Joy, love, belonging – these emotions are the ones we long for most. They are socially accepted, celebrated, and honored. They feel good and these emotions are easy to sit with when they are present – both in ourselves and in others. When we feel love, we want to stay near it. The world affirms this is how we should feel – we should be joyful, loving, and connected. Anything less is broken – in need of fixing.
Quite opposite are the feelings of grief, anger, and loneliness. These feelings of pain are to be stuffed, fixed, and masqueraded as more acceptable emotions. These painful feelings are fire – hot and dangerous, cruel and destructive – or so we spend our lives believing. We escape these feelings by numbing out – another drink, another Facebook binge, another achievement, another purchase, another mile, and so on.
I watch the world teach my daughter this lesson. People smile and embrace her as she engages, laughs, and performs. The world brightens and says, “Yes! You’re so pretty. Give us more joy. Always joy.” Conversely, people frown and say she is grumpy if she doesn’t smile for pictures. When she cries the world says, “Brush it off, shake it off – just get those tears off your face and smile, Child. Don’t get close to the fire, Dear. At all costs, you must smile” And so she learns the cold hard lessons of adulthood – our social contract to be pretty and acceptable to the world.
This lesson stings because it’s one I’ve spent much of my adult life trying to unlearn. I learned to detach from pain because it is only through joy, love, and belonging that I am fully alive, right? We must always find the light, dare we get caught in the dark. It is only now, as I’ve rounded the corner to 40, that I’m learning that the human story is, in fact, equal parts love and pain. To fully experience love, we must fully experience pain – we must sit in the fire.
It is not the fire that consumes us – it is our relentless pursuit to never feel the fire that burns us alive. It’s this escape, this numbing, that also prevents our transformation. Painful emotions hold lessons about living and loving and being human. We never gain the wisdom if we don’t allow ourselves to be human. And to be human is to hurt, to feel pain. We are not unique in feeling grief, anger, and fear – we are simply and beautifully human.
Learning to sit in the fire takes mindfulness. The power of being present and mindful with pain means we stop trying to out run the past while simultaneously dreading a fictional creation of the future – one where we react with such extremes to our emotions that we lose what we value – self-respect, the ones we love, or even our sanity. However, when we accept our pain, we disarm it – it loses its ability to control our actions. Feelings of grief, anger, and loneliness are no longer dangerous. Instead, they become transformed into teachers – giving us opportunities to choose who we are and how we will create our own narratives. Sitting in the fire, we can truly see and appreciate ourselves – our whole selves – the light and the dark, the yin and yang – one aspect of us is not good while the other is bad. It is all just aspects of humanity. In her book, Love Warrior, Glennon Doyle Melton writes, “Perhaps pain was not a hot potato after all, but a traveling professor.” Indeed, we can stop playing hot potato with pain. We can accept our emotions and learn all that pain, as well as love, has to offer.
We can only fully live by inviting our entire selves to the party. Love does not equal success while pain equals failure. Feeling equals success. Sitting in the fire to feel it all – love, loneliness, joy, sadness – that equals success. When we are present with our feelings, allowing the kaleidoscope of emotion to be a normal aspect of being human, we then move into choice. We can choose the healthiest response to our emotions. We no longer force ourselves to act in fear – protecting ourselves from ourselves. Instead, we are empowered to trust ourselves and respond to love, loneliness, joy, and sadness in ways that align with our values – with who we are.
In Pema Chödrön’s, When Things Fall Apart: Heartfelt Advice for Hard Times, with wisdom she writes, “So even if the hot loneliness is there, and for 1.6 seconds we sit with that restlessness when yesterday we couldn’t sit for even one, that’s the journey of the warrior.”
Sit with your pain. Allow others to sit with their pain. Don’t wipe it away. Don’t wish it away. Don’t bribe it away. Allow it – even if only for 1.6 seconds, sit in the fire.
Ready to learn more about how to sit in the fire? Let’s connect.
Tiffany Grimes -Consultant, Coach, Writer, Teacher