She was crying in the change room next to me at the radiation treatment center. It was not a quiet weeping, but a heavy, infectious sobbing that crawled inside me.
I didn’t see her. I didn’t talk to her. But I imagined what she might be experiencing. Maybe she’d just learned of her diagnosis. Or, maybe the treatment was taking its toll on her. Possibly, she was lamenting the sudden life-altering changes that accompany cancer. I projected other fears and feelings I’ve experienced during these last few months to her situation as I leaned against the wall that divided us.
Standing there, I felt her heaviness. And in it, I felt mine.
Heaviness, not only at my situation, but with hers and those who share radiation treatment with the two of us every day. And as I paused before I exited the change room, I thought of so many others who are also carrying a burdensome load.
Last week an industry colleague I’ve known for many years passed. His advanced Stage 4 liver cancer was discovered just a few months ago. A terrible loss. But along with that, my heart hurts for his love, best friend and soulmate. I feel and sense her deep, overwhelming sadness.
I think of others I’ve talked with and emailed in the last few weeks, each struggling with what life has handed them. I envision the strain they face. And, it’s probable, outside of my awareness, that you too might be fighting a great battle.
As a result, my heart is heavy today.
In these situations my tendency is to switch my attention to things that make me feel better. I’ve got a repertoire of positive, motivational and inspirational messages that I can repeat to myself to quickly cover over the heaviness.
Or, I can get lost in my Facebook feed, my email inbox or other self-soothing distractions like Netflix, my never-ending to-do list or even reading to keep from really feeling these things. I’m adept at fending off the more difficult emotions that might show up in me.
My habitual reactions have served to deflect the pain, sadness or fear I feel. I prefer to avoid this suffering and even the thoughts of it. It just feels better that way.
But in these last few months, I’m discovering something that I never really understood before.
Instead of resisting or deflecting, I’m learning to sit with this terrible, no good, rotten stuff that’s happening, and give it permission to have a voice within me. I’m practicing intimacy with the difficulty and sadness. I’m allowing myself to engage and dialog with the pain and discomfort I feel. I’m holding space for all of it.
And when I do, I’m jarred out of my complacency and the casual beliefs of an untroubled life. I accept my fragility. I adopt the instability and uncertainty of this life.
And in that, somehow there’s no need to fix, solve or reverse this heavy heart.
It’s fine just as it is.
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