The other week a friend whose birthday it was had an unusual request. He asked us to design a ritual for him to ground into his intention of life for his upcoming year. Using pillows as props, everyone got together to give him the experience of pushing through the pillowy birth canal. Afterwards, aside from how sweet it was to see a grown man through the unconditionally loving eyes as one would see a new born, he shared an insight. He shared that he had to push pretty hard to get through our line of pillows. Being blindfolded, he had no idea when he would get to the end. “Being born is work”, he said. “If you want to get the other side, you really have to want it and to work for it.” Being alive is like that too.
It’s natural to want to skip through the hard parts of life and get to the other side....
We want to be at the end of painful moments looking back, grateful that we learned so much through going through the experience, or just relieved that it is over. Being with illness, an unfulfilling job, a flat or even toxic relationship, or just that existential feeling that there must be something more than this; all of that hurts. It’s painful. If only there were life hacks to skip all the suffering and get to the good part. But in truth the only real hack to get through it, is actually to fully feel it and be in it.
Unfortunately, (or fortunately) the only way out is through. The only way to get to the other side is just to be exactly where we are right now.
To be bold enough to feel it. To be courageous enough to not know what to do or what it all means. To be brave enough to turn and face all that pain, all that hopeless, all that unknown.
In “When Things Fall Apart” Pema Chodron writes: “We can’t just jump over ourselves as if we’re not there. It’s better to take a straight look at our hopes and fears. Then some kind of confidence in our basic sanity arises. This is where renunciation enters the picture. Renunciation of the hope that anything can be different. Renunciation of the hope that we can be better.... The real thing that we renounce is the tenacious hope that we can be saved from being who we are.”
It’s natural to hold on to hope. I think it’s what keeps us moving forward towards what we want in life. And self care in difficult times is so important too. Slowing down, connecting with loved ones, finding what brings us some comfort. But there are times when no amount of self care takes away the pain we experience. Chodron talks about those comforts as babysitters. That we use them to avoid the fundamental uncertainty of life. And if we never embrace what that uncertainty and pain feels like in those difficult moments, then we create a gripping during the challenge that leads to more suffering, and once we are on the other side we will be paralyzed by fear of when a difficult moment will arise again. The experience during the difficult moment has more power because we are fighting it while it is happening. But if we can practice the art of letting go of that tenacious hope that Pema Chodron speaks of, then the suffering during the difficult moments can open up. We suddenly feel a spaciousness, relaxed and at ease. It’s not that we don’t still hurt at our loss or tremble in our fear, but there is some new ease that finds us. We relinquish hope that the bad thing will end and stop fighting what is happening inside.
That’s the hack. You have to feel it to heal it.
Luckily (or unluckily) nothing lasts forever. So there will be an other side. We will get through. What’s on it, we don’t know, but if we can practice opening to what is as we go through it life becomes brighter, we can breathe easier, and everything is just a little more beautiful.
Karen Wolfe, MFT offers depth therapy with practices to deepen your connection to your Self and to others for individuals and couples in the Bay Area and via video conference across California