The moment before the moment
"Pain is actually not a hot potato. It's a travelling professor and it knocks on everybody's door. The wisest ones say, "Come in and sit down, don't leave until you've taught me what I need to know." We don't need friends who can fix our pain, we need friends who are brave enough to be still with pain, to let us have it. Friendship is just two people not being God together." - Glennon Doyle.
Listening to her voice on a podcast while I cooked dinner earlier this evening got me thinking. Pain really has been a portal to empowerment for me.
A few years ago I noticed a pattern in the way that I talked to myself. Anytime I felt overwhelmed, intimidated, unsure, or even if I was just down in the dumps, a variation of this inner monologue would always come up, "Just push through it. Suck it up. Keep going. You're fine. Don't make such a big deal out of this." I lived my life this way for many years. And truth be told, it was an effective approach a lot of the time. Until it wasn't.
I live in the Canadian Rockies and about 6 years ago I finally hiked my first big mountain, Cascade. With an elevation gain of well over a thousand metres, the trail winds its way through some fairly exposed terrain for a newbie like me. We had reached a point on the trail, about twenty minutes from the summit, where I began to feel sick. The exposed terrain was getting to my head. I decided I'd wait on the sheltered side of a massive rock for my friends to summit and I'd meet back up with them on their way down. They were wonderfully encouraging but it was just no good, the mountain had simply got the better of me. They reluctantly carried on toward the summit.
I felt embarrassed and even a little angry with myself. I was frustrated that I had failed to reach the summit of this iconic mountain I had been admiring for years. I sat with myself for just a few minutes. Now, at this point in my life I had never been to a yoga class, I hadn't discovered meditation, I had no idea what "self inquiry" was, the only thing I had was my Don't Make Such A Big Deal Out Of This approach to life. And suddenly, without meaning to, I became fully present. It was like somebody clicked their fingers and I was calm. I put my hand on the big rock beside me and explored its texture. I listened to the wind. I closed my eyes and felt my heart rate slow as my breath relaxed. My nausea went away. It occurred to me that maybe I was actually capable of reaching the summit. And not because I listened to my inner motivational speaker saying, "Keep going, suck it up, push through it." but because I had somehow calmed the fluctuations of my mind. That moment was huge for me. It was a massive realization. The power required to move through hard times can sometimes be found in stillness. In just accepting what is. I wiped a couple tears away, summited and met up with my friends at the top.
After that experience I became interested in the idea of Mindfulness. I ordered two books off of Amazon that I still haven't fully read. The idea of it fascinated me, and I loved how accessible it was. If only I could figure out how to flick the switch. I started going for runs and discovered moments of accidental meditation during them. I downloaded an app called Calm with guided meditations that allowed me to let go and fall asleep when I had a lot on my mind. This new realization of what I now think of as "being kind to your mind" has been such a gift. A couple of years ago I came up with a new rule for myself, "If I wouldn't say it to a friend, don't say it to myself." Old habits die hard but any time I catch myself hassling.. myself, I put an end to my downward spiral and think, "If my mind were my friend, what would I tell it."
Try it out, let me know how it goes.