“Let everything happen, beauty and terror. No one feeling is final. Keep going.”
Winter is a time to go within. It’s a time for rest and reflection – a time to build our reserves, to reconnect with our internal world. Nowadays we don’t take this time for ourselves – many of us generally assess that life is too “busy”.
My winter started a little earlier this year – it arrived unexpectedly and not by choice unfortunately. I wish I had made the choice to retreat myself.
I’d recently experienced what felt like an act of deep betrayal loss and my response to this was not one of my finest moments. Then on the 7th of April, I experienced a traumatic accident in which I sustained a painful injury to my right hand – and finally, three days later my very dear friend Tisha died.
The physical pain was intense and so familiar as I’d experienced a similar injury to my left hand 15 years ago. The story I was telling myself was not helpful and the self-judgment was loud. The emotional pain felt overwhelming. This is a word I never usually use to describe how I am feeling – and, after connecting with Brené Brown’s work again recently I realised that that was exactly what I was feeling. (“Overwhelm is an extreme level of stress, an emotional and/or cognitive intensity to the point of feeling unable to function.”)
Suddenly I felt like the rug was pulled out from under me. I was on my knees and the only thing I could do was STOP. Stop doing, stop thinking, stop moving, stop everything.
I was unable to do what I normally could and so I was forced to slow down to make space for the healing. This is one of the challenging and beautiful values of suffering. I am aware that this has the potential to evoke an opening of the heart – and, when you’re “in it” and contracted it is difficult to see this.
Rainer Maria Rilke said, “Let everything happen, beauty and terror. No one feeling is final. Keep going.”
Instinctively I knew that I was experiencing post traumatic stress. It’s one of the few times in my life that I could name it. I could observe myself from a different perspective. I knew that it was important to feel everything and to allow my body to lead me – to shake when I felt the tremors, to cry when the tears came, to scream when I felt pain and to growl when I felt angry. I knew it was important to release the trapped emotions and sensations – just like a tiger (or any animal for that matter). I could feel that there were old wounds that needed to heal too.
While I am shaped by my experience of traumatic events, I am not my trauma.
“Every crack from the inside is an opening from the outside.” ~ Mark Nepo
We experience hurt, and it’s instinctual to contract and close up. And, if we stay that way, we block out everything that can heal us, everything that matters. How do we open again and stay expansive when we have been hurt? This is our work. This is the practice.
“What’s in the way is the way. Whatever you are experiencing is a doorway into a more spacious place. So rather than resisting discomfort, you can learn how to open to what you are experiencing and explore it, without any need to have it be any different than what is is.” ~ Mary O’ Malley
Leaning into the pain is essential – but only once I felt safe. Initially I did not. I felt scattered and jumpy – my nervous system was on high alert. Talking about my experience did not help – it kept me entrenched in stress response.
I hadn’t been sleeping or eating well and due to pain meds I really was not feeling well. In fact, I felt completely depleted.
As much as I was doing everything I could to self-regulate through mindfulness practices, movement, being in nature, I knew that I needed to set some boundaries which I had allowed to dissolve, take care of myself, actively practice more self-compassion, be mindful of my language and self-talk and ask for support from just one or two people that I trusted. I knew that co-regulation was necessary. This means I needed so be in the presence of another nervous system – someone I felt “safe” with. No talking necessary.
It was time to go within and to retreat – to become quiet, be still, stop analysing and doing – and to keep returning to the present moment. I am here right now. There is time. There is spacious awareness. I can soften and open again. One day at a time. One thing at a time. I matter too.
As I sit here writing, it is pouring with rain – as it has been for most of the week. I have lit the fire in my studio which I don’t often do because the story I tell myself is that it wastes time. Today I chose to change that story. I have a hot water bottle nestled at my back and a blanket over my knees. I have gloves on my hands and my right middle finger is still wrapped up in a bandage and double in size after 8 weeks. I notice how my right hand still feels icy cold, stiff and achy compared to the left hand. The left hand is warm, soft and supple. This reminds me of the paradox of life. By our very nature we open and close all the time. We contract and expand. We feel whole-hearted and half-hearted. We feel clear and then we feel confused. We feel fearful and then we feel safe. This is the nature of being human. When we shrink and then expand this occurs in our bodies, in our language, in our emotions and in our heart. Our heart keeps opening and then closing, depending on our experiences that have informed our way of being. It’s up to us to stay present and cultivate self-awareness and enlarge our sense of things when we close so that we can stay connected to the fullness of life.
“One of the greatest blocks to loving kindness is our own sense of unworthiness. If we leave ourselves out of the circle of love and compassion, we have misunderstood.” ~ Jack Kornfield
I have learnt that the one thing that continues to support this process is the practice of self-compassion. It’s essential. We must include ourselves in the circle of love and compassion.
We can return to the present moment and be with what is. We are connected. We are all suffering in some way. We deserve self-kindness.