It was August 17th, 1977 at the end of an uneventful day. But at 6pm my heart was pumping hard. I had no idea why.
A wave of panic surged through my veins and froze my heart. My body was on full alarm. I felt a strong urge to tell someone that something important was happening, but what would I tell them?
I walked downstairs to the kitchen. No one was around, but the radio was broadcasting the news. Elvis Presley had died.
In that instant the cocktail of emotions racing through my body melted into a wave of grief. Minutes later I felt as though I’d been washed up on a beach. Although drenched by my experience I rested in a state of awe and bliss.
The strange thing was I’d hadn’t been much of a follower of Elvis. I was aware of his popularity and huge influence on global music culture, but I wasn’t a fan.
However, his death had a profound impact on my life.A window in consciousness had opened up.
At the same time that shock pummeled me on the inside, and grief turned into bliss, I felt that the intensity of emotion running through me was not personal.
Years later, when I studied the Buddhist teaching of detachment, I realized that on that day I’d connected energetically with the wave of shock, sadness and grief that flowed around the world as the news broke of Elvis’ death broke into consciousness.
Although I’d sensed the tidal wave of global emotion, I didn’t identify with any of the feelings that ran through me, or try to analyze or get rid of them. This meant that the intense physical and emotional experience left no residue in me.
Instead, my heart was opened and cleansed by the experience. I was left feeling a vast love for the pain of humanity.
It could have been very different.
Waves of strong emotion can overwhelm, leaving us feeling helpless, distraught and exhausted.
Sometimes the trigger for strong emotion is an internal one; an idea, thought or memory that disturbs us. At other times the trigger is an external one; a response to a local or global event.
Feelings of overwhelm, helplessness and exhaustion happen when there’s conscious or unconscious resistance to what’s arising, or when there’s an attempt to fix or get rid of feelings.
It takes energy to resist emotional or physical pain. And if you move into action to to fix what you think needs fixing before you’ve resolved what you’re feeling it’s like trying to move forward in a car with the handbrake on. You’ll soon feel weary and believe you have nothing more to give.
Emotions call us to ‘be with’ ourselves at deeper levels of being.
The remedy for overwhelm and helplessness is to join your heart with the vast heart of humanity.
The practice for this is to ‘be with’ pain and upset. To meet what’s troubling you with an attitude of inner friendliness. Repeat and return to this practice. Each time you do you prime your heart like a pump.
Love and compassion then flow like fresh warm currents which melt resistance and turn turbulent emotions turn into balm.
The heart of life has room for everything.
On the day that Elvis died I discovered that when our heart opens to what’s troubling us we open our heart to the whole.
The next time you feel overwhelmed or helpless, or tempted to withdraw from the pain of life, call upon the larger heart of life.
Then your heart can direct your gifts and actions from a place of love, power and peace.
This is how we’ll transform and dissolve pain and suffering in our world.