You may wish that you could “walk away” from the uncomfortable emotions or the emotional pain of your life- the shame of a relationship ended badly, the fear of failure, anger of abandonment, the emptiness and grief in the loss of someone you love.
Your wishful thinking might derail into judgment about your life, or those who have “hurt” you, or about the unfairness of it all.
There may be days when life feels too hard to take another step forward. Will it just be more of the same? Will it always be this hard?
And yet you keep walking.
If you’ve spent time on a coast, you know what it’s like to walk on the fresh-cement firmness of a shore, waves pounding your toes. If you’re lucky, your feet are bare and you get to see every toe doing its job to move you forward as you imprint your way to your future and from the past, and where you may have stopped to view the boundless ocean. As you look back, you can tell which are your feet, or those belonging to a cavorting dog or a child running toward the waves.
It amazes me still that when I turn to walk back along the water’s edge- my footsteps are gone. As if neither I nor my toes had been there.
So many days I have wished that some of my life’s uncomfortable emotions and tragedies could be erased so easily.
What if I were to tell you that when I was a child, my mother was severely manic and I never knew what would unfold on any given day? She routinely hit my sisters and me with a hairbrush so we’d be still and she could put fanciful bows in our hair. We’d arrive at church dressed in beautiful lacy clothes, but our arms would be stinging from the blows and faces stained with angry tears.
What if I were to tell you that I hid in the dirty clothes hamper to drown out her rage, covering my ears with dirty socks so I wouldn’t hear her yelling? I remember going to school in the car, she swatting us with her hand in the back seat, swearing she wished we’d never been born.
What if I were to tell you that in junior high I broke my arm after school, and my favorite teacher tried to reach my mother who never came? The teacher took me home and found my mother, who doubted my calamity and took a shower instead. Later my dad took me to the hospital where we learned my elbow had broken off.
What if were to tell you that when I was 18, I told my mother I’d tried to commit suicide, she scoffed and told me not to be silly?
I spent years trying to avoid the emotional pain- numbing, hiding, running from it. Only when I stopped to look at my footsteps before the waves erased them, did I come to understand that all of life’s footsteps have purpose that may not be easily revealed. A poem by the 20th century Bohemian-Austrian poet Rilke adorns a magnet on my fridge to this day,
“…I beg you…to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without ever noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
I pretended for years to be learning a foreign language as I learned the names of the painful emotions I felt, tried to understand the mental disease that had occupied my mother’s mind and later my own. I learned to ask questions of others’ whose lives had been more severely pained than mine, and to listen for how their hearts healed.
It was 28 years later, after my first attempt, that I finally abandoned suicide as a viable option to end the pain. I learned to be with my discomfort, so that I could live my way into the answer.
Learning to be with your uncomfortable emotions allows your heart to open and create space- to figure it out, to develop self-compassion and empathy for wherever your path takes you.
You must learn to stop running from yourself.
Riso & Hudson, in the Wisdom of the Enneagram, note that when you see yourself as who you really are- your truth and your falseness- you begin to unlearn the abandoning habits of illusion, reaction and defensiveness.
Your habits of escapism- alcohol or drugs, excessive work, binge eating or exercising, channel surfing, compulsive shopping or Facebook stalking – may provide transient comfort and relief from the pain and negativity of your brain stuck in its unconscious mechanisms of personality. But it doesn’t make the pain go away.
You may also seek solace in the promise of spirituality- through meditation, prayer or other spiritual traditions. That too can have the illusory purpose of creating a “comforting” safe zone, an escape from your accumulated psychic junk.
Pema Chodron, notable Buddhist author and teacher, writes about the “in-between” state of being a spiritual warrior. Chodron teaches us that comfort is fleeting, momentary, in either the pleasure-seeking modes of our materialist culture or the enlightenment-seeking ways of spiritual wanna-be’s. She notes that,
“anxiety, heartbreak, and tenderness mark the in-between state. It’s the kind of place we usually want to avoid. The challenge is to stay in the middle rather than buy into struggle and complaint… to let it soften us rather than make us more rigid and afraid… when we are brave enough to stay in the middle, compassion arises spontaneously. By not knowing, not hoping to know, and not acting like we know what’s happening, we begin to access our inner strength.”
The key to unlocking your emotional pain is to accept whatever exists right now, whatever arises within you, no matter how uncomfortable or painful.
You learn to reconnect with a fuller sense of yourself and the world around you. “When we are willing to be with the whole truth, whatever it is, we have more inner resources available to deal with whatever we are facing.” (Riso & Hudson)
But you can only do this by creating space to allow the truth to emerge- to liberate yourself from the illusions of your earthly personality.
Cultivate a quiet mind and a “not knowing” attitude. It will allow you to create space in your body and brain for new impressions of the world around you.
You’ll start to combat your “monkey brain” mind that is full of opinions and thoughts and judgments about your life’s events. You’ll learn that the vulnerability of “not knowing” opens the door to freedom from your limiting beliefs. And a quiet mind allows you to be present to your body and its natural sensory experiences of the world, in a way that you’ve forgotten in your cluttered life.
Centering exercises or mindful pause exercises , emotional awareness meditation and even long walks in nature are great ways to learn to cultivate a quiet and open receptivity to the world.
What if I were to tell you that now I am truly grateful for my childhood? When I quieted my mind and unearthed that the long string of white lies of my childhood kept me from knowing what truth was, I was forced to learn how to ask the questions to find it. In “not knowing”, in the vulnerability of my emotional pain, I found the gift of freedom.
While facing the truth of your emotions seems counterintuitive, with practice you’ll learn that the truth behind your uncomfortable emotions is far less damaging than the habits you’ve used to cover them up.
Learn to liberate yourself from the cravings of your personality, and interact with your life from moment to moment. Work with me in Integral Life Coaching to find an unshakable inner peace that will allow you to experience the world with a greater clarity and new perspective, leaving behind your uncomfortable emotions.
What if you were to tell your stories- what emotions keep you preoccupied with your past and prevent you from seeing your life in new ways? Leave me a comment below and share the emotions to which you have a hard time being present and how you deal with it. Or Contact me if you’d like a free consult to learn how to move past your footsteps and into the open waters of your future.
Holly Woods, Ph.D. uses Integral Coaching and Somatic Experiencing to help adults who are weighed down by stress or trauma, and who want to be free of the overwhelm so they can find a life full of joy and purpose. Sign up on the Right or Click Here to receive a Free Report and to receive my weekly newsletter. Please forward to a friend if you liked this post!
Holly, what a beautiful show of self, vulnerability, and your true dedication to healing — yourself, as well as being VERY qualified to guide and assists others on their road to self healing.
Thank you for sharing your story, your wisdom, and your compassion. Love, Leslie
Thank you Leslie. It helps to be open to learn from your past- what gifts do they bring us that teach us new truths about who we are and why we’re here.