Turning towards Pain
Updated: Nov 29, 2020
My soon-to-be two year old daughter fell off the kitchen bench the other day, knocking her chin on the edge of the table before an otherwise surprisingly graceful tumble to the floor.
When she gets hurt like this, my impulse is to quickly distract her from the shock and pain, to tell her she's ok, in order to avoid a full on expression and embodiment of something clearly uncomfortable and unpleasant. There are times that it works just fine like that. She’s really little and doesn’t hold onto emotions much yet, but even at such a young age, oftentimes she just needs to turn towards the pain and process it while being fully embraced in our love. It’s not so different as adults.
Knowing when to distract ourselves from our pain and when it’s appropriate and necessary to embrace and turn towards it can be tricky. Turning towards pain is exactly how it sounds... PAINFUL, and often scary too.
We have so many opportunities to look away from and avoid the pain we have carried maybe for years or generations.
What does that accomplish?
Short term distraction and temporary relief certainly, but it doesn’t go away...
Unresolved pain can become lodged in our bodies and grow into bitterness and resentment. Typically it will eventually escalate to the point that it demands being seen, demands to be processed, cared for and released. By that point it can feel like an explosion for some and can express itself in behaviors that may feel out of character.
We each carry individual pain, but also the collective pain of the groups we are born into.
The collective pain of the black community in the United States has been growing since before the days of MLK and Malcolm X but passed a new breaking point over the weekend.
Our African American brothers and sisters are fully turning toward their pain and are at the tip of the spear. As the world watches, tiny splinters of that pain become driven into all of us in our own ways. Anger, rage, sadness and injustice are demanding our attention.
These feelings need to be felt NOW and expressed before any peace our justice can be reached.
This is not a call for violence nor is it a time for judgement of the process that needs to unfold.
This is a time to hold space and the safest container we can for those at the center of the volatility of this moment.
A safe container means creating room to be heard by opening our ears and minds and listening. It can also mean physically protecting the bodies of those most likely to suffer abuse in a protest condition by placing ourselves in between the vulnerable and those who may harm them. Holding a safe space also means demanding accountability and reform.
This is a time to look deeply at ourselves and a time to embrace feeling uncomfortable. This is a time to stand in solidarity.
For those of us who are white, especially white males:
This is the time to own that we don't know at ALL what it is like to be black...
...and to start to try to grasp what it means to be privileged.
This is a time for uncomfortable conversations and feelings. This is the time to become aware of our own programed racism, for acknowledging that racism doesn't have to be intentional to be real, present, and damaging. This is a time to be an ally and figure out how best each of us can do that. It's a time to maybe say something wrong and by doing so to LEARN. This is the time to learn. This is a time to listen.
For all of us, this is a time to turn toward the pain and allow its full expression so that we can hope to rest in the embrace of love and compassion on the other side.