Our hearts cannot heal and grow if we avoid the pain in front of us.
When our trauma is staring us down, our choices feel limited. Speaking for myself, walking away from the scene of the crime can feel less like the last resort but the only resort. I will contort my spirit in a manner that allows for the most minimal amount of conflict, in a way that disallows me the opportunity of having to deal with the scar tissue that seems to be ever so present. And that trauma, and the things that trigger us—the job loss, the breakup, the spat—it will sit and set itself up like a stone lodged in our center, taking up space, touching all the fibers inside of us that make the pain numb us, setting our bodies on fire.
In cases like these, running away can feel like the easiest, most logical choice. Our nervous system instinctively wants to protect us from hurt and harm, hence flight or fight (or freeze.) When confronted with the choice of dealing with the pain in front of us, the pain that is sending us reeling into the darkest caverns of our minds and spirits, it can feel like running away makes the most sense for our own safety. However, the reality is different. For so long, we’ve thought that that removing ourselves is the only way out. But, we have a choice. And sometimes that choice—the best choice, really—is to stay.
If we are to grow in any capacity, it is our job to stay with all that ails us—knowing that if we examine it not with a fine-toothed comb but with the gentlest of holds, we can make room for what has arrived as something that is ailing us to pivot into the very thing that begins healing us. Our hurt can swallow us if we let it. But running towards the hurt affords us the ability to see it, to sit with it, to be present for it, in a way that trying to avoid it does not.
By avoiding the conflict we are struggling with, whether the conflict exists with others or within ourselves, we can easily become engulfed by the pain, rather than be buoyed by it. By avoiding being with the things we are attempting to disassociate ourselves from, the gulf between our healing and our suffering widens. Our suffering comes from our clinging to an idea of how we are supposed to heal and feel. How often do we ask ourselves, “Why do I still feel this way?” or “Why haven’t I gotten over X, Y, or Z yet?” Being with our pain allows us to feel the range of emotions present without shame, embarrassment, or fear. We get to transition from a “why?’ rooted in angst into a more present attitude that simply allows us to bear witness to what is here. It's OK for us to say to ourselves, “This hurts right now.” When we do so, we get to be attentive, not combative. We get to be tender, merciful even, with the things that trigger us.
“Being” is far from passive. Being with the hurt at hand is where our journey to freedom can truly begin. By not judging our process—and our healing through the process—we get to play the role of spectators of whatever we are going through (while still being present for it), instead of active participants in a drama we know all too well. We are so accustomed of working our way through things, or rather distracting ourselves, with sex, drugs, or work. When we’re using them as tools to avoid our issues, our joyful habits become roadblocks to truly getting through what we are essentially avoiding.
Let's liberate ourselves from the notion that our only option is to close ourselves off and avoid dealing with our truths, no matter how hard or hurtful they may feel in those moments when they’re staring us in the face.
Let's no longer run away. Today, let's choose to stay.
Joél Leon is a father, dreamer and storyteller. Follow him @joelleon.