Is it possible to experience pain without suffering? As a person who has lived chronic illness for 23 years, and the last 11 of those with chronic pain, yes it is. Case in point: when my Fibromyalgia pain was at its most awful worst, awash with both pleasure and pain chemicals, I fell head over heels in love. Looking back, it seems miraculous because I know now that pain can be the worst form of terrorist who holds your body, soul, life hostage, at gunpoint. Yet it doesn’t have to. Pain –of any form, psychological, mental, spiritual, heart- can exist without suffering. Pain can be “what is”. We can be present to pain without loading it up with despair, hopelessness, alienation, fear, terror, separation. It’s even possible to feel grief, loss, sadness and loneliness without suffering.
I’m learning this the hard way. I’m in the middle of my Neptune square (it happens for all of us, during ages 40-42): a time when life can lose it’s magic, when it’s easy to lose your way. Watery Neptune brings in the mist-ical and mystical; its transits are characterized by feelings, feelings of fogginess, and emotions that are mythic in proportion but feel very personal. Somewhere in the fog I began emotionally identifying with the pain, and learned: ouch, that’s how pain turns into suffering.
Chronic (chiron-ic) pain is a reality of life, and for some (especially those with Chiron strongly featured in their birth chart), pain is a larger reality and lifelong teacher. At the time of this writing, Chiron is station-retrograde in the sky, turning up the volume on Chiron themes for all of us. No one is immune from the slings and arrows of life’s misfortunes, they are indeed a part of life, and no one teaches this better than Chiron.
The Mythical Chiron
Chiron, the half-man and half-beast King of Centaurs, was a teacher and healer who was accidentally wounded by an arrow in the crossfire of a squabble between heroic Herakles and the Centaurs. His painful wound wouldn’t heal, so in desperation he begged Zeus to be made mortal so that he could die. Chironian wounds feel, and are, unfair. We’ve suffered an injustice at the hands of others, of a society at large, unconscious and reckless in the wreckage it has wrought. Liz Greene in Wounding and the Will to Live writes, “Chiron is an image of that in us which has been wounded unfairly by life, and by inescapable conditions which reflect failings and flaws in a collective psyche which is unfailingly clumsy in its efforts to progress.”
The nature of Chiron’s wound tells us that life is not fair. Chironian wounds present us with the problem of coming to terms with our mortality and its limits. Chiron begged to be made mortal so that his pain would end (he was). People with any form of chronic pain eventually become familiar with this motif; sometimes it hurts so much that we want to die. This is different from the burning pain of Pluto, with its urge to eliminate, transform, purge, cast-off and heal what is energetically dead in order to more fully live. Chiron is the existential experience of an immortal soul bound to a painful human existence.
Some people experience pain, injustice and hardship that marks them for life, altering them forever. Life is not fair. Yet the more we rail against this fact, the more we shake our fist in outrage or hole up in a place of separation from all of life, the more we suffer. We may feel, with Chiron: victim, resignation, bitterness, fury, rage, self-pity, cynicism. These feelings are typical and even appropriate for chiron-ic pain. But there’s a difference between experiencing these feelings and wearing the whole dramatic costume as an identity. Chiron is aligned with the sign Sagittarius and its quest for meaning, but as Liz Greene says, when we’re living in the “wounded animal” part of the Chiron motif, it’s hard to be philosophical and find higher ground.
Separation From The Divine and Chiron in Pisces
Chiron’s current transit through Pisces presents the conundrum of feeling our painful alienation as separation from Source/the Divine. We feel our separation from life, from God, from the Creator with Chiron, and that’s where trouble walks in the back door. Who said, God must’ve forgotten me because I’m sick/alone/hurt/experiencing hardship? Or, as I often see with clients looking for love: Who said because we’re not married by age 28, 35 or 60 for that matter, that it will never happen for me? Chiron is aligned with the negative stories we tell our self, about our self, that our life is particularly unfair, that other people’s lives are better, stories that perpetuate our own suffering.
The feeling like we’ve been forgotten by God, Life… that we are the small grain of sand on an endless beach, cut off from the world… denied connection, communion, ecstasy, Divine Love, this is the Chiron in Pisces illusion. It’s a dangerous one if we choose to believe it. What happens to people who are in pain, believe they have been forgotten? They fragment. They fall apart. People go crazy, mad. That’s the dark side of Chiron in Pisces. Since we are spiritual beings having a human experience, using our pain to reinforce our separation, runs counter to our natural, intuitive state. The psyche cannot hold this misinformation, it is too devastating. Imagine telling a child in pain that he/she is really alone and forgotten. We do not need to be doing this to our self now (or ever).
In reality, we are no more separated from life than apparently happy, healthy people (often more wounded than we know). Through our pain, Chiron gives us the opportunity to hold this much larger perspective; that life isn’t supposed to be fair and painless, and that we are are in this together. Even if the pain won’t go away and is truly around to stay, we can learn to hold the space for pain in our self, and others, by dropping the experience of suffering we create around the pain.The same feelings of separation and alienation that can drive us inward, fold us into our self, can take us to a place in our self where we are able to spiritually, if not actually, connect with our precious mortality, and with others who are also in pain over their human condition.
Pain Without Suffering
No matter my physical pain, my psychological pain is always at it’s worst when I’ve felt forgotten, alienated, separated and alone. Yet when I am in pain and consciously attempt to connect with the Love that is all of Creation – be it through cat videos, cuddling with my puppy or meditating on all the people in the world who are in pain at this moment – I don’t suffer my pain.We can experience the pain of the human condition without suffering, but only if we stay connected to Presence.
Neptune/Pisces specializes in illusions, loss of perspective, distortions. I, like many people out there right now, have been afraid “that it (name your pain) will always be this way…” But when strong emotion comes, I recognize I am in danger of losing all sense of proportion, and since trying to stop an emotion is like trying to stop a massive wave, the only appropriate response is to surrender, accept and witness. I try not to feed it with thoughts, and if thoughts happen, I try and watch them fall, like leaves.
It takes practice to hold your pain without suffering, to accept and surrender while vigilantly guarding your Spirit from being irrevocably damaged. One of my mantras to pain is: you may’ve taken part of my body, but you cannot have my Spirit, Soul, Mind and Heart. It takes that kind of dedication sometimes. Pain can be deepening; by being forced to attempt to heal and free your self from the consequences foisted upon you, and others, by the carelessness of humankind, you see things differently. If you can see your wound as a reflection of a much larger problem, you can step outside the problem and become part of the answer.
Chiron, like every archetype in life, is neither good nor bad but a human experience. If it is strongly placed in your chart, it holds a piece of your spiritual evolution, an opportunity to experience yourself and to grow. That in and of itself is inherently meaningful, potentially rich. Again we can choose to be present to the pain without feeding it with emotion or allowing it to consume our identity. As Liz Greene creatively and brilliantly suggests, we can choose to nurture our aliveness over the loss of our will to live by feeding our Sun sign and house placement. “(Our) Sun has the power to affirm the individual’s specialness and lovability, and this alone can counteract the poison of self-pity. The house and sign in which the Sun is placed at birth reflect what we need to become, if we wish to feel truly alive.” Just as Chiron was wounded by the solar hero Herakles, we need to contact the hero or heroine within our self, our Sun, and decide to put our focus on meaningfully developing that story. In another solar reference: Chiron is often portrayed with a child, some say the “Divine Child”, on his back, appearing to tenderly instruct the infant. Chiron can remind us to stay in life, to remember to live life, laugh, play.
We all have a Chiron, we all have an unfair pain in life. This slogan, apparently attributed to no one in particular, may as well have been taken from the back of a cereal box, reflects this Chiron truth: pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. How we decide to live our life, whether we choose to allow our character to be forged, deepened and developed by the pain we experience, or buckle under it, choosing to believe that life should be a different way than it actually is, is optional, too.
images: by Odilon Redon (painting, sketch)