And not distract yourself from them
When something is removed from your life, its value to you increases. You miss it. Its absence hurts. This is true even when it’s your own decision to remove that something.
It’s human nature to feel like this. You’re hot-wired not to like change, to view it as a threat. This is why it’s so hard to make changes that last.
It’s also human nature to do everything possible not to feel this hurt.
Such is this dislike of hurting – of feeling pain – that you do anything you can to avoid it. You can’t avoid it by preventing it from happening – so much pain is beyond your control. But you do have something very effective up your sleeve.
Distraction is an amazing way not to feel pain. And it’s never been a better time to find ways of distracting yourself. Social media, busyness, gaming, alcohol, drugs, shopping, food, Netflix. It’s distraction nirvana out there.
Distractions are interesting things. In one sense, they don’t matter to us at all, because they’re meaningless – and replaceable – time fillers. In another, they matter to us enormously, because they enable our pain-avoidance habit.
I guess it’s the process of distracting that matters to us, not the actual distractions.
But, here’s the thing. What we’re distracting ourselves from matters even more. We humans are supposed to feel pain. It’s part of our humanness. So distracting ourselves from pain is a problem.
It’s a problem in two ways. First, the pain doesn’t go away when we distract ourselves from it. It gets buried. Deep. Second, you cannot distract yourself from one emotion – pain – and not others – joy, love, happiness. When you numb one, you numb them all.
I learned this the hard way.
When I was young, I became a master of distraction. I’d use whatever was to hand to distract myself from feelings I couldn’t deal with. I used physical distractions, like having TV and radio playing in the background. And I used mental ones, like escapism, busyness, perfectionism and being in control.
My distraction skills enabled me to handle whatever was thrown at me. I stayed responsible, dependable and productive at all times. In myself, I was neither low, nor high. I was ‘fine’.
I remained ‘fine’ until one day in my 40s, when everything fell apart. No distraction in the world could take my attention away from the deep pain I felt. It wasn’t as though I wanted to feel the pain – I didn’t. It was more that my body had no nowhere left to bury it. The pain came bursting out from every cell. The recent pain overload I’d experienced had pushed me over the edge.
I was forced, kicking and screaming, to sit with the pain. It came up from my recent past, and my distant past. It was so intense that I stopped cycling and driving for a few weeks – I knew it wasn’t safe to do so.
After working through the worst of it, a few things happened. I felt a lightness I’d never sensed before. I felt real joy for the first time in my life. And I vowed never to distract myself from my emotions again.
My pain taught me a lot. About me. About life.
About what’s NOT important in life — what doesn’t matter:
- Busyness doesn’t matter.
- Living in the past doesn’t matter.
- Perfection doesn’t matter.
- Possessions don’t matter.
- Being right doesn’t matter.
- Distracting yourself doesn’t matter.
- Faking it doesn’t matter.
- Bingeing doesn’t matter.
- Living in the future doesn’t matter.
- Status doesn’t matter.
- Being in control doesn’t matter.
- Pretence doesn’t matter.
- Hierarchy doesn’t matter.
Best of all, my pain taught me about what IS important in life. About the things that really do matter:
- Feeling pain matters.
- Feeling love matters.
- Meaningful relationships matter.
- Feeling joy matters.
- Well-being matters.
- Acceptance matters.
- Feeling alive matters.
- Giving freely matters.
- Compassion matters.
- Being healthy matters.
- Forgiveness matters.
- Living in the moment matters.
- Feeling happiness matters.
- Being loving matters.
- Receiving graciously matters.
- Letting go matters.
- Community matters.
- Being joyful matters.
- Being authentic matters.
- Being open matters.
- Being respectful matters.
- Wisdom matters.
You know what matters most of all? Putting everything you’ve got into what matters.
That’s how you honour what matters. That’s how you show your love. Because living, sentient beings are behind everything that matters.
And you and they deserve your best love.