I have a cold.
It's a mild one, but I'm still going through mounds of tissues, am more tired and cranky than usual, and am generally not at my best. I'm ready for this cold to be over already.
My to-do list is much too long with writing to do, soap to make, jewelry to create, branding and packing questions to resolve, homework to do, and all of the usual errands, yard work, and house work to keep up to have time to mess with a cold.
I know from previous experience, however, that the best way to get over a cold is to slow down and give my body the rest, fluids, and nourishment it needs to recover. In fact, I've often prolonged or worsened illnesses by refusing to tend to my body's needs.
Despite the wonders of modern over-the-counter medicines in treating the symptoms (which make my work day possible!), there's still a need to go through the discomfort of the cold—along with the rest and extra care required—to return to full health.
This is not unlike the path to healing during those times when our hearts or broken or lives have fallen apart.
The only way out is through
When I've been in the midst of times where my life has fallen apart, the last thing I want to do is slow down and experience the pain. In fact, I feel even more driven than usual to be busy with trying to prevent further collapse of my life as I've known it, while simultaneously trying to rebuild new structures to replace those lost!
Sitting with pain is never my idea of fun, but I'm even less inclined to do this when there's so much else to be done to keep the crisis from expanding. At least, that's what I tell myself.
The truth is that my frantic busyness in those times is often tinged with a desperation that clouds my thinking and judgment to the point where I'm more likely to make things worse instead of better with my doing. I'm really just using the busyness as a way to avoid the pain.
The problem with this approach is that the pain doesn't go away. I may ignore it and avoid feeling it for the moment, but until I've truly faced it, it stays with me, carried around in my subconscious and in my body.
The only way to release it is to face it and feel it.
Women tend to especially hold pain in their hips, and as a yoga teacher, it's not unusual for me to see women experience a release of old emotional pain as they are doing hip openers. While the moment often brings tears and weeping as the pain is experienced, there is a greater lightness and healing experienced afterward as the old emotions are released.
The only way out of the pain is moving through it. This experiencing of it is how we heal.
What it is not
We have a cultural distrust of the idea of allowing ourselves to experience and express emotional pain, and this keeps many of us stuck through our own self-censoring or the censoring of others who are uncomfortable with our feelings.
So let's take a look at three common misunderstandings about what it means to experience and express our pain to better see how this is different.
Moving through is not wallowing
Those who allow themselves to feel and express their pain are often accused of wallowing in it by those who want us to get over it faster (usually for their own comfort). There is a difference, though, between moving through the pain and wallowing in it.
Moving through it means that we are feeling the pain and releasing it, as we are able. This is often accompanied by a slow releasing of the story we have created about the pain at the same time. It's a slow movement toward greater healing with each release of the built up pain.
Wallowing is feeling the pain and holding onto it. When we get stuck in wallowing, it's often a re-playing of old stories again and again with the same reactions that traps us.
From the outside (and sometimes from the inside), these can be hard to distinguish on the surface sometimes. The key is in paying attention to whether there are signs of gradual healing and release or whether it is a refusal to move on from the injury.
Moving through is not self-pity
There may, of course, be moments when we feel self-pity as we allow ourselves to experience our pain, but it is not self-pity by definition to feel what we feel, even though we may be told that it is.
Moving through the pain means that we feel whatever comes up, which will sometimes be pain, sometimes be anger, sometimes be resentment, sometimes be self-pity, sometimes be grief, sometimes be disbelief, and so on.
Self-pity becomes a problem when we get stuck in just that one feeling because it's often a way of using the story about how badly we've been treated by life to keep us from having to face all of the emotions that are arising about the situation.
Ultimately, self-pity is a story we buy into about the situation. Our actual emotions are just something to be felt and released, without any need for a story about them at all.
Moving through is not weakness
Our culture tends to glorify the stiff upper lip and the ability to keep moving stoically through any disaster. Because of this cultural bias, expressing emotions is often seen as weakness.
The suppression of our emotions inside of us, however, prevents us from being able to work them and release them. We keep carrying these painful emotions around inside our system long after the events that sparked them.
It takes courage to face these unpleasant emotions head-on and allow them to move through us so that we can release them. It takes even greater courage to do that in a culture that disapproves and doesn't know how to respond helpfully.
Expressing your emotions is not a weakness.
What it is
Moving through something is moving toward healing.
It is experiencing and releasing our emotions, no matter how unpleasant they may be.
It is identifying, evaluating, and revising our stories and beliefs about ourselves and situation as we need to.
It is finding others who can help us move through this process toward greater healing.
The only path to healing is moving through that which afflicts us—whether it's as mild as a cold or as intense as a life which was collapsed around our ears.
What in your life needs moving through in order to be healed? What do you need to do today to move through it instead of avoiding it?
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