as it “works”.

This “working” seems to be connected to a sense of uncoupling from maladaptive pain. Not pain that tells you to drop the hot potato before it sears the flesh, but pain that rides a razorblade-studded surfboard on a whatever wave of self-defeating entropy and negativity you’re able to churn up inside yourself.

Learning poetry can be as powerful as all the other therapies for this kind of grievance. Particularly when some of the lines that you’re in the process of learning (internalizing) start drawing towards them, like a poultice, the aches and pains of your emotional life. You don’t have to do anything to make this happen (other than learn the poem) it just occurs, as if by magic.

Let me give you an example. I am learning these stanzas from the poem:

I am in a telephoneless, blue
Green crevasse and I can’t get out.
I pay well for my messages
Being hoisted up when you are about.

I suppose you open them under the light
Of midnight of The Dancing Men.
The point is would you ever want
To be here down on the freezing line

Reading the words that steam out
Against the ice? Anyhow draw
This folded message up between
The leaning prisms from me below.

As I take them in, I try on this “I” for size and find it fitting. I too pay well for my messages (about £40 a month to Virgin Media, to be mundanely precise) and indeed am “hoisted up”, given succor when “you” are about.

But what  if this “you” is no longer there? What if “you” is one who, in my embittered fantasy, now opens these emotionally costly messages not when they arrive, but at some delayed last-moment, “under the light of midnight of the Dancing Men”.

I don’t know who the Dancing Men are, but for this accusatorial scene (“Would you ever want to be…” etc.), they could be anything from a bunch of Chippendales to whatever drek “you” happens to be watching on television as they hive off five percent of their attention to my “messages” (emails, blog-posts, letters, whatever).

Allowing these three stanzas to become very personal to us allows for a kind of alchemy to occur very similar to that which my colleagues were talking about. Being able to give new words to the pain in a ritualised, almost formal way feels intensely healing.

I don’t really subscribe to this gone-completely notion though. I think about a conversation Howard Cutler once had with the Dalai Lama about regret {{1}}, which might be applied to any thoughts or emotions that haunts us. But maybe we’re not really looking for “gone-completely”, which would be a form of dementia or amnesia. What we’re looking for is:

A place for language in our lives

Which we want to be a real place
Seeing we have to put up with it

[[1]]Have there been situations in your life that you’ve regretted?”

“Oh, yes. Now for instance there was one older monk who lived as a hermit. He used to come to see me to receive teachings, although I think he was actually more accomplished than I and came to me as a sort of formality. Anyway, he came to me one day and asked me about doing a certain high-level esoteric practice. I remarked in a casual way that this would be a difficult practice and perhaps would be better undertaken by someone who was younger, that traditionally it was a practice that should be started in one’s mid-teens. I later found out that the monk had killed himself in order to be reborn in a younger body to more effectively undertake the practice…”

Surprised by this story, I remarked, “Oh, that’s terrible! That must have been hard on you when you heard…” The Dalai Lama nodded sadly. “How did you deal with that feeling of regret? How did you eventually get rid of it?”

The Dalai Lama silently considered for quite a while before replying, “I didn’t get rid of it. It’s still there. But even though that feeling of regret is still there, it isn’t associated with a feeling of heaviness or a quality of pulling me back. It would not be helpful to anyone if I let that feeling of regret weigh me down, be simply a source of discouragement and depression with no purpose, or interfere with going on with my life to the best of my ability.” [[1]]

One thought on “What is The Language Using Us For #9

  • Everything, including this blog, is a kind of “meaningless extra”, Fern. And not.

    Thanks for reading, with or without footnotes.

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