We all get hurt emotionally. Everyday we get hurt. Ostensibly, minor vicissitudes. My plans were cancelled due to rain. I didn’t get the ice cream flavor I wanted. I dropped my mobile device in the toilet.
Then there are the types of emotional pains that have more gravitas, that come from our interpersonal relationships, romantic or otherwise. Someone spoke to me in a way I didn’t want to be spoken to. My girlfriend broke up with me. I’m resentful because my partner wants something different in our relationship.
Progressing towards more profound and complicated levels of emotional pain and suffering, there are those that cut significantly into the fabric of our hearts, and which tend to become stitched into our life’s quilt. A friend took his life because of chronic physical pain. I lost my wife to cancer. My beloved grandmother has passed on.
Then there are familial, cultural, and societal wounds that imprint our psyches and paradigms, infect our nervous systems, and automatically trigger our feeling of safety in the world. These insidious lacerations cause cumulative pain and suffering that reside in each of us, so deep, in fact, that we cannot even separate them from the core of who we are and how we see the world. As Americans, it is undeniable that we have built a cultural foundation on the sweat equity and oppression of indigenous peoples and African slaves. Over 400 years! And, to this day, immigrants to this so-called land of freedom continue to be subjected to systematic racism, bigotry, and persecution. Somewhere in our individual nervous systems as well as our collective consciousness, we hold all of the related trauma. We are all – white, black, brown, red, blue – attached to the predispositions, the perspectives, and the judgments that are part and parcel of our social history. If you’re of Caucasian decent – whether you’re a white supremacist or not – you hold the trauma, too (it’s just the way you express it that may look different). How can we not hold it?! How can generations upon generations of children – growing up in the capitalistic, quasi-democratic, white patriarchal, American cultural and socio-political milieu, trending towards divisiveness of power as it has for the last however many decades – remain immune to the cascade of predispositions, perspectives, and judgments of their families and institutionalized messaging? Fact is, if you’ve only ever known one particular story your entire life – the one picture that is painted in the colors of freedom: the bald eagle, one nation under God – eventually you will come to know it and believe it as absolute, without relationship to any other cultural narrative. That story will be the only one you know. And, if the attributes, morals, and values of that story conflict with those of another, and you happen to be on the receiving end of oppression, jingoism, patriarchy, judgment, inequality, ridicule, disrespect, etc. (and we all know what it feels like to be on the receiving end), that pain will cut you deep. Really deep.
But I digress.
Perhaps the largest and most obscure pain has to do with the degradation of our home, Mother Earth. It seems to me that anyone who is either playing their cards purely in the game of science, or is throwing them up to the faithful winds of something greater than the sum of everything, would be able to see that it is the most miraculous thing that we are living on a little blue collection of elements floating in an interminable universe.
It’s pretty damn amazing, no?!
Further, if we were to stop for a moment objectifying the planet and all of its living organisms, and instead remember that we are indeed inseparable from it, we might be able to feel the sadness and despair of ruining it. We are absolutely defined by our place in the universe. We have no doubt come from it. To believe that the continued scale of reckless destruction of the only place we can live within our intergalactic reach is anything but a zero-sum game, is to not see clearly. We have the know-how and enough desire to engineer a reciprocal approach to living on the Earth which would bring about bounty and equality for all of its living spirits. Those in power are afraid to let go of what they have because doing so would make them feel unsafe. So there are extremes in wealth. And there is avarice. But all the rest of us have power, too. We have the power of our decisions as human beings, particularly as consumers, to effect change. It starts with our simple intention and belief to live in harmony with each other and the planet.
But, I digress again.
It is true that the degree to which something is hurtful will vary from person to person. And, no doubt, some pain is universally deeper and more impactful to us. But generally, life’s vicissitudes have the potential to cut into our fragile, made-for love heart. Death by a thousand cuts or one big blow, either can bring us to our knees. In so far as we wanted something to be as we wished or hoped or expected, pain equates to loss. No matter how minor the hurt may seem, we have indeed lost something. If nothing else, we’ve lost a touch of our capacity for joy. We are, after all, sentient beings. We are designed to feel joy and sadness, and everything in between, so that we can know the extent of our humanity. Each of our pains and sufferings has the potential to teach us something. To tell us something about who we are, as we appear to ourselves. And who we are in relation to others. Each is a wonderful note-to-self, reminding us of what still hurts, and what isn’t yet healed.
And so it follows that we cannot possibly move ahead in our lives in any substantive way without first allowing the space and time to attend to our wounds. We understand this metaphor, relating emotional injury to physical injury, because it’s a universal truth. We know we’re fragile. Even those who demonstrate a tough skin and won’t admit it are fragile, too (are you paying attention?).
Now is the time, amidst the chaos of pandemics and politicizing, to take inventory. To take record of your privileges, your powers, your love, your pains. If nothing else, the one thing we all need to do at this moment in time is to take a breath, and feel into our individual, collective, and relational traumas. We need to grieve. We need to grieve for ourselves and our own losses. We need to grieve for those of our fellow brothers and sisters. We need to grieve for the current and past direction of humanity. And we need to grieve for Mother Earth. There’s a lot to be sad about right now.
We’ve all been hurt. If you don’t think so, you’re not looking closely enough. And what do we do with that emotional injury? Do we hurt others in response? Shame them? Blame them? Coerce them into being the way we want? Control them? Lie to them? Act tough? Hit them? We’re all afraid. Let’s face it. We’re all afraid that we’re not going to have what we want or need to be safe, to be healthy and respected, to have what we need to continue to praise life. I think it’s time for us to take stock of how we’re approaching the future. Our only future.
We stand at an inflection point in human civilization.
It’s time we make fewer definitive statements and ask more provocative questions.
It’s time we wake up.