Tuesday, December 29, 2009

How do I accept This?

The first time I ask a client to allow and be with his or her difficult feelings, I usually get 'the look' that says, "You've got to be nuts." People are too polite to actually say the words, but the eyes say it just as plainly. After a lifetime of avoiding discomfort, the idea of actually embracing it is radical.

This has been a challenging Christmas holiday at my house. Christmas Eve, my husband noticed some unusual pain; by the evening of the next day, we knew he had shingles, an excruciatingly painful recurrence of the chickenpox virus he had as a kid. On Saturday we made the 50 minute trip to the nearest small town hospital ER to get him the anti-viral medication necessary to reduce the chance of long-term complications. By Saturday night, he was in unrelenting agony.

Anyone who has sat with a loved one experiencing intense suffering knows it's hard. When you've done all you can do and it isn't enough to make it better. The helplessness, frustration, anger, sadness, and finally, exhaustion. I remember saying to myself over and over, "be with the feeling, don't push it away." It's times like this when I can totally relate to 'the look.' I don't want to feel this. In addition, I'm too tired. This is a huge issue for me. After seven years with chronic fatigue, I know one of my biggest obstacles to being present is that it takes energy. In this situation, with the stress, driving, care-taking, and little sleep, it's a given that my body and brain are going to shut down. And I don't want to shut down, because there's this person that I love that I want to be here for and who needs me to take care of him. Add fear to that list of unwanted feelings - fear that I won't be able to do what is needed.

How can I accept this situation? How can I be with it in an open and embracing way? I really tried to push it away, at least for a little while. Predictably, this just made me feel worse. Finally, I gave in, imagining a great space within which all those feelings could reside, foremost my own exhaustion, helplessness and fear. Sitting with my own suffering, holding it with care and compassion. At first glance, this might seem selfish. But really, it is just the opposite.

As long as we fight against the difficulty, it creates a tension in us, in our mind and heart. We become disconnected from ourselves and inevitably, from the one we love. When we open to and accept the situation and our feelings about it, the tension eases and we reconnect. From this openness, there is a free flow of caring and compassion, from which we can act consciously, not re-act out of our own emotions. I can better care for the one I love and myself, and know that the difference between the two isn't as far as I thought.

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