Leaning In

Life is interesting. I can look back on my life and see things in perspective. I have insight into who I was at different ages and stages, the forces that drove me to make certain decisions, the impact of those decisions and all of the experiences that are interwoven that have created so much of who I am and what I’ve learned. The perspective of looking back is always interesting, sometimes humorous, sometimes poignant, and often philosophical. Analyzing my life is a great exercise for reflection, if I’m honest at times can become rumination and sometimes it is just a great intellectual distraction.

When I am in the middle of something, however, that is a different story. When I am in the midst of an emotional experience, and yes it may prove to be a lesson or even a positive thing, I have no perspective. I am feeling my way through it and the feelings are so hard. I feel the piercing physical pain when my heart is breaking, I feel the inability to catch my breath when I am seized by fear and anxiety about what is coming next, the darkness descends when I feel lost and can’t see the next step. These periods of emotional anguish are the hardest to move through. I find myself wanting to pull away, to numb out, to distract myself with anything that will take myself away from it all. What I have been taught, however, is it is at those very moments when the pain is the most acute, that I must lean in.

I must summon every ounce of courage and strength I can muster, and touch those feelings that feel they will overwhelm me. I find the intensity of the feelings inversely affects the length of time I can tolerate them. When they are fresh and so strong, I can only experience them for a short period of time, and then find myself receding back.

With time, patience and self-compassion, I find the feelings abate in their intensity and my ability to be with them increases. I can’t stress enough, though the importance of letting time have time. It takes time for me to build that tolerance. It takes time for those feelings to be fully felt as they come in waves, ebbing and coming in often at inconsistent paces. My job is not to try and control it but to be able to witness and experience it all without trying to avoid, run away or make it all better.

Eventually, and symbiotically, they lessen and I can handle them until eventually the magic happens. The magic is that those experiences that seemed so painful and unbearable become a part of a past I can now see from a new perspective and once again the beauty of life unfolds and I am now not in the pain, but have been transformed through it.

Melinda Brett