On Being With Discomfort
I threw my back out yesterday - an experience that’s directed me towards two major learnings: 1) I am twenty seven going on eighty; 2) I think the universe was asking me (in a painful way) to slow down, take a pause, and sit with myself.
In the likely case that most other twenty-somethings have not thrown out their backs, let me be the one to tell you: it is remarkably painful and uncomfortable. I could hardly move and any time I laid down, it took a good 3 minutes to sit back up. Let us not take our physical bodies for granted! Aches and pains are inevitable. Go run, jump, and skip today, if you’re able bodied because you won’t be forever :(
I’ve heard it said many times that human beings are “meaning making machines.” If this statement is true, then I am guilty as charged. I, almost to a fault, create meanings from all experiences. I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason, but I do believe in learning from everything that happens. There’s always something to be gained from any experience and even if there’s no truth behind what I “makeup,” it still feels important to do so anyway.
For the past few months, I’ve been in a season of constant questioning. Not uncommon for twenty-somethings, but nonetheless, it feels quite unsettling. Many of my foundations are losing strength; my anchors are lifting. Until yesterday, I haven’t fully given myself permission to feel the sadness, confusion, and unease that’s shown up in this period of my life.
One of my foundational values is to “walk my talk.” I am interested in truly living and embodying my beliefs; not just talking about them. Because of this, I viewed my injured back as an opportunity to truly engage with both my physical and accompanying internal, emotional discomfort that I haven’t given voice to.
We, “human doings,” often try to run away from uncomfortable feelings because they’re difficult to confront, so instead we pretend they’re not there. My friend, Coby Kozlowski, always says that we have one feeling dial tone- and if we turn down the dial on some emotions, then we turn it down for all emotions. For example, if we don’t allow ourselves to fully feel sadness and hurt, then we also reduce how fully we feel happiness and joy.
Not only do unacknowledged emotions reduce our capacity to feel the full spectrum of human emotions, they never actually go away, but only grow and build with time. This concept was perfectly illustrated with how this post began: my low back gave me tiny warning signs it was in pain, but I continued to ignore them, hoping the pain would vanish. Yet, the pain only worsened, and because I didn’t tend to it at it’s early signs, eventually the only way my lower back could get my attention was to throw itself out after a gentle pivot in boxing class. If I treated my back from the start, the injury wouldn’t have escalated the way it did. Similarly, by acknowledging uncomfortable emotions at their starting point, we allow our inner world a chance to process and heal.
With an immovable body and racing mind, I spent the entire day simply sitting with myself and engaging with my discomfort- getting curious about it, learning from it, and processing it. I feel proud of the strength it took to do this and truly feel that in focusing my attention on my silenced emotions, they began to pass through me. Today, on the other side, I already feel lighter and more connected to myself.
What would it be like to give yourself permission to sit with uncomfortable emotions when they arise? What could you learn about yourself? My hope is that it doesn’t take throwing your back out to do this :)