I closed my eyes, feeling the sting of tiredness behind my eyelids. The late morning sun streamed through my living room windows, landing on my lap. A Sunday, I’d slept in and was settling into my meditation practice later than usual.
The bell on my iPhone timer rang, signalling me to turn inside. Breathing in, I felt my middle expand as cool air moved in through my nostrils. As I exhaled, I felt the familiar ache in my heart that had been ever present the past few months. Inhaling again, I vowed to sit with and feel this pain.
Then came the beast.
“What the f*ck are you doing?! Bring the vacuum cleaner over here RIGHT NOW. NO! RIGHT HERE, you fool. F*CK!!!!!”
My right eye opened, as if trying to lean closer to the shouts rising up into my apartment from the street outside. It sounded like a big brother bullying his little brother. My eye closed again. Breathing in, breathing out, feeling my pain.
But the beast didn’t stop there.
“GOD DAMN IT, you little f*cker! WHAT THE F*CK? You need to vacuum THIS HERE, RIGHT HERE!”
How many times can this person use the f-word in one sentence? I thought to myself.
And realizing that they weren’t going to quit anytime soon, I stood up, walked over to the window and looked outside to see what was going on.
Down on the sidewalk below me, I saw not a big brother with his little brother, but a mother with her small son.
Fumbling with a vacuum cleaner almost as big as he was, the little boy kept bowed his head down, mumbling with resignation, “Okay, Mom. Okay, OKAY!”
I watched his mom cross the street, cursing at him over her shoulder as she went– disappearing around the corner.
Then I closed the windows and sat down once more. When I closed my eyes, I didn’t notice my breath. I noticed the hot, flurry of anger swirling in my solar plexus and chest. I felt it pulsing, burning like a bonfire, only on the inside.
Then I remembered an observation I’d heard Krista Tippett, the founder of On Being, share recently. She’d voiced that all the anger we’re seeing in the world is the outpouring of unexpressed pain.
When we don’t have the tools to be with our pain (like empathic support, mindfulness practices, teachings in how to cultivate emotional resilience), we pass off our pain like a hot potato in one of two directions.
For many women (myself included), we inflict it as anger and violence towards ourselves. Addictions, eating disorders, extreme self doubt, even autoimmune diseases are anger, stemming from unprocessed pain, directed inwards.
For others, pain that hasn’t been held and metabolized becomes rage directed outwards. War, and all sexual, physical, and emotional violence stem from this.
With all the hardship we’re experiencing in the world right now, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, resigned, like our efforts are ineffective, or that we’re completely out of touch with reality if we’re subject to “white privilege.”
Let’s not underestimate the power of sitting with our pain– of loving and digesting it– rather than leaving it unchecked to cause more destruction against ourselves and others.
This, we can do. In fact, we’re the only ones who can do this; and, in honor of my angry neighbor who clarified a lot for me that Sunday morning, that’s pretty f*cking powerful.
Personal note: There are many details about this story that I excluded for the sake of highlighting a specific teaching for this community. I have taken the steps available to help this young boy and to address what I witnessed between him and his mother.
P.S. After doing some research, I discovered that one of the best ways to offer support to those impacted by the Hurricanes is to donate to the Red Cross. Donate to those impacted by Irma here. Or, for those in the U.S., you can donate $10 instantly to those impacted by Hurricane Harvey by texting “Harvey” to 90999.