I lay there wide-awake. It is 2 AM.
My thoughts began to turn to sadness. Tightness in the chest and heart area one feels when a loss occurs. I could not sleep. I asked myself “why do I have this disproportional depth of feeling over this new situation?” Was there a need or unfilled desire I was unfairly projecting onto to this person/situation? Was I just “thinking too much”? And most importantly, how do I reconcile this feeling…. NOW… I need to sleep!
And so, I began chastising myself for such thoughts with so little underpinning and began the process of blocking that “feeling” out. But, in the quiet aloneness of the night, it was still there. And so I turned to technique learned long ago. One, I wish I used more often over the years.
I looked at it directly. I began to breathe it in.
No Getting Around Avoidance.
You see, for most of my life, I would just dismiss such feelings. Block it out a create a story to protect me. I was better than this. I knew more about life and need not worry myself with such things.
I was a strong man. One of admirable success, accomplishment and desired by many… might be a thought that would cross my mind to strengthen the ever fragile ego. And then I would start to build a wall around the feeling I had just encountered so I’d not have to feel the depths of it again (or so I would convince myself). Avoid it.
Beware of Forced Gratitude: Justifying our Lives. In many cases, I became quite good at self-justifying. At convincing myself that “Life is great” what do I have to complain about? Most interesting is in the past 7 days, I’ve heard these exact same words from two people I care about, one I’ve known all my life and another I just beginning to know. And the big red flag was hearing their voices (and so often my own) create forced gratitude. I live in a great place next to an ocean or lake. I have amazing friends and family. I have my own business and call my own shots. Both friends had near exact same refrain even though lives were very different. Yet so many times, I too, fell prey.
The false thoughts like: “What more could I want from life?”
2 AM became 3 AM, then 4 AM. The suffering could not be ignored. So I started again and again through my old ways of forced gratitude, self-justification and “rising above it.”
But, not this time. Finally, as small, fleeting and insignificant this moment was, I decided to simply face it. Directly. Own it. Explore it with real curiosity and finally breath through it.
I began by asking deeper questions about myself, and why I felt this way, versus casting blame on another or judgment on myself for being so “silly” with these unwarranted feelings, telling myself to “move on, forget about it”. I asked, “Was there something more to it?” And there was. So I kept asking more of the whys.
I still felt that heavy heart. So I kept going. And I began to just directly feel it. Asking for it to consume me. Fully. Trying to feel it more intensely (than previous efforts to avoid the feeling). And I did. I looked at it. I breathed in the sadness and out the relief of letting it go to the universe. In, Out. For a while. In and heavy, “HAAAA” out… and then, after a few real breaths, I smiled.
I became OK with it. It transformed into a greater call to understand my true nature. It lived on its own now. It was now not identified as part of me or reflection on me. But just a feeling. A moment. An object to observe. It became a moment of clarity (v. that dull lingering background unease that gnaws at us for days, weeks, months… our entire lives).
I became the observer.
In an instance, I came to accept it. The suffering itself was gone.
I came to appreciate it. It became a gift. One that shined the light on the greater needs I have and without justification or excuse. Rather, clarity on absolute truth about my own needs. I felt strong and empowered. A lightning bolt had shot through me. So much so, with no sleep at 4.30 AM I popped out of bed and began my day. With a greater enthusiasm than normal. A deeper understanding of what I need to do. Not about the situation, that didn’t matter anymore. But more what part of my life needed my energy and attention.
As previously mentioned, for so many years, I ran from my suffering. I buried myself in work and using the classic “changing the world” justification so many of us (especially entrepreneurs) use to not face life’s needs, directly. I chastise myself for being so small and petty for these unwarranted emotions. And would “rise above it” in the classic form of avoidance. But whatever it was amidst a sleepless night that allowed me to just breath it in and face it directly was powerful. One that can’t be ignored.
It was literally ‘burning of suffering’ by simply facing it as it is. In the simplicity of it. Nothing added. I could physically feel it in my breath just combust and have no place to go, but away.
It was a great reminder that we can face what is troubling us, whether, small or large; temporary moments of heartbreak or big moments of decisions/actions that seem life-altering. But the same directness is needed. One that allows the small mind to let go of all the non-useful feelings of regret and circuitous rumination about such.
We can, in fact, make it all go away with the courage to Face the Suffering Directly.
Raw and Real for Truth. Might we allow ourselves to be a bit more real? A bit more raw? Allowing us to feel the true depths of the aloneness; the emptiness that life sometimes creates even amidst the chaos of friends, family, business and constant digital distraction. To feel and sit with this pain. And let the suffering truly consume us as a way to get to the truth.
These questions need answers. Otherwise, the slow dull pain will constantly show up… until one day, it breaks you. Can we find the courage to ask them aloud and not let them go until we find an answer? Even if that answer is being at peace with the greater unknowns, the ambiguity and impermanence of it all. To let us flow down that river of life, without trying to control or justify the greater path. Can we look at it, directly and just simply face our suffering? With love, conquer our fear.
I have found so many of these moments that need a greater level of honesty with self. A willingness to explore with curiosity and less judgment. The need to be alone. Quite with oneself. Not seeking immediate relief in the next person, social post or work-related to-do list.
Here are a few words that have helped me along the way…
Alone & Breath
Be Alone. The hardest of steps, but first.
Breathing it in completely.
Making the feeling stronger. Still sitting alone.
Curious & Vulnerable
Creating a deeper curiosity about the feeling.
Be open and vulnerable to explore its true source.
Observer it. Label it. Identify it as the object.
It’s just feeling or emotion, not who you are.
It needs your full and direct attention.
Longer than that is comfortable.
Deepen the Pain to Let it Go
Sit with it. In all its pain.
Breath in that pain. And breathe out the full emotion of it all.
When it can be felt no deeper and has gotten your utmost attention.
See how easy it is, to just let it go.
Name it. Label it. Ask yourself with the deepest level of curiosity. Make it stronger. Feel the true depths of that pain. Cry if needed. Scream where you must. And yet, keep diving deeper into the flames of that suffering… and it will start to burn itself up. And all that’s left is the ash, embers, and smoke from what once was your fire of suffering.
No more stories. No drama. No self-judgment.
The beauty of life awaits. It is there. Always. Just one deep breath away.