As I walked out of the hospital, my phone buzzed announcing the death of a patient. I raced back to the unit, jacket still on, messenger bag slung crossways over my body, opened the door to see a dear elderly man with his head in his hands, weeping the loss of his best friend. Stunned family, red-faced, cheeks shining with fresh tears, their fingers stumbled on the phone screens, searching for family phone numbers and the courage to use them. I looked around the room, not even sure why I had come back, and yet there was no doubt in my mind it is what I needed to do; perhaps for them, perhaps for me.
Pain. Whether the loss of a loved one, or the stress of life, we experience pain. The act of acknowledging it says, “I see you.” It is a courageous act. Acknowledging the hurt and staying present to the other’s experience can shine a light on the hurt in our own hearts. No wonder we can be tempted to turn away.
Many of us work in broken systems, live in broken countries and stress pokes at us from all sides. We are asked for more than we can give, we run out of time and energy. Tired, we can’t tend to all the needs. We have losses to grieve. We snap at a co-worker, grumble at the vacuum cleaner. We are late for piano rehearsals, miss T-ball games and procrastinate the walk we have been promising ourselves (for month, maybe years) we’d take. All these things cause us pain and like everyone else, we put off checking in with it (because who wants to feel it?), and instead do something to distract: another glass of wine, donut, TV, computer…all the time thinking how we really should be able to suck it up and do better.
Each and every one of us is doing the best with what we each have. I have to remind myself of this often. During retreat, in group after group, I hear surprised comments, “I thought I was the only one.” We think we are alone in our experience. We judge our pain. “If I was more ____, I’d be able to handle this.” Nope. You are enough and you are not alone, we have each other. As we practice turning toward each other, leaning into the pain our ability to be a supportive community for one another grows by leaps and bounds. Turning toward the discomfort helps us to hold space for one another when life feels like too much. With all that is going on around us in our world, it is easy to feel a sense of powerlessness. We move from surviving to thriving by being together – regardless of what is happening around us.
So this week, when pain shows us, don’t stuff it or judge it (or yourself for experiencing it). Instead acknowledge it. Jewish-Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist Sylvia Boorstein has a delightful phrase to use during times like this, “Sweetheart, you’re in pain. Relax, take a breath.” Find a friend or make a new one. Acknowledge life’s discomfort and tell each other, “Sweetheart, you’re in pain. Relax, take a breath.” Breath together, knowing you are not alone.
Relax, take a breath.