Meet Me In The Quiet Space

Emotional Pain Is All Around Us

I spend a good portion of every day trying to solve the problem of suffering, both in my personal and professional lives. I’m not sure I know what I am doing. But I am sure of one thing: dealing with our pain can only happen if there is a quiet space around us and a quiet space inside of us. And healing emotional pain comes not through doing, but through receiving…

It was two years ago in July when my daughter woke me up in the middle of the night howling in pain.  It was her stomach. It hurt.  A lot. This wasn’t new.  This had been happening for months. I rationalized it as anxiety.  She came by that trait honestly. But this was different, it was waking her up.  I couldn’t explain it away anymore.  I called the doctor in the morning and they saw us right away.  I figured it would be a simple visit, they’d prescribe something and we’d be on our way.  It didn’t work out that way.  All sorts of tests were ordered.  My daughter was about to be poked, prodded, and stuck with more needles than I dared to imagine. My baby.  Something is wrong with my baby.

Avoiding Emotional Pain

I couldn’t procrastinate getting the bloodwork done.  She was in so much pain and wasting away to nothing. A lab appointment was made for the following day.  I had to tell my daughter what they were going to do. There were tears at first, then came a frantic string of what kinds of things they would find in her blood.

Maybe the doctors would find out that she ate too many Sour Patch Kids, or maybe strawberry seeds found their way into her blood, or maybe there was glitter in her veins.  I started to join in the brainstorming session, figuring it was a good distraction to get us through the stress. Somewhere in the middle of our frantic giggles and wild ideas, it hit me.  I was teaching my daughter to avoid her fear.  I was avoiding my own fear.

She was learning from the best. In my own 40+ years on this Earth I’ve come up with some pretty elegant (and not-so-elegant) ways to avoid my own anxiety and I was passing them on to her.  Through osmosis, I was teaching her to avoid that quiet place inside of her where fear and anxiety live.

Our pain can only be glimpsed in the space between our actions.

When we were getting out of the car to go in for the blood draw, there was a moment when my daughter looked me in the eye and I knew she was in that quiet place. I understood this was the moment that she would give voice to her anxiety. We both began to cry. She whispered, “Will I be ok?” I didn’t have an answer.

The quiet space between all of our activity can hurt.

It can hurt so much.

We all have quiet places inside of us, and regardless of how charmed our lives have been. The fact is, we live in an imprefect world, and our quiet places have been filled with all sorts of suffering:

The aching loneliness we feel in a busy, distracted world. The inescapable grief caused by illness and death. The despair of betrayal. Helplessness in the midst of unspeakable injustice. The shame we hide away, as we compete for a sense of worthiness.

Our quiet places hurt so badly. It’s no wonder we want to avoid them.

The world offers us countless distractions, some more obvious than others. We drink, snort or stick needles in our veins to numb out. Rage is also an affective numbing agent that’s oh-so-easily accessed. Or we use sex as an escape when it should be a connection.

And then there are the more socially acceptable, more subtle forms of numbing ourselves. We compulsively check social media channels. We mindlessly go down the rabbit hole of Google searches. We shop and purchase and decorate and rack up the debt of distraction.  We eat, because it is almost impossible to eat and feel sad at the same time. And we work, and work, and work.

With so many attractive alternatives, why would we ever choose to enter into our quiet places, where we may catch sight of our suffering?

Why Choose to Walk Through The Suffering

The answer came to me from a client I had the honor to work with this past year. He told me that real healing in his grief support group doesn’t happen during the actual meeting.

The real healing happens in the fifteen-minute spaces before and after a meeting. It’s during those minutes when you are acutely aware that you know no one, yet understand that your mere presence means you’re in pain, you have to face your own vulnerability, loneliness, fear of rejection and even shame. You have to resist the urge to act busy and self-important by flicking through your smartphone and, instead, just sit there, completely open to the quiet space and how much it hurts to not belong and to risk further rejection.

But, as it turns out, the healing is in the hurting.  If you can enter that space, if you can sit there and endure it, you discover it doesn’t last as long as you expected. Because someone will sit down next to you, and they will join you in the space, and they will understand what you are going through.

Upon entering the quiet-aching space, we discover the premium we have placed on comfort and painlessness was cheap relief coming at a great price. We discover that, in our effort to avoid the quiet places, we were unwittingly poring the salt of loneliness onto the wounds of a lifetime. We discover that, by making our quiet spaces and our wounds available to others, we are met in our pain by a welcoming eye and a gentle hand. We discover the pain is bearable, because we are not bearing it alone. And we discover that healing is not about getting rid of our pain—healing is about being met in our pain.

We are met by a stranger who is about to become a lifelong friend.

We are met by a lifelong friend who wants all of us, not just the fun parts.

We are met by a parent or a spouse who is truly in it for-better-or-worse. We are met by a therapist, who spends time with so many others but has still reserved a special place for us in her heart. We are met by a still, small voice inside of us, whispering, “You are not alone.”

As it turns out, being joined in the quiet-hurting places is the soothing balm for which we have been so frantically searching.

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