When we’re being asked to unpack a new layer of wound that will lead to healing, it can feel daunting, overwhelming, and hopeless. The questions circle and dart like bats in the dark of night. The doubt eats away at serenity. The physical symptoms can cause you to want to withdraw from life and ball up in bed, and sometimes you do. In the darkness and suffering, it’s so easy to forget that the questions will resolve and that the new layer of healing with unshackle and shake itself to the surface like bulbs emerging in spring. In the dark of winter, we often cannot see the shifting that’s occurring underground. It’s during this time that we must trust in the invisible lines of hope and the mysterious element of healing that are always supporting us.
If you think you’re the only one suffering, let me correct you: Everyone suffers. One of the most common questions I receive from clients and course members is, “Why don’t other people suffer in this way? Why does it seem like I’m the only one who struggles with anxiety and intrusive thoughts? Why does it seem like life is easier for other, less sensitive people?” We suffer in different ways and at different times in our life. Some people’s suffering is more obvious while others suffer quietly inside the caves of their minds, but to be human is to suffer which means that at some point in life the suffering will become apparent. I often have conversations with my clients about their partners in which they say, “It seems like I’m always the one who’s struggling and my partner is a rock.” To which I respond, “Just give it time. Eventually life will pull your partner into his or her own underworld – either through a transition, a loss, an illness or career challenges – and you will have the chance not only to see your partner’s well-veiled shadow but also to be the support for him that he’s been for you all these years.”
Everyone suffers. Couples struggle. Parents struggle. Men suffer. People who seem less sensitive and more easy-going suffer. From the outside, it’s so easy to assume that the lovey-dovey couple over there never argues and felt madly in love from day one, but with enough time and close observance you will learn about the underside of their relationship. You might look at another parents’ child at the park and assume that she’s an easy-peasy kid who never rebels and tantrums the way your toddler does, but if you were to follow that family over the years the challenges would be exposed. It’s so easy to create stories about other people’s lives, to hear a few headlines or watch a few interactions then fill in the details with your projections and assumptions. But if you watch and listen closely enough you’ll find the whole story and see that everyone suffers. When we settle into this truth it reduces the layer of shame that arises from the belief that you’re the only one, that there’s something wrong with you, that you’re broken because life or relationships seem harder for you. It’s hard for everyone.
In this darkest time of year in the Northern hemisphere, it’s easy to lose hope. It’s easy to slip under the surface of despair and, especially if you’re sensitive, absorb the collective frenzy of consumption that most people use to cover over the sadness and loneliness that arise during the holidays. It’s easy to want to withdraw into hibernation until it’s all over or to fall into your own favored form of distraction: spending, eating, internet surfing, intrusive thoughts.
Instead, I invite you to imagine that you’re holding my hand and all of the hands of the people who are reading this blog. Together, we form of a virtual chain of connection, reminding ourselves and each other that we can walk through the darkness and that darkness, when approached with compassionate attention, always unfolds into light. When you look closely, you see that each of these people in the chain of support has a headlight strapped to their foreheads, each of us committed to learning what needs to be learned, widening our capacity for tolerating uncertainty, softening our fear-walls and moving toward love. We link hands with the seekers and love-warriors worldwide, reminding ourselves that we are not alone and that we are loved.
I am a link in this chain, not always as a leader or guide but also as a fellow human who sometimes struggles on the path of life just like you do. Sometimes a client will say to me, “I’m having this fantasy that your life is perfect: that you don’t argue with your husband, that you’re always patient with your children, that you never struggle with anxiety.” As holding an image of anyone as perfect only supports the erroneous fantasy that perfection is possible and entrenches the faulty belief that there’s an end goal on this path of healing, it’s important to me that I dispel this myth. I struggle. I argue with my husband. We project onto each other and lose our connection. We’ve had more ruptures than we can count and, thankfully, even more repairs. I lose my patience with my children. I don’t always know the most loving or wise choice in terms of parenting. I’m certain that I’ve messed them up in ways I can’t even begin to know. Anxiety nips at the heels of my soul from time to time, especially if I fall off the horse of my daily practices (which, of course, I do), and I have to use all of the tools that I teach here to regain my center. Questions arise in the form of symptoms that require time to decode, especially when I’m on the threshold of a new transition. I dream every night but I don’t always write them down, and I understand them even less. In short, I am human, which means that I struggle, I suffer, I have blind spots, and sometimes I lose my way. I don’t have it all figured out, and I’m pretty sure that nobody does. That’s why we’re here: learning together, struggling together, growing together.
So together we hold hands and link hearts and know that we are not alone on this journey of pain and struggle and also light and joy. And I invite you to say, out loud, the following reminders:
May we remember that there is always a spark of light even in the darkest night.
May we harness that one spark of light to illuminate the areas in the temple of our body, the sanctuary of our heart, the light of our mind, and the river of our soul that need our attention.
Through our breath, our prayers, and our loving actions, may we fan the spark into fire.
May we remember to turn toward our places of pain instead of away, knowing that it’s when we move toward ourselves with compassion and curiosity that the doorways to joy are opened.
May we turn toward our loved ones, even when fear urges us to turn away.
May we consciously and proactively focus on gratitude, remembering that it’s an elixir that can transform fear into love.
May we remember to seek the places that nourish us – nature, music, dance, art, prayer, silence – and allow ourselves to receive and be filled up by the infusion we find there.
May we be kind to ourselves and others, and forgive ourselves when we’re not.
May we bring our healing and fullness into the world, and allow others to be touched by the softening in our hearts.