Emotional Health

Summer’s Healing Power: Earth, Water, and Light

Emotional pain is the same thing, generally. In both medical and psychological practice, it is considered misguided to treat the symptom and not the cause. While medications to ease pain, both physical and mental, are important and useful, feelings themselves are not the problem. The roots of emotions, the distorted thoughts, painful memories, conflicts, and habit patterns that produce and support them are the fundamental problem. Dwelling on feelings, giving them more room and importance than they deserve, often sets up a vicious cycle of pain, anxiety, and regret.

Treatment to ease pain is a positive step, but active steps to address the root of the problem are necessary. Therapy is often helpful and necessary, but techniques to build positive thoughts and emotions are important counter measures. Chodron asserts that both pain and joy are essential parts of the human experience, and they compliment each other. Our avoidance of pain in order to seek a happy life represents a fundamental error in the Western approach to living.

Chodron writes in her book When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, (2016);

“We think that by protecting ourselves from suffering we are being kind to ourselves. The truth is, we only become more fearful, more hardened, and more alienated. We experience ourselves as being separate from the whole….When we don’t close off and we let our hearts break, we discover kinship with all beings.”

When anxious, distraught, and despairing, advised to “pull yourself together,” well-meaning others show an awareness of the fragmentation and alienation from the self that usually underlies these feelings. Yet wrapping yourself up, withdrawing, or turning inward almost never helps. Connection is what helps us most. Connection with our essential selves, with the natural world, and most important, with others, is the thing that grounds us, heals us.

People sometimes ask me if it is draining to be a therapist—if it takes a toll to listen to people in distress and despair for a living. In fact, the opposite is true. While some satisfaction is derived, of course, from being helpful, progress can be slow, and being too goal-oriented can disrupt the natural flow of the patient’s ability to heal. What is most satisfying is the connection between my patients and me. Even though it is “one-way” in that they confide in me rather than mutual disclosure, it is very intimate. People who open themselves up to therapy are allowing you to share in their emotional lives, to connect on a deep level. That always makes me feel more human and grounded, and that feels rewarding, sometimes even energizing.

In fact, during the hardest times of my emotional life, my work as a therapist has been the most valuable. Being able to connect with others, even when I had trouble connecting with myself, was healing. Falling apart often opens spaces that weren’t visible before, as Carly Simon wrote in a song for the tragi-comic Norah Ephron film, “Heartburn:” “Don’t mind if I fall apart, there’s more room in a broken heart.”

Sometimes I think of the Liberty Bell, one of our most valued national treasures. Its most recognizable feature is a huge crack that was created the first time it was rung. Repairs have never been completely successful and ultimately were abandoned. Yet it was never replaced. It remains an important historical artifact of our struggle for freedom.

Not all cracks need to be repaired. They should be respected as part of the natural process of life. We are all broken, but those cracks allow light to shine in too. This summer, resolve to get all the light you can.

 

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