Emotional pain is a bit of a conundrum to me. When I think I have figured life out, I am almost shocked to discover that maybe I have not. It is especially egregious if I have done almost everything right, according to my standards, and life takes a tough turn.
I want to be happy all the time. My world feels nice and I like feeling nice. Perhaps I have a sense of entitlement.
Some of us carry an emotional pain so heavy that we lose weight, are unable to laugh for months and can hardly wait for sleep to come. Emotional pain is not fair and can be incredibly difficult and mean spirited and soul-smashing.
Is emotional pain supposed to teach us some big lesson in life? Are we supposed to bow down to some unforeseen force and say… what? “I am sorry” or “ I don’t deserve this”, or “ Fuck you”?
I have processed enough emotional pain in my life and I think I have paid my dues. And yet sometimes I fear that I am not yet done. One thing I do know is that softening emotional pain is a learned skill, one that I will share with you later, but first, a story.
I told my friend the other day that I was not afraid of emotional pain. I lied.
She is a long time friend, and spiritual collaborator. It took a nano second for us to be immersed in a deep connection from the very start. This day, we were on a ride back to the city from the airport. My friend had just returned from the coast to visit her adult sons, one of them critically ill. Although she was not able to give words to her story, we both knew it would unfold, as it should. This brief interchange on a painful topic about our children triggered a memory.
After an emergency caesarean section I was barely awake as I lay on the table. I felt a presence behind me. The doctor cupped his hands on both sides of my head, leaned forward, and whispered these words into my ear: “ We are not going to give you a baby to take home today”. And then he said something like, “He is a beautiful baby, nicely formed. He didn’t make it.”
I was running away when I lied to my friend. Running from pain never works. Sooner or later the pain resurfaces in some form or other; anger, unexplained sadness, anxiety, depression, addictions… This is no way to live. I remind myself that every “dark night of the soul” I have come through, has changed me for the better: to be softer, kinder, more present.
Some words from Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, about healing emotional pain:
If you feel irritation or depression or despair, recognize their presence and practice this mantra: “Dear one, I am here for you.” You should talk to your depression or your anger just as you would a child. You embrace it tenderly with the energy of mindfulness and say, “Dear one, I know you are there and I am going to take care of you ,” just as you would a small crying baby. (You Are Here, Boston:Shambhala Publications Inc. 2001, 4-5)
Learn more about Thich Nhat Hanh at http://plumvillage.org/about/thich-nhat-hanh/biography/
Photo credit: Copyright: <a href=’http://www.123rf.com/profile_jiravan’>jiravan / 123RF Stock Photo</a>