Aline provides care for her husband Harry who has A.L.S. As the illness robs Harry of the freedom of performing even simple tasks Aline steps in to provide the needed assistance. While she is careful to be cheerful around Harry all is not well within Aline and because she senses this she ceaselessly bustles around the house trying to set things right; in fact, she is never gone from Harry’s presence for more than a minute or two, as if she is afraid that being gone longer will result in his not being there when she returns. Her friend Patty observes, “I think that she thinks that if she increasingly busies herself in the physical aspects of helping him then she doesn’t have to deal with the emotions she feels as she slowly loses him.”
Aline’s solution to discomforting feelings is to keep busy. For others of us when we are uncomfortable we reach out for what distracts us from that discomfort: The ice cream that we shouldn’t eat, that extra ten shots of bourbon that we shouldn’t drink, the meth that we shouldn’t smoke, the extra food that we eat mistaking our internal discomfort for hunger. When we are uncomfortable we often opt for the comfort of what is familiar, no matter how detrimental or temporary that comfort might be. The desire to run away from what distresses us is an option, but is it the one that is best for us? Does “feeling” better mean the same thing as “being” better?
Psychological, emotional and spiritual growth require that we stop running away from our uncomfortable feelings. But if one stops running from them what does one then do with them? The answer to this question is: Get to know them! Reserve a period of time each day to sit in reflection upon what we are feeling; even a small period is better than no period at all! Make where we do this sitting and reflecting like a comforting nest to which we want to return. Depending on one’s religious tradition this might include a candle, an icon, a photo, a statue, a rock… whatever speaks to one of the Divine. As one sits, ask: “What am I feeling? What word or words could describe this?” Often, one finds that the first word morphs into another which better describes one’s state, which morphs into another… all of which slowly morph into understanding what is going on in there. In getting some insight into our interior state we can slowly come to recognize the difference between needing food and desiring distraction.
While we can choose to run from knowing our interior reality… should we?