Why We Must Learn to Hold Pain (for the good of our lives, our communities and our planet)

“I don’t have a lot of words, but I have a lot of faith. I know the road feels low and winding, and we seem to need the pain to cut to the core, to emerge from the sleepwalk of despair and feel through the numbness of disconnect and indifference. But if we let ourselves feel this, we will be better for it.”

~Rev. Angel Kyodo Williams

Like every other morning here in Bali, I spent the first 30 minutes of the day in my room meditating, moving and reading. Starting my day slowly, giving myself the opportunity to ‘catch myself’ to become familiar with how I was showing up today before I step into writing mode. 

I finished reading, but this time as I stepped outside and closed the glass door behind me, the glass kept shaking. “Surely I didn’t close the door with that much force,” I thought to myself. It kept shaking, the roof started shaking, bits of straw falling to the ground. Cats and dogs started making their calls, phones ringing in the distance.

At this point I realised, this was an earthquake. Shit! A deep-bellied rumble, vibrating through my body. I could feel an all-mighty force coming through me, all the way from the belly of the Earth. It was unavoidable, unmistakable and deeply reminding. We are not the ones in control here.

So I quickly stepped outside into some open air, away from any structures that could have fallen. Slowly it came to rest, sirens sounding and lots of loud chatter in the surrounding houses.

I immediately, thought to myself, “we cannot hide from the rumble any longer. The pain, the challenge of our time.”

Ignorance seems easier. 

To meet the challenges in our lives and our communities, first requires us to acknowledge them. We must feel them, let them move us toward change.

So how can we hold the challenge and suffering in this time? 

Has being slammed by news items everyday, telling us of the prejudices, the violence, the inequality and the ecological degradation that exists in our world made us more sensitive to the matters of our time, or desensitize from these realities?

It is becoming very clear that to mobilize our communities in the ways we need, we’re going to need more than a newspaper headline, a viral tweet and a passionate conversation with a friend who cares.

We need to care.

We need to be moved, emotionally-driven, from the inside-out. Even if the carrot isn’t quite clear yet, we need to feel the proverbial stick. The carrot will become clearer as we begin moving beyond avoidance altogether.

I avoided my loneliness and my depression for the better-part of my teenage life. It ate away at me like maggots to a house. I’d make myself busier and louder to distract myself from my inner-reality. I’d chase more awards, try and fill the gaping holes I felt on the inside with badges and remarks of “going well thanks, just super busy.” It was simply too overwhelming to face. 

The rumble was most-definitely there, but I’d put my noise-cancelling headphones on and go about my life.

“The most radical thing any of us can do at this time is to be fully present to what is happening in the world.”

– Joanna Macy

Until it bursted and I had no choice but to get to know it head-on. Either I could avoid it some more, allowing it to find more cunning, confronting and oft-timed ways of signaling my attention, or I could feel it. 

From avoidance, to acknowledgment, to acceptance, toward action.

I chose to do that which I’d dreaded for almost 5 years, to come to know myself in this rumble. As I moved from avoidance, to denial, to anger, through patience and practice, arriving at acceptance; I became lighter, connecting myself in a new way. Connecting to what is here, instead of the endless dance to try and avoid it at all costs.

Acceptance doesn’t mean that I’m ok with it being how it is and I’m not going to actively try to mitigate or heal it in some way. Acceptance, means I’m no longer wishing it was some other way, no longer ‘othering’ it. From this place of ‘befriending’ I can then begin the process of healing.

When we deny or repress our pain for the world, or view it as a private pathology, our power to take part in the healing of our world is diminished.

To be honest, I’d say that I’ve only emerged from the other side of this journey in the last 6 months. With it has come a profound sense of empathy and compassion for the collective manifestation of this pain within me. 

As I allow myself to feel the loneliness in my, I feel the loneliness and isolation in the world. As I feel the ways I’ve been shaped or influenced by a culture with certain views on queer-ness, I feel the weight of our cultural inequalities. 

Holding even when it seems all too much.

I don’t have too many answers for this inquiry just yet, but am compelled by the question. What I do know is that by coming to open to the pain and difficulty in our own inner-lives, and learning to hold ourselves with compassion, we will naturally build a compassion and resilience that extends far beyond the confounds of our individual lives.

So a question to you:

How can we let ourselves open to feeling the realities, be present to them and allow them to move us and galvanize us into action? What might this do to healing our own lives and the planet we share? 

I’d love to hear your thoughts, feelings or experiences. How important is it that we come to touch and sense the challenges we face? Leave a comment, or email me at al@aljeffery.com.

Get Free Email Updates!

Join 6,000+ fellow-humans who receive Spaces Between - Al's musings on dis-connection and the philosophy, science and art of re-connecting in our lives, leadership and communities.

Emails sent every 2 weeks. Al respects your time and privacy. You're in control and can unsubscribe at any time.

Also published on Medium.

Subscribe to get Spaces Between - Al's treasured Musings! A thoughtfully-sized, and well-curated dose of science, philosophy, story and art to help you restore meaningful connection in your life, leadership and communities. Every 2 weeks!