I spent the last two days with my high school sweetheart and first love. Having been out of touch for years, it was an emotional experience. As we talked about our past we realized how much we had loved each other, but how we were unable to express that love as teenagers. We realized that we had unintentionally hurt each other deeply, leaving scars that it took us both years to get over.
As we finally shared the feelings we had all those years ago, we came to a new understanding of and appreciation for each other. We resolved old issues that we would have dealt with at the time if only we had the courage to talk about our feelings when we were together.
Now that she’s gone, I’m left with a renewed friendship, even though we live on different continents.
As healing as the conversations were, I woke up this morning feeling funky.
In my mind I had resolved a lot with my ex, but I discovered that my body was still processing emotions that had been stirred up by seeing her. A sappy video on Facebook about the lives Filipinos working abroad almost made me cry – even though it was in the Tagalog language, which I don’t understand. And I had a weird sensation in the back of my left seventh rib – a mix of physical discomfort, emotional heaviness and a feeling that I just wanted to run away from it as fast as I could!
In our Body-Psyche Guide to Inner Wisdom, the left seventh rib resonates with abandonment and betrayal by female. Given that my ex had left me while I was still in love with her, it was no surprise that particular spot was active.
I had two options for how to deal with those disturbing feelings lodged in my rib: self-care or personal development.
With self-care I would focus on the short-term goal of feeling better. With personal development I would aim to learn from the pain, even if that meant feeling more of the intensely unpleasant feelings in the short term.
The Pursuit of Self Care
Some typical self-care strategies are:
- Cardio Exercise
While each of these approaches would provide a short-term benefit, each has a long-term cost. By taking our attention away from pain, we lose the possibility of real healing and achieving lasting change.
“Numbing the pain for a while will make it worse when you finally feel it.”
– Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter
With yoga I would have grounded myself in my body and stretched out my muscles. I would have paid particular attention to releasing that funky feeling of betrayal in my rib by using side-bending and twisting poses until the strange sensations dissipated.
At the end of the yoga session I would have felt rejuvenated and ready to get back to work.
But, by only focusing on my muscles I would have overridden the emotional content, pushing it out of awareness – back into that dark hole where it had been lurking for years.
With traditional meditation I would have intentionally calmed my mind, and my body would have dropped into a calmer state as well.
After twenty minutes of meditation I would have felt fine.
But, through focusing on my mind I would have taken my attention away from my body’s wisdom and lost the opportunity to learn from the pain.
I could have gone for a run or a bike ride. After twenty minutes noradrenaline – the feel-good drug we get from extended cardio exercise – would have kicked in, giving me that wonderful runner’s high.
After thirty minutes I would have forgotten the wound trapped in my back as pleasing neuro-hormones flooded my brain and body.
But, those exercise-induced drugs would have masked what was going on underneath. Healthy as it is, the runner’s high can be just another form of addiction, where we need to run more and more to get the temporary high of noradrenaline in order to mask underlying emotional pain.
Ah massage. As I lay on the table a skilled massage therapist would work on my muscles to relax them. My mind would have drifted off into blissful peace.
After an hour I would feel pampered. I may even feel nurtured by the caring touch of the masseuse – counteracting the emotional turmoil I had been experiencing over the last two days.
But, I would have done nothing to heal the lingering issues. In fact those lingering issues would have been pushed out of awareness again.
All of these self-care options would have been ‘healthy’ in some sense. They are certainly better than smoking, drinking or taking drugs to numb the pain or engaging in other behaviors of addiction or denial.
But they all take awareness away from the core issue, therefore preventing deeper personal development.
My Choice for Personal Development
This morning I have a lot of work to do, but I want to keep my connection with those unpleasant feelings until I have time to explore and learn from them.
For now I’ve made the choice not to use any of the self-care options above, but instead to live with the uncomfortable physical and emotional feelings for the day. Tomorrow morning I’ll have time to explore with Body-Psyche guided meditations in pursuit of real changes.
I don’t yet know what will come out of my guided meditations, but I’m sure they’ll be life-enhancing.
The Journey To Personal Development
Real personal development requires not running away from painful feelings or uncomfortable physical sensations, but rather moving towards them with self-compassion. It’s only when we are aware of what is going on that we have the opportunity to heal it.
“To truly laugh, you must be able to take your pain, and play with it!”
– Charlie Chaplin
The Place for Self Care
I don’t mean to say that there’s no place for self care. I enjoy a good massage as much as anyone, I practice yoga regularly and I love the physical and mood benefits of running. I am saying, however, that self-care has a downside when it’s misused as a form of denial or avoidance. When I had a difficult emotion emerge I purposefully avoided any ‘self-care’ activities that would have suppressed the emotion before I had the opportunity to learn from it.
When You’re Ready
I invite you to use the Body-Psyche guided meditations on this site to support your own personal development. If you’ve been reading this site for a while and still haven’t taken advantage of the free tools, what are you waiting for? There’s no time like the present.
“The pain passes, but the beauty remains.”
– Pierre-Auguste Renoir