Suffering for a Purpose

Another fight.  Not with anyone really, with myself, or should I say my fear.  I am at the tail-end of yet another weekend consisting of a 50k ‘training run’ (just feels weird to say that, I’ve raced this distance before and there’s really nothing ‘just a training run’ about it), and a 10 mile ‘easy’ run (that’s the spirit).  I can feel my crankiness starting to set in.  Somehow this is causing embarrassment for me.  I find myself ‘glazing’ when I get home with my family (a term I use to describe when I’m actually uncomfortable acknowledging my emotions to myself, or showing them to others, and instead just ‘paste’ on a smile).  Why?  Simple. Because I don’t want to admit to myself and my family that I’m actually tired.  I  may need a little bit of understanding if I seem off.  I’m afraid of the pain this would cause.  Not for them, if I’m honest, but the pain it would cause me. 

The emotional exposure.  How about if they’re not receptive to what I needed?  How about if they use my honest expression of how I’m feeling against me later during a disagreement and tell me, “You’re just exhausted and making a thing of it!”  There’s also a smidge of unfounded self-shaming involved because I’m tired and self-questioning, does that mean I’m doing something wrong? (Fairly sure that, when I’m not exhausted, I believe running 42 miles in a weekend is a real reason to be tired). 

All of the things my emotions are signalling to me that I need (rest, letting others know where I’m at emotionally, letting go of the self-judgment, and acknowledging the merits of my fatigue) feels very painful at the moment. Actually a bit too painful to do.  But the truth of the matter is, I’m suffering anyway by not doing it.

All life is suffering.  Yet we try to avoid it in all its forms.  Emotional exposure to ourselves and others.  Situations that require trusting people, or allowing potentially difficult situations to naturally unfold and trusting that we are capable of handling our own vulnerability.  Yet, even when we are at our ‘glazing best’–when we are trying to be intellectual and emotional ‘jedis’, plotting, navigating, and scripting all of our answers to the best of our abilities…we still suffer.

We suffer with self-disappointment. We suffer with that nagging, achy pain in our gut that wrenches on us about something we wanted to try but we’re afraid of failure, so never went ahead.  But at least the pain of that fear is private, so we think it’s better than a public display of pain: physical, mental, or emotional.  We suffer through apathy.  The “woulda’, shoulda’, coulda’s” that pile up in the trenches of our minds and erode our self confidence.  As a result, we try to numb that shame through substance use or abuse in its many forms, or we just act out on others: our friends, our loved ones, anything to vent that disappointment and anger within us which of course…causes us more shame. To put it plainly, when we try to avoid our suffering we still feel pain.  Instead of feeling the confidence and self affirmation, even in a complete ‘belly flop’ of a public set back, we choose the silence and privacy of growing fearful and smaller by ourselves.

If we must suffer, we should choose our suffering.  We could exert our will over that which we can.  Those things that only we have control over, that live within us, that cause us discomfort.  Only then do we truly live a life that’s ours.  A life where we’re not wasting our intellect and emotional savvy to ‘read’ all of the situations before they come up, ducking and weaving all of the uncomfortable people, places, and things that occur in our lives and then patting ourselves on our back for being clever.  

Being vulnerable, feeling all of our emotions, and meeting situations and people where they are is truly living.  We have a choice. We can accept the pain that comes with conformity and fear of emotional vulnerability, or we can choose to think, feel and act in ways in our life that may have us uncomfortable, but then we’re in the driver’s seat.  It is only when we stretch and strive, only when we grow do we truly live.  

So I choose to continue to pursue difficult endeavors that challenge me physically, mentally, and emotionally.  These are the choices that will provide me with the opportunity to grow, as long as I honor my effort…and my fatigue.  So, I’m going to let my family know where I’m at and go take a much-needed nap… I hope they’ll join me.

Watch Out For The Hook

“Have you been able to rebuild your acupuncture practice?”

I can feel my jaw clench just a smidge. Now, I’ve just had a conversation with this woman about my business and how I’ve been writing, speaking, and coaching on emotional resilience for about two years now. Yet, following her question, I see her looking at me with sympathetic eyes…they look patronizing.  Again I say, “I stopped practicing acupuncture about a year ago and my coaching is—“

“That must be just so tough just starting a new business right now…such a struggle!” she says, cutting me off.

I can literally feel my face start to tingle. I know if I looked in the mirror I’d be seeing that nice rosey red!  My next words come out a little chewed on since I’m almost grinding my teeth at this point.  “My online coaching practice has been going extraordinarily well. It’s the keynote speaking that–”

“Well, if you or your family need anything,” she says over her shoulder as she gets back into her BMW, “please don’t be too proud to ask!  Let everyone know they’re in my prayers!” 

To be honest, I really don’t know if she said anything after the proud comment.  My seething anger was creating so much of its own dialogue at this point, I couldn’t have heard God in a fire truck.

My mind is racing: “Can you believe this?! Who the hell does she think she is? Obviously she’s completely unaware and oblivious to other people’s feelings. Driving around in her high and mighty car [I don’t know what that means], with a checkbook to ‘help out’ anybody she perceives is in a lower financial situation than her… Truly! I mean, it just doesn’t make any sense. How does she know me so well that she knows just where to hit me? She must have been up for quite some time thinking of ways to ‘hook me’…  She would have had to know when she’d run into me too, though? Hmmm…

I remember similar thoughts (or panic) in my head when I started boxing.  Fighters would come out and just exploit every weakness that I possibly had. This was amateur fighting, so there’s no “watching the film of the opponent” the night before.  They would just know in “real time” after a few minutes in the ring where to hit me, repeatedly, to hurt me the most.  Many new fighters wear their “tells” on their sleeves, and a good boxer can easily learn how to exploit a new boxer’s weaknesses.  The problem is that this was an old woman in her late 70’s, and my guess is that she is not a really good boxer.  In fact, I would have sincere doubts that she ever really boxed (this is an assumption, but I feel it’s a relatively safe one).  So, if that is the case, I have to wonder how this elderly (but spry) woman was able to “lay me out” by hooking me emotionally in the center of the grocery store parking lot without really even knowing me!?  The answer is simple:

I was hooking myself.

Here’s the thing: emotions (energy in motion) are created inside of us.  How we think, feel, our behaviors, even our biochemistry (that 3rd slice of pizza you ate) all play a part in the creation of the energy called emotions within our body.  If this seventy-plus year old fly weight is triggering something inside me (the way I feel or think about a particular situation in my life), the only person who has any control over whether or not I get or continue to be “hooked” by this is me.   

Think about it: if she had asked me about my running, I wouldn’t have had even the slightest of problems.  If she asked me how my son was doing in college, I would’ve told her about how difficult it was for him and anyone else who had to be home from college because of COVID, otherwise nada on the “emotion scale”.  On top of that, I would have chalked her mentioning it up to being motivated by real concern.   Say something that was new for me or something I was already a bit anxious about?  My thoughts immediately go to: “She’s the grim reaper trying to get at my soul!”  And I create different emotions running through my body.

Even though my coaching business is going very well, I’m nervous about how my speaking engagements will go in the future because it’s an “unknown”.  I made the tough decision to leave my very good acupuncture practice and, after a fantastic 2019 speaking year, I have been uncertain how I will be able to shift to making real connections through virtual workshops and presentations.  So, in reality, she was unknowingly throwing darts 🎯 at my emotions board and hit MY emotional bullseye.

We all get hooked at times.  The trouble is, we often don’t see it as our issue.  It usually feels like the other person is attacking us or trying to get us riled up in some way…or just plain being insensitive.  But, when we take the time to step back into our corner (that quiet place in our heads where we can really examine what is going on for us), we are able to discover that it is our own fear, anxiety, or self-doubt that just got triggered.  Moreover, the other person is typically blithely unaware that they have even hooked us!