Recently, I met up with some repressed pain from a long time ago. (I know. Fun, right?!)
Once I met it and witnessed it, I was able to understand how it works, and I was able to see that many of my choices in life didn’t come from my conscious mind, but actually came from this pain that was inside of me that I couldn’t really see. Holy cow! That was a surprise.
Before that, I would sometimes catch a glimpse of this pain out of the corner of my eye, but then it would be gone again. Like a wild animal that didn’t want to be caught, my pain lurked in the shadows. My fear of my pain made it easy for me not to see it. I was afraid that if I saw it, it might devour me. It might make me give up who I was.
In the end, all I had to give up were my coping mechanisms and my survival strategies.
Once I met my pain, I was able to give up all of the ways that I tried to run from it. Once I met my pain, I didn’t have to spend my life subconsciously trying to make it go away.
We have an infinite number of tactics for trying to make our pain go away. Sure, there are the usual suspects; drugs, food, sex, alcohol, etc. However, there are also things like spiritual practice, energy healing, meditation, yoga, work, care-giving, achievement, hobbies, drama, anger, blame, responsibility, etc. You name it, you can use it distract yourself from your pain. We all do this; it’s human nature.
What we subconsciously use to try and make our pain go away is totally unique for each of us. What we use depends on a variety of factors, like what kind of pain it is, what our resources are and what kind of personality we have.
Before I met this pain, I was living in fear of it. It was dominating many of my choices and my actions without my knowing.
Ironically, this is actually a very painful way to live! While it certainly meant that I did’t have to feel my pain head-on, what it also meant is that I was living with the pain in the background every day of my life, which makes life feel rather crummy. Crummy in a can’t-put-your-finger-on-it kind of way.
I met this pain face-to-face one day when I was triggered by an event.
Whenever we get triggered, we have an opportunity to meet our pain.
How do you know when you are triggered? Well, it takes some self-awareness, unless you get REALLY triggered, and then, hooray! , it’s super-obvious. Basically, we know when we are triggered when something someone else does or says elicits an emotional response from us that isn’t really appropriate for what’s happening in present time. You could call it “over-reacting’, except that I don’t like that term, because there is no such thing as an “over-reaction.” Everyone reacts appropriately based on how they are feeling. It’s just that sometimes, our feelings are not related to what is happening in the present moment. They are related to something painful that happened in the past.
However, until we can see that our trigger is not about what is happening right now, we are stuck. Once we understand that our eruption of anger, blame, sadness or whatever is not really about what is happening in the present moment, we can start to open the door towards healing.
In order to heal, our pain needs to be witnessed.
It’s natural when our pain comes up to want to make it go away. When someone or something triggers us, we reach for something. Maybe we go to yoga. Maybe we have a beer. Maybe we blame someone else for making us feel so badly.
These things might make us feel better temporarily. There’s nothing wrong with feeling better!
However, until we are able to witness the truth of our pain and the truth of where it comes from, nothing can really change.
To witness our pain, we must court our emotions. We must be interested in and able to tolerate our discomfort.
Right now I am working on meeting my pain with something called “unconditional positive regard.”
In Western psychology, this is a term that is used for something that the therapist tries to cultivate for the client and is considered a necessary ingredient for healing. In many spiritual traditions, it is something that the practitioner learns to cultivate towards themselves.
When I can hold my self in my own awareness with unconditional positive regard, something magical happens. Not magic like poof! everything’s better (that doesn’t exist, unfortunately) but magic in that I can suddenly meet my pain. I can witness and offer kindness to the part of me that is wounded. I can allow my pain to have a voice and to tell me it’s story.
This doesn’t make my pain disappear, but it allows me to hold it without needing to fix it or make it go away.
Once we can welcome our pain like this we can work with it skillfully. We can let it have it’s voice in a safe and productive way. Maybe that means when we feel our pain we talk to a friend, or we sit and have a cry, or we go punch a pillow, or we break some dishes. We allow our pain to be what it is and to express itself. The point is that we stay present with it. Then, we fix the pillows or clean up the dishes or thank our friend for listening and we continue on. We make a safe space for our pain, and we hold it with an unconditional positive regard.
I want to mention here that sometimes this can be a very challenging process, and “continuing on” feels like a joke. This is when and where healers of all kinds are very helpful. We all need help holding our pain at certain points. A healer can help you witness your pain and can hold you with unconditional positive regard. They can also help move the energy along, and help you to understand the pain in a bigger context.
The pain might need to express itself again and again, especially if its something that we have locked away for a long time. Eventually, however, the pain becomes less intense. We recognize it sooner when it appears, and it needs less time and space to express itself. Sometimes it just needs a quick hello.
This is how we develop a relationship with our wounded-ness. This is what it means to heal.
I used to think that healing meant that all my pain and neurosis would be gone and that I would be happy and centered all of the time. I took a lot of workshops and yoga classes and went to see a lot of healers trying to attain this.
Our pain doesn’t ever really go away. It can’t, because it’s a part of who we are. However, it can be welcomed and then integrated into our personalities and into our lives. This is an example of why the English word healing is rooted in a Latin word that means “to make whole.“
I am currently practicing being grateful for anyone or anything that triggers my pain, because our triggers are actually sacred doorways into our wholeness. When they appear, we have the opportunity to walk through them and begin to heal. (I should also mention that sometimes we’re just not ready to walk through them, and that’s okay too!).
The cool thing is that once I can recognize and relate to my own pain, I can also better recognize it other people (even when they can’t recognize it in themselves). This allows me to be more compassionate, understanding, and not to take things so personally. This makes me a better teacher, partner, friend and person in the world.
Once we get real about healing and realize that it’s not about making our pain or neurosis go away, we can lighten up and relax into all of who we are. This is when and where we start to access the fruits of our efforts; things like freedom, joy and peace.
Turning towards our pain is not a super-comfortable process. Maybe reading this article was even a little uncomfortable for you. I was a little uncomfortable writing it. Comfort is nice, but the truth is that healing (and life) isn’t always comfortable. My prayer is that I can remember not to sacrifice the real freedom, joy and peace that are available to me on the altar of my comfort.
Turning towards our wounded-ness is turning more fully towards all of who we are, and within that wholeness we meet the grace and light of our own divinity. We open and allow the Universe to heal us, which is what it has been trying to do all along.
I talk to my inner lover, and I say, why such
We sense that there is some sort of spirit that loves
birds and animals and the ants—
perhaps the same one who gave a radiance to you in
your mother’s womb.
Is it logical you would be walking around entirely
The truth is you turned away yourself,
and decided to go into the dark alone.
— Kabir, translated by Robert Bly