It’s your first instinct and a very normal one, whenever life offers up a bump or bruise, or a mac truck that just hit you. Run.
I’m not talking about physically of course, rather, I’m talking about how things unfold in your mind. One of the hardest things to do is to stay. Simply stay, with discomfort, with unpleasantness. What do we do when a loved one is sick? Or divorce is impending? What do we do with the awful feelings a memory or someone brings up in us? These are not the places we want to go in our heads. It’s too much. We find distraction in many things – food, drugs, digital distraction, etcetera. Fear is normal, and is to be embraced. But what if staying with our unpleasantness is the very thing that gets us through it. What if the power, the resilience to persevere came from feeling the heat of the pain. Perhaps the very thing we are running from has the power to cleanse us.
A practice that I have taken up recently, is that of simply observing. Lately life has thought it very well and good to throw all sorts of challenges my way. One after the other, after the other, and then one more to prove some cosmic point I have yet to make sense of. To the point where I simply say (well, scream sometimes) “Can I get a f@#$ing break?!”. I’m lucky enough to not fall into the “why me” trap, and I totally understand why people do. But I just want some breathing room, some space to process it all. That is where I learn to observe versus engage.
What does that mean? Think of it this way. The unpleasantness, the discomfort is a raging fire. There is nothing you can do to put it out. If you touch it, you burn. If you run from it, it still rages. So what options are left? Observing. Stand close enough to feel the heat, but not engage. Standing too far away is the same as ignoring. Getting too close is the same as engaging, or getting “wrapped up” in very hard emotions (which, is sometimes necessary). So, stand close enough to feel the heat, the discomfort, but far enough away to remain unburned. Know that this experience, however uncomfortable, is happening not only to you but with you. See it as a companion with something to offer. There is so much learning and opportunity in discomfort. Leave a place inside untouched to simply observe. Say: this is how anger feels. Or: this is how grief feels. Or: this is how fear feels. Or: this really f@#$ing hurts and I hate it. Let whatever bodily reactions happen, and simply breathe through them. Observe how they rise up in your body. You will then observe how they fall away. No emotion lasts forever. Give every emotion at least 90 seconds to stay if you can.
By doing this you allow yourself the space to process, which is to say to get to the next level of the experience. Hard experiences, particularly deeply traumatizing ones have many layers and levels of understanding. At one point in your life, you understand something one way, at another you learn something new from the same experience. The hardship hasn’t changed, but your understanding of it has.
I don’t pretend this is an easy undertaking. There are many complex emotions and twists. But sitting with the heat, and not getting burned, can be a powerful way to regain control. It is the difference between being reactive and giving yourself space to simply notice. Running is a reaction. Distraction is a reaction. A good protective one, but not one that is going to get you to the next level of a difficult experience. Not one that has anything to offer you except spinning in the same circle of thought.
At its core, every challenging experience essentially holds power for you. Power comes from pain. Your pain is your teacher.
Your pain, has the power to become your gift.
With all my love and gratitude,