Are you listening?


Today I said sorry to my son. My son is five. He has been coughing continuously for a few days now. He has flu. It's been going round in our house. We've all had it. Then we all had it again. And again. I have been telling my son to stop coughing. I cannot bear to hear him coughing, over and over again. I have been moving to other rooms, trying to escape it. I have asked him to cough less, to cough once and then stop. He looks at me with confusion and sadness in his eyes.

Today I said sorry to my son. I stroked his head tenderly while he coughed and told him that I was wrong to tell him to stop coughing. Daddy is sorry. Daddy loves you. I am sorry that you are poorly and that this is making you cough. It's ok to be ill. You can cough as much as you need to and I will look after you. Daddy made a mistake by telling you to stop. I won't do that again. I'm sorry. I love you.

My woman has been calling me on this for as long as it has been going on. She has continually invited me to look at what is happening under the surface. Why am I reacting so badly to his cough? I have resisted this. I don't want to go there. I don't want to hear the coughing and I don't want to look under the surface. I won't do it.

When that happens I start reaching for what I call, the unintelligent fixes. Junk food. Chocolate. Sugar. Caffeine. I feel an emotion rising. I don’t want to feel it. I eat something instead. Numb out. Self-medicate. I feel nothing. Then I remember these aren’t fixes at all. In fact they’re making me worse.  Draining my energy. Giving me mood swings. Headaches.

Pain pushes until wisdom pulls. Today my body took over in a way that is familiar to me. It brought me pain, as a last ditch attempt to wake me up and get me to listen. I have sharp pain in my ears. Earache. A pulsing, persistent pain. I cannot escape it. It is in my ears all the time. I can't go to another room or tell it to be quiet like I did with my son. It's just there. Drawing me in. Calling me back constantly to myself. This is a pain that I have not felt for 30 years, but that I regularly felt as a young boy. Recurring earache. Unpleasant and painful and persistent. I was looked after back then but ultimately, after the medicine was given and I was tucked up in bed, it was just me and the pain. I had to endure it for as long as it was there. A little boy waiting and writhing and weeping. Yearning for freedom from the pain.

Now it is back with me. There are logical explanations for this. I have had all the coughs and colds this Winter. The infections have been down in my chest and up in my nose and now its found its way into my ears. On one level that's true. Logical. It makes sense.

On another level there is more going on. My life is a constant search for meaning. I shine light into dark and mysterious places. I commit to breaking my heart open again and again. I open to the possibility that there is more going on than I can possibly imagine. Some may dismiss this, and I will continue to ascribe meaning to my life anyway. Opening to intuition, to feeling, to my sense of things being deeper, broader, higher. I seek my soul. Unashamedly.

So hear I am. Back in pain. It comes and it goes. I'm with it now. It arrives in the shape and form of a little blue-eyed boy who is distressed and lonely and fearful. This boy, this inner child, that I often neglect in my day to day life, has been visiting me recently. Through my dreams about swimming and making love and feasting on food. Through my community in the shape of men whose hearts have been broken open with love (thank you Nobleman). Through the reflected emotional pain of my brothers (thank you ManKind Project). Through my son and my other children in their illnesses. Through my hunger to feel grief, which I have manifested in my work by holding and nurturing others while they feel theirs, but not feeling my own deep sadness. It's easier to be with the grief of others and hold that, than it is to be with my own.

On my website it says: "Listen to your body. It's guiding you in every moment." I believe yoga is about integrating and bringing together those scattered parts of ourselves. This work starts with awareness. What is scattered in me? Where am I broken? How am I pulling myself apart? The sense of wellbeing, calm and peace you may feel at the end of my yoga classes comes from this place of awareness and being able to work consciously with it. All the bending, stretching, movement, chanting, breathing, relaxing and other techniques that we use are moving us, step by step, slowly but surely, toward this place of wholeness, of integrity, of togetherness, of peace. Yoga means to yoke, to bring together, to bring you back into relationship with yourself. That's why you might feel the way you do, because I'm guiding you in that direction.

Now I have to guide myself in that direction. Or more accurately my body is guiding me because I haven’t guided myself. It’s leading me with pain. Because sometimes that's the only thing I will listen to. Pain pushes until wisdom pulls. Yes, this pain will pass. Right now it's here. In this moment. An uninvited guest. An unexpected gift of awareness. Another chance to practice what I preach. It's brewing. It's building. I am preparing to go there. I am afraid. I surrender anyway. Very soon, when there is just enough space and time, and a few loving and supportive people around me, I will go there. I will find meaning. I will grow. I will return more whole, less scattered, more integrated. This is what I am referring to when I say on my website: "Blending strength and vulnerability."

Until I surrender to that path of vulnerability to find true strength, there is just pain. My body calling me in. Drawing my attention to where it needs to be. 

I haven’t been listening recently. I’m listening again now.

Ben Parkes1 Comment