What does that feed?

The move across country has brought many longed for changes, and some that are completely unexpected. Recently I took the time to go through my Netflix queue. Usually there are anywhere between 150-200 movies, documentaries, and TV shows listed there. Most have been there for years. I went through, one by one, and found myself recognizing that I either was no longer interested, or knew I would never take the time to actually watch that show. By the time I got done, I had less than 50 shows remaining. As I thought about what had been cut, it fell into two categories – dark horror/thrillers, and sad documentaries. I thought about my what entertained me while living in LA, and realized much of that repulses me now. I was not expecting that change, and it got me wondering what was behind that shift.

One piece fell into place when recently I was listening to a talk by Eckhart Tolle on my short commute to and from work. He talks a lot about something he calls “the pain body.” According to Tolle, this is his term for the accumulated, old emotional pain that we all carry with us. It is made up of negative emotions that were not processed and dealt with when they arose. We all have a pain body. Sometimes it is dormant, and we don’t even know it’s there. Sometimes it flares up and takes over.

After one of his talks, Tolle was taking questions from the audience and one person asked, “Do violent movies and television feed the pain body?” After a moment of silence, as the entire audience waited for his great and copious wisdom on the topic, he simply answered, “Yes.”

That one word answer was all I needed. The lightbulb went on.

The last few years in LA, I was living full-time in my pain body. Old, accumulated pain completely took over my life. I was not happy at work, at home, on my commute, and especially in my head. I never seemed to get my feet firmly under me before another wave hit and knocked me into a swirl of constant emotional pain.

During that period, you would think I would have sought out the peaceful… the calm.. the quiet, but that is not how the pain body works. Once it is in charge, it feeds the person’s ego and makes it stronger, making it harder and harder to let the pain go. It becomes completely entwined with who the person thinks they are. Let go of the pain? How could I? I would cease to exist. You’re asking me to commit suicide!

Oh, I remember that feeling well.

Now it makes sense that when I wanted to be entertained, I was drawn to the pain of the victim whose life was detailed in a soul-searing documentary. It makes sense that zombies, mega-disasters, and action-packed thrillers filled my queue. Pain, pain, pain! I wanted more pain to feed the pain body that had become me.

Right now my pain body is dormant, and I have no desire to witness pain (which is part of what makes recent events so awful). The pain body is still there. I am well aware that I still haven’t dealt with it properly. It will re-appear, though hopefully I’m better equiped now to deal with it, and hopefully the waves will be smaller and fewer inbetween. But the other thing that will surely help, is that being aware of what I’m drawn to will be a useful tool in understanding whether or not old, accumulated pain is taking over. It will help me deal with it all much sooner, and that’s definitely a good thing.

Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. Letting your pain body grow stronger, is pure suffering.

So, take a lesson from my experience. Look at what entertains you, and ask yourself, “What does that feed?” Adjust accordingly.

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Death, Grief, and Rejoicing

Today, millions of words will be written about the collective loss we all experienced on 9/11. Friends, spouses, brothers, sisters, cousins, friends, parents… all ripped from the people who loved them. We lost our feeling of safety, discovering that oceans and friendly nations could not protect us. In our rage, we lost our way, lashing out at people we could get to, instead of the people who harmed us. We lost some of the lofty ideals our nation stands for, simply because of our fear and pain. There was so much more than 3000 lives lost on this day 14 years ago.

I often wondered if the loss each individual felt was eased by the fact that the nation shared their loss. To anyone who has suffered the death of someone close, it’s confusing that life just keeps humming along. People laugh. They fall in love. They go out to dinner. Inside, the grieving want to shout at the world to stop. The person they loved is gone, and it’s not right that people act as if nothing has changed. But, with 9/11 the world did stop. Almost everyone across the planet grieved in the days following the attacks. Did that help? Or only make the pain worse? And what of those families who had the misfortune to have loved ones die near the 9/11 date? Was it made worse by the fact that everyone was grieving the victims of the day, but grief for their loved one was largely ignored.

Today, some of those confused feelings are my own. Much like 9/11, yesterday was a beautiful, sunny day. The first hint of how the day would go was when we realized a client was waiting and her instructor was nowhere to be found. It’s easy at first to assume it’s a missed alarm, or a family emergency, or something benign. But as the hours ticked by, and phone calls and texts went unanswered fear began to grow. The morning was spent searching online and in our records for contacts that could help. Our work family mobilized, each taking on a role to find our missing member. Despite our fears, there was still a sense of shock and overhwelming disbelief when she was found, likely taken from us by an unknown medical condition. 40 years old. A life only half lived.

Today most people are focused on the lost potential of 14 years ago. Today my community is focused on the lost potential of yesterday. There is a sense of disconnect from the rest of the world.

When thinking about what I wanted to say today, I still feel at a loss. There are no great words of wisdom to share. It is too soon for lessons learned, other than the much repeated phrases that life is short, and the knowledge you should never leave kind words unsaid or kind actions undone. There is no understanding of why a very fit woman got 10 years less than obese me has had. There is guilt in not reaching out to connect more. There is also comfort in seeing that our work family really is a family. We came together with support and love, making sure we were all okay.

One thing did occur to me as I chased sleep last night. Death also gives us the opportunity to rejoice. Pain reminds us that we still live. We still have a chance to say those kind words to those who are here. We still have a chance to reach out with love and caring to those around us who need those gifts. We still have a chance to become the kind of person we want to be. It pains our hearts to be without the people we care about. We can take that pain and lash out and cause damage as our country did on 9/11, or we can use that pain to rejoice at the fact that we have been given yet another day to experience the joys, pains, loves, losses, beauty and ugliness of life. Those we have lost would tell us we should do the later.

As you grieve today, what will you do with your grief? Make a good choice and rejoice that you have it to make.

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Torn Between Two Memes

Yes, I’m a couple days late with this. I’ve had a topic in mind for a while, but could never quite make sense of it. Finally, things got sorted out the other night.

In the run up to my leap, I had a great deal of self doubt. Actually, self doubt is a pretty deep seated trait for me, regardless of leaping or sitting safely on my living room couch. So, the memes people post on Facebook often having me re-examining myself to see if I measure up. It can get pretty tough when the memes start contradicting themselves.

For instance, there I was, happily contemplating perhaps the biggest change in my life – a whole new part of the country I’d never lived in before, a new job, and new friends – when what meme comes along? This one:

Destination-addiction

I was imagining so much happiness in my new life. I saw myself taking long walks in my suburban neighborhood. There was a job without stress and worry. Being part of a team.  I saw slow days writing in front of a fire. There were good friends to share laughter with who were minutes away. There would be thunder storms and fall leaves. It all seemed so wonderful until I read that quote. After all, I knew my flaws and bad habits weren’t going to get left behind in California. I would still be me. So, was I falling into destination addiction?

Not long after that, somebody posted this:

il_570xN.717512541_41sc

So which wise internet meme was I to follow? I had remarked to a friend that perhaps I needed to stay so I could learn to be happy even when I was in miserable conditions. She pointed out I’d been there a long time and tried many methods. It was time to move on.

Ultimately I agreed and chose to leap my chasm, however the doubt has never left me. It should have faded when I arrived at my new destination and found life was as good, or better, than I had been imagining all those months. My walks don’t exactly take me through a suburban neighborhood, but they do take me through a more beautiful greenways trail. The open field I saw in my imagination was to the south of my south-facing house, and instead it’s to the east of my east-facing house. My job has a little more responsibility than I had envisioned, but I enjoy it so much that I actually sort of wish I was going in on my days off. Sort of. It is an environment that is providing physical and emotional healing. The friendships are lovely. And the thunderstorms… just wonderful. I’ll give you a report on the fall leaves in a few months. It truly is everything my soul was looking for that I couldn’t seem to find in LA.

Still, I worried I had become a destination addict. Would these feelings of joy and contentment wear off once the newness of the place wore off.

But the other night, the right analogy hit me. LA and Hollywood were like shoes. At some point in my life I saw these gorgeous shoes and just knew they were for me. I wanted those shoes more than anything I’d ever wanted. I risked everything I knew, left family and friends behind, in order to get those shoes. Once I had them, they were even more amazing and I loved how I looked in them. I was never taking those shoes off!

Then I started to walk in those shoes. Sure, they pinched here and there. Sure they caused blisters. But they were gorgeous and I could take it. It was worth it to be wearing those shoes, because I believed there would be a payoff for the pain.

However, the longer I lived in those shoes, and realized there was no payoff, the harder it became to ignore the pain they were causing. There were more and more raw spots. There were blisters on blisters. Every step became excruciating and made me angry. Finally i wanted to take the shoes off but didn’t, because I was worried I had nothing else to wear. Now not only was I in terrible pain, but I began to resent those shoes I had once loved.

What to do in that situation? Stay and learn to love the shoes causing so much pain or take them off and find another pair that fit better. It seems quite obvious, and thankfully I chose option two. And oh, the blessed relief of taking off shoes that don’t fit after wearing them all day. (imagine 20 years of wear!) That freeing-of-the-tootsies relief is exactly how my move to Missouri has felt. Ahhhhhhhhhhh.

So I’ve found my peace with the memes, because sometimes if you are in an over-crowded, loud, hyper-competitive, stress-inducing environment, in a job that limits your future and your potential, and with equally stressed-out friends so scattered across a large city that you have to use a day planner to schedule “play dates,” maybe then it really is a new destination, a new job, and new relationships that will make you happy. Maybe all you really need is change.

Maybe you just need to find a pair of shoes that fit and not worry about internet memes.

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