This week I've been in touch with several beloveds, both clients and friends alike, who find themselves in the midst of acute pain. You know...the kind of pain that dizzies and disorients, that makes our eyes leak and stomachs clench, that causes our minds to lose their words. The kind that makes us feel deeply alone, convincing us that we can't be helped and that we are doomed to suffer, permanently.
It's an awful place to be. Regardless of circumstance.
What often compounds the situation is that in America, we're not ever supposed to be in this place. Because making progress! achievement! work! money! a bigger home! etc.! leave precious little time for having an emotion (let alone All The Feelings, which is generally the case, right?).
I know, because I was there yesterday. Which is a story for another time.
For today, I declare that this kind of acute pain requires acute love.
It requires time, effort, energy, and attention - ideally, yours. It requires that you minister to your own deep, tender self. (Note that your deepest self is not a logician or a supercomputer; as I wrote last week, we're much more like soft house-pets.) It takes devotion, really: a willingness to make repeated efforts to genuinely help yourself feel better and create an overall sense of well-being in your own skin. A sense of profound happiness.
Feeling this kind of happiness is possible, and you deserve it. Let that sink in for twenty seconds or so.
If you find yourself suffering, the key is to be very, very gentle. You know, like how you would treat an unwell puppy or a sick child or your best friend's elderly grandmother. It's that level of gentleness.
(Acute suffering does not require denial or some kind of warped illusion that the situation is not really happening. It does not ask you to convince others that you are fine. Also, this is not a time for rubbing some dirt on it and getting back out there. It's not a time for sucking it up.
I know that these are the culturally acceptable options. Believe me - I've tried them all! Having lived to tell the tale, I'm here to say that these options belong in the crazy bucket. As in, completely and totally insane. Avoid at all costs.)
So, to be mega-practical, here is my list of magical ways to Be Gentle With Yourself Already, For Crissakes.
1) Sit still, alone, with zero distractions.
Turn off all screens and things that can beep or make noise. Kick everyone out of your space (in fact, get them out of the house completely if you can) and close the door. I am not kidding.
Set a timer for 5 minutes, or maybe 10 if you can stand it.
Sit - or even better, lie down! - and get outrageously comfortable. Use eighteen pillows if you want. (Who cares?)
You are going to make friends with your feelings. Because they have things they are trying to say.
2) Take three deep breaths.
I know this is the most obvious and unsexy thing you've ever heard. And I know you've heard it five squillion times. But I don't care. This piece of advice shows up everywhere, from every well-being website on the internet to the most generic hospital pamphlets, which is because deep breathing WORKS.
For example, notice your breath right now. I'll bet you my Justin's peanut butter cup that you're breathing shallowly. (No offense, it's nothing personal - it's just what we tend to do.)
Now, take the biggest deepest breath of your whole day, even if it's just through your nose. B-r-e-a-t-h-e...
There. That's a deep breath, and that's what I'm talking about. Three of them.
3) Ask yourself compassionate questions.
Once you're sitting alone, and you've taken some deep breaths, it's time to inquire.
Note that we are not poking fingers into raw wounds or sticking pencils in our eyeballs or shouting in an interrogation room. We are gently, ever gently, asking our deepest selves about what is honestly going on here...with questions like these:
What am I feeling?
What am I avoiding?
What do I need right now?
Try just one question to start. Sit still and expect that an answer will eventually pop into your awareness. If you make space for an answer, it will come. Just like "Field of Dreams," baby.
Again, these questions may seem stupidly obvious. And again, I don't care. Asked with compassion, gentleness, and a neutral tone, these questions can yield a fortune. Because what we're really doing with these techniques is listening; we are prying the microphone out of our ego's cold hard fingers, and we are handing it to our deepest, shyest selves (who only ever whisper)...so they can finally say all that they want to say, telling us the gem-like truths hidden in all that painful suffering.