Life hurts…there is no avoiding it – Institute for Zen Leadership
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Life hurts…there is no avoiding it

Here Andy Robins reminds us that pain is a part of life. The Zen Leader reminds us that the first step is to transform the energy. – January 2020

Content Warning: This story explores Andy’s response to the death of a child.

Life Hurts…there is no avoiding it
Early in my young adult life, I had been through what might be considered by many as a very dark period, and that was the death of my daughter Chloe Anna. People often believe darkness to be associated with mortality. For me though, her death never brought about a feeling of despair. Instead it filled me with an immensely deep sadness.

It was mid-December, there was a chill in the air, and I was putting up the Christmas tree in anticipation of Chloe’s first Christmas when the phone rang. It was the local hospital. My wife and daughter were at the hospital and could I come immediately? Even writing this my body stirs with emotion, the hairs stand up on my arms, a chill flows across my skin, and my eyes fill with tears. My hands begin to shake on the keyboard. I rushed in panic to the hospital, having no recollection of how I got there. I was met by my wife and a nurse. I instinctively knew what I was about to be told, a voice inside is shouting “No, no, don’t say those words!” “Chloe has died.” At first disbelief, I am still trying hard not to accept it, “Are you sure?” I ask, a stupid question, but I must ask it. “Yes, she died two hours ago.”

I can feel myself retreating, collapsing into my stomach. Instant exhaustion, wanting to vomit. Please wake me up, get me out of this dream! But the dream refuses to dissolve, the film keeps running. I am taken behind a curtain; the nurse is asking me if I would like to hold Chloe in my arms. Of course! I want to see her, I want to keep her, she’s my daughter. I pick her up, and there she is laying in my arms. The same beautiful little girl I had said goodbye to hours earlier, the little girl I had expected to come home and see the Christmas tree. Yet for some unknown reason, the life has been sucked from her, she is lifeless. The pain in my heart is excruciating. It hurts so much! I have never experienced so much sadness in one moment, stripping me of my breath, emptying my mind, debilitating, depleting and draining.

The pain didn’t ease quickly, it hurt too much. But what the pain did was teach me that life is no more predictable than the weather. Like it or not, life is constant, uncontrollable change. Within that change death is final. For those of us left behind there is no going back, there is no recovering the situation, and this strangely brought inner peace. At first, this inner peace surprised and shocked me. Still, after time I realized, I was brought to my acceptance of Chloe’s death through an intrinsic understanding of life and death that I had obtained during childhood. I was raised in a rural environment, working on the farm, caring for animals. Life and death is an everyday occurrence. You live with both the beauty and the brutality of nature. I would lay in bed and listen to a cow bellowing night and day at the loss of her calf, her pain slowly diminishing with exhaustion as life teaches there is no return. 

The Zen Leader knows that moving to accept our situation is the first light of transformative energy, however big or much our loss hurts. It doesn’t mean we like what we’re dealing with, it means we don’t become stuck, in our grief or suffering, enabling us to open up new possibilities. 

We all have moments of pain and suffering in our lives. How do we learn to accept that pain and not let it take control of our lives?

Chapter 4 of The Zen Leader offers get insight and quick practices.

Read chapter 4 of The Zen Leader

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