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Easing the Journey Through Shadow & Light

  • Dawn

Small Seeds of Hope: Inverted and Everted Pain

Anti-Anxiety Tool of the Week: If You Slip, Get Up.

I'm borrowing a concept from twelve step programs here, where people refer to going back to the addictive behaviors one used to practice as "having a slip." When that happens it is so easy to try to beat yourself back into submission. My response tends towards berating myself for my lack of discipline or common sense, for not doing what I encourage others to do, for generally being a terrible, or at least very insufficient, human being.

But guess what? That oppressive self-judgment tends to keep me sprawled down there on the floor where I landed when I slipped. And then I feel even worse. So I tend to beat up on myself more, then slip (dare I say wallow?) around even more.

The word from people who know all too well about slips? if you slip, get up. A slip is just a slip. It's not the end of the world. It doesn't mean I am the worst or least together person on the planet. It just means I need to offer myself a little kindness, then get up and try again.

Inverted and Everted Pain

I usually try to stay away from politics in this blog, but given last week's eruption of violence in Washington, DC., I feel I have to say something, a little more than I said in my brief addendum to last Wednesday's entry (posted on the following day).

We are each strange, unique, even confusing conglomerations of nurture and nature, of genes, family life, culture, education, experiences and will. We might even be influenced by previous lives or experience in other planes of existence as well. The point is, we're all different, all make different decisions, are all affected by all sorts of undercurrents, plus who knows what else. Given all that, it's hard to ultimately know why any individual does what they do--from Donald Trump to myself.

Some of us come in to this life more sensitive than others, with thinner skin--literally or figuratively. I count myself one of those. So while my early experience of life was nothing like that of the man who will be leaving the White House soon, we both had too many painful challenges when we were young.

Mine lead to an overbalance of self-doubt, fear and anxiety, expressed in what you might call "inverted pain"--aimed mostly towards myself. Of course I have hurt others, of course my foibles and wounds and weaknesses cause problems for others sometimes. But for the most part, I think, my pain has been turned inward, and has tended to act as a ball and chain in my life.

Our current president, who was elected to both serve and protect all Americans, has what I think of as "everted pain," which is expressed outwardly in resentment, in anger, in accusations, in prejudice.

I'm sorry he is in such pain. It is not a fun place to be. But with great power comes great responsibility. And if that power is abused, if the expression of that everted pain incites people to violence, and implies top-level approval for people to participate in those destructive modes of anger and hate in ways that injure others, in ways that attempt to take bites out of the underlying structure of our democracy, it is no longer just an expression of pain. It becomes a personal, national, and even international moment of truth.

I have realized a few things over the last few days: first, that Mr. Trump's pain and my own are similar, even though we experience them at different intensities, and view and express them differently. My pain--although usually inverted and without anywhere near the president's sphere of influence--is still toxic. Because it is out of balance. Because it keeps me from being who I was meant to be, and serving as I was designed to serve. Because it can trip up or cause pain to people around me. Because, basically, it hurts me and others.

I have tended to view my struggles with inverted pain as purely personal. But now I can begin to see there are reasons to heal, beyond myself and the people immediately around me. I begin to understand that my struggles are a small part of the overall struggle to bring more balance, kindness, honesty, and compassion into the world. One of Thich Nhat Hanh's messages of hope is that inner and outer transformation can move down the path together. Thank God.

This may be obvious to the rest of you, but I don't think I understood it very well before, at least not in my deeper, quieter places.

It feels, more than ever, that we are all connected. That we cannot touch the web in one place without it affecting everything else. So it is imperative that we seek to balance fear, hatred and prejudice with maturity, love and commitment to higher principles, in both our personal and public lives. Therefore I need more of me to be more whole, so I don't add to the downward spirals of "othering," of fear and hatred and violence.

So, strange though it seems to me, Trump's thrashing around in his pain has brought about at least one small positive thing. It's got me wondering if maybe, in some unfathomable way, the healing of my inverted pain can help mend a tiny bit of damage from the destructive effects of everted pain. So I am going to do my damnedest to continue healing, in hope that that is true.

Until next time,


Photo credits

Banana peel, Louis Hansel, unSplash

Children, Conner Baker, unSplash

Two girls, Ben White, unSplash


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