I love the fundamental human truth of this quote. I also love what Glennon goes on to say: “Don’t avoid the pain. You need it. It’s meant for you. Be still with it, let it come, let it go, let it leave you with the fuel you’ll burn to get your work done on this earth.”
Glennon doesn’t prescribe a way to “be still” with our pain and I understand why. Being still is precise. It’s personal, as close as our very breath.
However, after years of experimenting with how to ‘be still’ or ‘be with’ my pain (as so many wise teachers call us to do) I’ve discovered the path of self-compassion to be the most natural, kindest, wisest and most effective. And by effective I mean tapping into what Glennon describes so beautifully as “let it leave you with the fuel you’ll burn to get your work done on this earth.”
I’d like to share the first step I took on the path of self-compassion, which was self-kindness. I have to admit self-kindness felt difficult at first because it felt (and is) counter-intuitive.
Self-kindness asks us to turn towards our pain which simply isn’t how the reptilian part of our brain is wired, it’s wired to avoid pain – fight, flight, freeze and all that. So I began by simply paying more attention to how I was feeling, being really curious, turning towards my body to help me uncover what’s going on.
I discovered that when a painful feeling arose – frustration, hanger, anxiousness, shame – my inner critic appeared so quickly I barely noticed. ‘You always get this wrong’, ‘you can’t even take care of yourself properly’, ‘why are you so anxious about this after all this time’, ‘now everyone is going to find out you’re not who they think you are’ – I know many of you can relate (and I take great comfort in that).
The inner critic is our Fight response to avoiding pain. Flight is typically numbing our pain with over-eating/working/shopping/drinking. Freeze is typically isolating our selves from others, not reaching out for support when we most need it.
Self-kindness asks us to be gentle and understanding with our selves when we’re in pain, when life, when this moment, feels difficult. And this is the secret to re-wiring our brains to be able to ‘be with’ our pain, to ‘be still’ with our pain and from here our natural healing and growth process begins.
Importantly, self-kindness involves more than merely stopping harsh self-judgement. It involves actively comforting ourselves, responding just as we would to a dear friend in need. For me this meant allowing myself to be emotionally moved by my own pain, stopping to say ‘this is really difficult right now, how can I care for and comfort myself in this moment?’
I find this way of being with myself so soothing and calming, as if I’m making a peace offering of warmth, gentleness and empathy from myself to myself and in my experience true healing happens from this place.
When we allow our selves to feel pain, we empower our selves to be more authentic. We stop forcing our self to be more ______ and less _______, we stop placing so much meaning on ________, we start showing up more fully for our lives and loving ourselves – every part, even the parts that hurt.
So when life gets hard, remember you’re not alone. We all feel it. We are all bearing witness to it. We are all ‘being still’ and ‘being with’ our pain in the best way we know how. May we all know a kinder and gentler way to be with our pain this week.
With great warmth