Everyone I know suffers from anxiety, depression, or both (including myself, at times.) Not usually in the my-best-friend-just-died sort of way, but because of something else: dirty emotional pain. What do I mean?
Clean pain is a natural response to a stressful situation, like a physical injury or the death of a loved one. Once felt, it fades away very quickly.
On the other hand, our thoughts about a situation cause dirty pain. It sticks around as long as the thoughts do.
Clean pain is a natural response to stress, while dirty pain is caused by our thoughts about it.
Clean pain is the hurt in your knee when you fall off your bike.
Dirty pain, however, is the mental whirlwind that follows: blaming yourself for not seeing the dip in the road, fuming at the person who cut in front of you.
Recently I worked with author and speaker Byron Katie, the closest thing to Enlightened I’ve ever seen. Since she seems to experience no dirty pain whatsoever, I was fascinated to hear her tell the story of grieving her mother’s death.
Katie was standing in the kitchen with her adult children when a sound erupted from her mouth. She didn’t consciously cause it, nor did she fully understand it. But she allowed it. The moaning, weeping, whatever it was, traveled through her body. Someone held her. Then, in no more than a minute or two, her body calmed again. She smiled and carried on with getting a plate of food.
So, dirty pain is completely optional. I’m not pretending it’s easy, but it is a damn good ideal to pursue.
Anxiety almost ended my business
It’s early 2018. I lead a department at the fastest growing company in Nebraska. I love my kind and creative coworkers, but I’m not jazzed about the work itself. Meanwhile, I adore the coaching I’m doing on the weekends. But I push the idea of major change away for “some day.”
At work, we start a 100-day challenge to help each other build new daily habits. I choose to do The Work of Byron Katie, a meditative practice of questioning painful thoughts, once each day.
On day 62, I quit my job.
Let’s back up a few days.
I’m on the phone doing The Work with a friend and fellow Martha Beck coach.
I tell her I feel restless to express my creativity. I have endless ideas in me that want out! Sure I’ve thought about quitting my lucrative software career. I could see myself writing and coaching some day…
“But,” I say, “my husband would be uncomfortable if we didn’t have my salary. I have to make people comfortable.”
Whoa, didn’t know that was there!
My chest is tight, my breath shallow. My shoulders hunch forward like my whole body is subtly shriveling up. I notice I’ve been scared to talk to my husband about quitting my job.
My anxiety, transformed
Next, we turn the thought around. How might it be true that I don’t have to make people comfortable? In what ways do I have to make people uncomfortable?
Here’s my lightbulb moment.
Making people uncomfortable is kinda my thing!
I remember a business lunch, years ago. My colleagues are talking sports at one end of the table, and I’m at the other end crying with our client who recently lost her sister.
Having uncomfortable conversations is part of who I am, and it’s always made my life better.
This new perspective feels way more empowering. And less than a week later, after an easy conversation with my husband, I’m giving my boss my two weeks notice.
I’m a little obsessed
It’s true. I am a little obsessed with the power of our thoughts. They can make us miserable, and they can fill us with joy.
It’s our thoughts that turn us into short-tempered bosses, nagging spouses, and employees with anxiety and imposter syndrome.
When we can drop the dirty pain, we become patient, loving, peaceful, and confident.
So, practice noticing your thoughts, questioning the painful ones, and playing around with alternatives that feel better. It’s relatively simple, and not easy. I am constantly learning about myself as I continue my own self-inquiry practice.
See Byron Katie’s website TheWork.com to learn her framework for self-inquiry. It has everything you need to DIY for free.
Are you ready to trade in your anxiety for clarity, confidence, and meaning? My clients have fun making money, and go home energized to love on their favorite people. If you want this too, I can help. Let’s chat!
Photo by energepic.