They had the worst argument of their 5-year relationship: Screaming, yelling, smashing things. When he came home from work the next day she, and all of her things, were gone… simply removed from his life. He drank, and then he drank some more. He smashed whatever had not been obliterated the day before. He fired the shotgun in the house, several times. The police came, wrestled him to the ground and into restraints, and when they asked him why he did it he replied, “It’s better to be infamous than to be invisible.”
The funny thing about pain is that we can’t compare ours to anyone else’s. When it is ours we feel it; when it is someone else’s we can walk away from feeling it. There are times when we can’t figure out our pain, and that lack of understanding makes us feel invisible to ourselves. Some pain comes in like a tsunami, obliterating every landmark of our ordinary life, leaving us bewildered and isolated in a newly unfamiliar life. We may strain to understand it, and that strain may not result in anything more than frustration. Sometimes we can even get stuck in our pain, unsure of what to do with it, stymied by how to leave it or how to transform it; at such times we keep re-visiting the event of the pain, searching for its hidden meaning, accomplishing little more than once again ripping the scab off of an old wound and making it feel raw all over again. There are times and situations, however, which require us to lay the pain down, to back away from it and to obtain some distance from it before we can make any sense of it.
How? How can we back away from overwhelming emotional pain? One way is by simply attending to life’s daily demands no matter what we feel: We go to work, we shop for food, we pay bills, we get rest. We deliberately re-insert ourselves back into routine. To do this is not to give up on trying to understand; rather, it is a way to obtain some distance from the ravaging nature of the pain. This can be very hard for many to do since we live so much of our life guided by feelings: “I don’t feel like doing that”… “I’m not feeling it right now”. To some extent the freedom comes when we gain experience in living without feelings making our decisions for us. And that’s where routine comes in; it takes us back into the arena where life is being lived despite whatever feelings might be present.
So go ahead and cry, stomp around, shout… but then go food shopping, go to work, go for a walk, especially when you don’t “feel” like it. Thích Nhất Hạnh has written: “Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” Something so ordinary as breathing, when paid attention to, can ground one again in the real world. What will you pay attention to today?