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Self Awareness and Healing
What we can learn from pain
I initially began reflecting on the time I spent in Richard Strozzi-Heckler’s dojo, the subject of last week’s newsletter, when he sent me his most recent book, Embodying the Mystery: Somatic Wisdom for Emotional, Energetic and Spiritual Awakening.
It’s a fascinating memoir, especially about his early, difficult journey: brutally honest yet filled with useful insights about engaging our bodies to cultivate self-awareness and claim our place in the world.
The parts of the book I found most compelling had to do with injury, pain and healing– no doubt because I had a total knee replacement at the end of July. Richard, who like most athletes has endured many injuries, emphasized that we fear pain primarily because it makes us vulnerable.
This helped me to separate the fear I was feeling from the pain that was flooding my body in waves, and to view the two as separate phenomena. Rather than identifying with my pain, I was able to observe it, to watch it come, grow and then fade. To learn from it rather than being engulfed by the emotions it stirred. Obviously, a more self-aware approach.
I’ve come to see that self-awareness is the key to so much: the ability to create trust, to put forth a vision in the world, to translate ideas into actions. And to practice those actions until they become second nature and are reflected in our physical being in a way that compels belief. This insight is helping me to deal with setbacks, loss and physical pain in a realistic yet affirming way.
I work with a lot of people– as a coach, doing leadership programs, and conducting interviews for articles and books. Many of them feel absorbed by that particular and persistent form of pain that arises when we feel frustrated with our work, disappointed with the direction of our career, or undervalued by our boss.
This pain is endemic to the workplace, but it’s been flashing code red since the start of the pandemic. And while it can often be addressed by small shifts in our behavior, the first step is recognizing the effect this pain has upon us, in the form of anger, resentment, disappointment or discouragement. And then finding a way to separate our situation from our emotions.
Once we detach, even a little, from our emotions, we can assess the issue at the heart of our feelings and devise a response.
Not: “My boss is driving me nuts! I feel trapped. You won’t believe what he did this time.”
Rather: “I feel overwhelmed because my boss keeps piling more work on me but never affirms the good job I do. I need to start gathering ideas on how to address this. Maybe Marie, who worked for him last year and seemed to handle him well, could give me a few ideas.”
The second approach is self-awareness in action. We see our emotions– we don’t deny them— but we don’t blame them on another person, because doing so only makes us feel helpless. Instead, we accept our feelings without buying into them and look for a way to address the situation that has us all stirred up.
The value of this simple (yet hard!) practice has become more obvious to me as I’ve learned to accept, rather than identify with, my pain and try to deal with what is happening in the moment. Richard’s insights have helped me to do this. Coming back to the body– practicing the somatic wisdom of which he speaks– gives us a firm ground from which to deal not only with pain but with the disappointments and frustrations that can bedevil us at work and in our daily lives.