I was in a really classy independent coffee shop yesterday (OK. I was in Starbucks), pondering over what I wanted write about. Then, it came to me…in the form of scalding hot water.
So I had just ordered another of what I like to refer to as a “Duty Drink” (compensation for sitting there for 3+ hours, shamelessly abusing their banana bread and Mocha-Coconut Frap samples), and I was carrying my freshly-poured tea (the cheapest menu item possible) from counter to (...Milk Station? What do you call that thing? There must be a name for it. Any Baristas in the house? “Milk Station” it is.). Anyways, I’m carrying my tea from counter to Milk Station, and “WHAM!” Buddy in a hurry runs into me. Scalding. Hot. Water. All. Over. My. Hand. He’s like “I’m sooooo sorry!” I’m like Oh dear God. There is an electric sander going to town on my hand. I had a split second to refrain from screaming “M&TH@RF#*@ING S*#& B!@L$ AAAAAAAAAAAAH” and instead, I instead let out more of a laboured “IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII’M OKAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY….nnngaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh….” that, if I know anything about Emus (I know nothing about Emus), well, I’m guessing my non-convincing “I’m Okay” sounded like an Emu mating call.
But what I’m getting at here, is that my instinct was of course to impress the entire coffee shop with my extensive cursing vocabulary (again, I probably have Em to thank for that one), but the apologetic look on Buddy’s face (and the children…I thought of the children) prevented me from doing so. After I had assured the horrified onlookers that I was fine (Their skepticism likely emerging from the disparity between my watering eyes and rigid Jack-o-lantern grin), I decided this must have been a sign from the Universe to tell you all about Refraining.
Refraining is, essentially, what it sounds like. Holding back. Not doing. Going against your impulse to take out pain on Starbucks’ customers’ ears (They deserve it. Conformists–I kid. Note the irony), and breathing through it instead. Of course, the example I gave was one of physical pain, and what I aim to teach you today is about refraining when you’re experiencing emotional pain. When we experience emotional pain (anxiety, sadness, boredom, anger, guilt, jealousy, etc.), our impulse is to avoid it. To distract ourselves. We seek temporary relief in the form of indulgence, and in doing so, we give that pain more power over us. This is why Buddhists encourage abstinence from indulgence . It’s not because they’re uptight, judgmental meanies; it’s because they know much of the time our “indulgence” is sought as a way to avoid pain.
Now, as I’ve said before, I’m all about indulgence, fun, and hedonism. However, if your “fun” is because you want to avoid emotional suffering, there might be some space for refraining in your life. Think about times when you’ve felt a negative emotion, and you’ve stopped the pain using booze, drugs, food, sex, or some other form of avoidance. If we refrain, we try to find comfort in discomfort. We invite it in and offer it tea (with a disclaimer). We sit with it and feel it out. We experience it and send ourselves self-compassion in response. And then a funny thing happens. It starts to lose its power over us. That boredom, that anxiety, that sadness…it doesn’t seem so unbearable. It’s the reason those monks can sit for hours cross-legged. It’s not that they don’t itch, or they don’t hurt. But they refrain. My girl, Pema says, “Refraining is a way of making friends with ourselves at the most profound level possible. We can begin to relate to what’s underneath all the bubbles and burps and farts, all the stuff that comes out and expresses itself as uptight, controlling, manipulative behaviour, or whatever it is…[Refraining is] the quality of not grabbing for entertainment in the minute we feel a slight edge of boredom coming on. It’s the practice of not immediately filling up space just because there’s a gap.”
So the next time your feelings make you want to reach for the Crown, try hanging out with discomfort for a bit. You don’t have to be it with all afternoon. Just get to know it a little. See what happens. The Crown will still be there in 5 minutes.
And…always look both ways before migrating to the Milk Station (If not, this could happen to you!).
Wow! Your picture says it all. I had a similiar opportunity in the past couple of weeks. A family member erupted with a verbal explosion of accusations and cuss words and I simply sat there and said absolutely nothing. I knew that what I was being accused of was not true and that attempting to argue or defend myself with someone so angry would not be beneficial so I amazed myself and much later was able to speak to that same family member at the end of the day and indicate that because I sat there and said nothing did not mean that I would tolerate such treatment. My own recovery efforts seem to be working a change from the inside out. It was an amazing sense of calm and a personal improvement in the way that I might of responded/reacted years ago. I am new to your blog but really enjoy your postings. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks for the comment, Heartandsoul56! What a powerful example of refraining you’ve provided. I am guessing that was a hurtful and frustrating experience, but you were able to use your knowledge, awareness, and courage to react in an adaptive way. Incredible. It reminds me of how Viktor Frankl would say that even when all our freedom is taken from us (in prison), we can control our attitudes, our minds. You reminded yourself that the words the person was speaking were not truths, and were able to find reassurance, calm, and empowerment in that (not to mention pride in your personal growth!) That’s amazing, Heartandsoul56. I hope you are celebrating and acknowledging the leaps you’ve made in your journey :). And thank you so much for the compliments to my blog! I’m thrilled people are finding it helpful. xx
How are you still typing! It looks really painful. Please rest and let it heal…
I’m an English girl living and working in Austria at the mo! I have been following your blog (off and on) for a couple of years and I have to say that you have helped me through some difficult emotional stuff!
I’m an artist and have recently finished a series of work for The Lantern Project in the UK that helps survivors of childhood sexual abuse move into recovery … it was a difficult process for me that meant digging around in my own personal pain and looking at that sucker head on … not avoiding it as I had been doing for most of my adult life …. drugs, alcohol and general debauchery, as well as a hefty dose of travel had kept me from doing this for many years.
Once I had quit all the addictive stuff I found yoga and became a certified teacher (doing my training in the Austrian Alps and meeting my, now, husband!) which also helped me to look at the way I had been handling suffering and helping me to move on with quiet determination to be kinder to myself.
I’m at this moment going through a period of sadness that is a little bit weird because my life at the moment is extremely blessed … still, I feel it and your blog has helped me today to steer my mind out of the funk and into a brighter place!
Thank you, Megan!
Hi Kate! Thank you so much for your beautiful comment. It’s incredibly meaningful–even though we’re overseas I feel like you’re right beside me, sharing your powerful and inspiring story. I’m so honoured you feel my blog has been impactful in your journey–thank you for reading and for sharing (I know other readers will find comfort and hope in your words). Biggest hug to you <3! And always remember we're all in this together 🙂 xoxo