The beloved author Anne Lamott’s playful quote, “My mind is a bad neighborhood that I try not to go into alone,” sits on a notecard next to my bedside. I needed it this week.
This past Sunday I received some painful news. But in the 48 hours that followed, my thoughts around what had occurred were downright torturous. I ruminated, analyzed and gnashed my teeth. Until I finally paused to find stillness and heard my Wise Self say rather loudly, “Renee, don’t create more pain for yourself than is necessary.”
This stopped me dead in my tracks. “Oh wow, I have a role in what is happening?”
Many psychologists advocate a mindfulness approach called acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). They differentiate two kinds of pain: “clean pain” and “dirty pain.” Clean pain is what we feel when something hurtful happens to us. Dirty pain is the result of our thoughts about how wrong this is (don’t forget about when xyz happened: cue file drawer three, case #24)!
Interestingly, these two kinds of pain reside in different sections of the brain. One part simply catalogs the event, while another creates a continuous stream of thoughts about those events. This helps to see how easily we can move from pain to suffering (or from clean pain to dirty pain), right?
Like many people, I experienced my share of trauma in my 20s and 30s—my parent’s divorce, two suicides, early deaths and family members battling addiction and mental illness. I’ve done boatloads of healing, surrendering, meditation and letting go to release old mental garbage, even still, new events can trigger old wounds and leave me swimming in a sea of “dirty pain” (you’ve heard the phrase, the issues are in the tissues!).
Are you creating suffering for yourself? Want to stop and ready to feel freer?
Here’s what helps me:
- First, pause to consider, “Is what I’m experiencing clean pain or dirty pain (Martha Beck recommends writing out just the facts to differentiate clean vs. dirty pain)?”
- Then ask, “Do I know that (fill in the phrase) is actually true?”
- Lastly, author Byron Katie challenges us to ask, “Who would I be (and how would I feel) without this story?”
After discerning this, I do everything I can to physically and emotionally release and let go: I engage in movement (yoga, qigong, mindful walks, Nia dance are great—move a muscle, change a thought!), I ask for and gratefully receive help, I practice self-compassion, I take nightly detoxifying Epsom salt baths and I stand in allegiance to myself (read more).
“We are not hurt so much by what happens, as by our opinion of what happens.” ~ Michel de Montaigne. Life is challenging without us making it even more so. Be gentle with yourself this week. This time of year can be rife with shadows.
SEEKING SUPPORT FOR YOURSELF OR YOUR TEAM? HERE ARE TWO OPPORTUNITIES:
- *ALMOST SOLD OUT!* Dec. 20th, 1-4:30 p.m. CST ~ STILLNESS: A Winter Solstice Women’s Retreat (virtual/online)~ a self-renewal experience. Join me and a soulful circle of women on the Winter Solstice for an afternoon of extreme self-care: quiet reflection/meditation, poetry/storytelling, delicious Yoga Nidra, heartfelt connection, singing and more. This event will be recorded. Early bird rate ends tonight! Learn more/register.
- I’m booking 2021-2022 workshops and presentations now! Consider hiring me to create an online balanced living experience to help your team, organization or employees feel less stressed and more resilient, creative and focused. For 20+ years I’ve been working with companies/organizations like Merrill Lynch, the Center for Women in Law, the Hewlett Foundation and more. Whether it’s a workshop, keynote or custom retreat via Zoom, I’d love to discuss how I can support your team or organization. Learn more here.
Subscribe here to Live Inside Out, a weekly blog written by mindfulness coach/author/speaker Renée Peterson Trudeau. Passionate about helping men and women find balance through the art and science of self-care, her work has appeared in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, US News & World Report, Spirituality & Health and more. She and her team have certified more than 400 facilitators in 10 countries around the globe to lead life coaching groups and women’s retreats based on her work. She’s the author of two books on life balance including the award-winning The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal. She lives in Brevard, NC and Austin, TX with her husband and is enjoying being a recent empty nester. More on Renee here.