This week I hit a breaking point. 2½ weeks ago, I moved across the country, with the expectation delusion of having at least a 2-3 month “honeymoon phase” before sh*t got real and I started to realize this isn’t vacation; I actually live here now. I thought the first few months would be filled with fun activities and exploring and writing and taking pictures and just about loving every part of my new life. Well, it has been filled with those things, along with re-learning the hard way (because that might be the only way I learn) that because I am an introvert as well as highly sensitive, trying to keep up with all the adventure without adequate time for rest & recuperation leaves me feeling drained, exhausted, disoriented, anxiety-ridden, you get the gist. Hence my breakdown earlier this week.
But here’s what I’m realizing – those feelings, and the breakdown moments, well, they’re real. And they deserve to be paid attention to.
I think so many of us go through life focusing on the “bright side”. One such bright moment in my week (because even among the darker pits of breaking-down, I experienced many bits of brightness scattered in the mix), was when I learned the difference between sympathy and empathy. A takeaway for me: empathy never begins with the words “at least”. That is sympathy, poking her baby toe into the pool, vague attempt at swimming, before retreating back to the sunny deck where she feels more comfortable.
To live with empathy requires a willingness to take the leap off the high dive, immersing body & soul in the depths beneath. Both the joyful depths as well as the frightening ones.
And if you don’t face your own feelings, tickling the dark, scary monsters living under the bed, you will never be able to truly feel empathetic to someone else’s.
So why do we run from our dark feelings? We are so ingrained in needing-to-stay-positive, write-down-our-three-gratitudes and wake-up-every-day-with-an-attitude of I’m-so-lucky-to-be-alive because everything is good; we fail to recognize that feeling good can be as much of an addiction as alcohol, tobacco, or drugs. It just often goes unrecognized because it’s seen as a “good”, healthy addiction. But addiction is addiction. No goods, bads, ifs, ands or buts about it. And if you’re addicted to feeling good, chances are you are running from whatever you associate with feeling bad.
In yoga practice, I am a fidgeter. My teacher brought my awareness today to a habit I have developed, the infamous “butt scoot”. Instead of just taking the next pose, I literally scoot my butt backwards, like “God forbid I come close to touching my neighbor’s mat, better get out of the way”. 99.9% of the time, I’m nowhere near their mat. The other .1% that I do touch it, guess what? They probably wouldn’t care. And if they did, then that’s where the work in their own practice lies.
So, anyway, I fidget. I pride myself on learning to feel comfortable with discomfort, inviting in sensation in my body, and sitting with what is in my yoga practice. Yet pretending that I do all those things is living in a false sense of delusion because the reality is, that I fidget. I fidget because it’s uncomfortable, and I’d rather invite in the discomfort slowly, gracefully, in my own time, on my own terms. My teacher also pointed out that this isn’t truly practicing Vinyasa. She’s right – it’s not. Vinyasa means linking breath and movement. When I butt-scoot, fidget, get comfortable on my mat, and then take the pose, well, at that point, I’m off my breath count and cruising, doing my own thing.
Mid-breakdown-week, when I was just about at the height of my I-can’t-do-this feeling, I had left the shala, walking my *lovely* route to work, through some kind of warehouse/under-the-highway section of San Francisco, taking in odors of burning rubber and car-repair shops, trying to avoid trash strewn on the sidewalk, when I saw a homeless person step out into the street right in front of me, pull her pants down, and start to pee. Deciding that nobody should have to walk directly by that kind of situation, especially before 7:30, my instinctual reaction took me across the street. It seemed, at the time, jay-walking worthy.
Yet as soon as I crossed to the other side, I recognized one of this city’s awesome no-pedestrian-crosswalks at the next light. Cars whizzing by off the highway exit, I had no choice but to retract my steps, and retreat back across pavement, facing the offender and then continuing my walk, beside her, post public-peeing. I had tried to remove myself from the situation, and San Francisco threw me right back in it.
And then, walking a few paces behind, I started to imagine what her life must be like, for her to resort to public urination, in the street, in broad daylight, in front of other people. What brings someone to that level? I started to feel all sorts of emotions – empathy, sympathy, confusion, despair. All of the feelings I had been avoiding by hiding out on the other side of the road.
The world holds a lot of brokenness in it. And I firmly believe that by looking the other way, we’re not doing anyone a favor. Least of all, ourselves.
The only way to get to the other side of darkness is through. It takes a lot of courage to feel things so deeply, especially if you’re an empath. But I’m beginning to understand I have no other choice. Staying numb or living in delusion is no longer an option. I must stay awake.
Because feeling all the things – the happiness, as well as the pain, the screaming muscles mid-pose, as well as the release and newfound lightness immediately after — it’s all part of living. Wanting to cry and scream and rip my hair out because I feel so frustrated about something is my soul crying out for me to listen. Feeling despair and the brokenness of the world is acknowledgment that human life holds a lot of shadow, and only by shining our light into those shadowy places, do we realize that maybe the darkness wasn’t quite as dark and scary as we once thought it to be. Or maybe it’s still just as dark, and that’s okay too.
In self-reflection, tonight I realized that my writing tends toward the positive, cheery, let’s-find-the-happy-twist-here-together style. Nothing wrong with that. But I will never take away the world’s inherent brokenness with my words. We are all made of light, and to light we shall return. But before that happens, we’re living a life here for a reason. The darkness exists, for a reason. Time to acknowledge that, and face all the feelings fully, because, braveheart, we have been thrust into the fire by life, and we have no other option.