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My Pain Bandwidth

As I stood in HomeGoods with my wife, my back began to feel achy and tense. My mind raced with thoughts and feelings all surrounding a general lack of control.

She’d said that she just wanted to get a plant, a piece of art, and a new soap dispenser, so I’d expected a 15-minute trip. Why? I have no idea— that’s never happened before. Nevertheless, I'd expected 15 minutes.

As she took her usual slow march down every aisle, seemingly giving every object her full consideration before moving on to the next, I became progressively more frustrated as the thoughts and feelings played off of each other like a game of pinball.

What should I do?

If I were coaching myself through this experience, I’d probably recommend that I simply feel the sensations in my body:

  • the sensations that make up the experience that I'm calling pain,

  • as well as the feelings in my body that the thoughts evoke.

I’d recommend this, knowing that my resistance to the experience is likely worse than the experience itself, or at very least the resistance only making matters worse.

What did I actually do? I sat down, pulled out my phone, and got on Twitter.

Why did I do this? The simple answer is that at that moment, I didn’t have the bandwidth to be with what I was feeling. So I checked out.

Which way is right?

It probably seems that being with the pain is the ‘right’ way to go, or at least that checking out is definitely the wrong way to go.

But if I knew what the ‘right’ thing to do was, why didn’t I do it? Well, because at that particular moment I didn’t have the bandwidth, as evidenced by the fact that I didn’t do it despite thinking that it was the ‘right’ thing to do.

But what if checking out was the right thing to do— the right thing for me, at that particular moment, given those particular circumstances?

Doing Our Best

All of this is predicated on the notion that we’re all doing our best at all times, given the circumstances.

Because you see, I want to be able to go to the store with my wife without rushing her or getting irritated. I want to be able to stand there without my back bothering me. And I want to open to the experience when my back does start hurting rather than checking out.

And if any part of the circumstances surrounding my experience at HomeGoods was different, my response would have been different too, if even in the tiniest of ways. But the circumstances were the way they were, and it played out the way it played out.

So what am I to conclude, that I blew it and should feel bad about myself and my behavior, or that I did my best given the circumstances and hopefully learned something that can help me in the future?

How do you treat yourself?

During these times in our lives when our bandwidth is low and we check out or don’t behave as we feel that we ‘should’, it’s important to notice how we treat ourselves when we return. When we check back in.

If every time we check back in, we berate ourselves, scolding ourselves for not being ‘better’ (whatever that means), why would we come back? Why would I get off Twitter if every time I did, I beat myself up?

Being nice to ourselves in our moments of checking back in doesn’t mean admonishing ourselves of all wrongdoing. It’s still important to apologize when our words or actions have hurt another person, but can we leave it at that? Can we forgive ourselves and move forward?

More, can we relish the moments of checking back in as moments of awakening? Moments when we are ready to engage with our lives again. Can we welcome ourselves back with open arms?

The more we welcome ourselves back, the more likely we are to stay. It’s basic conditioning.

Maybe on our next HomeGoods trip, my expectations will be different. Maybe next time I’ll stay home. Maybe I’ll check out again. Who knows? But if I do check out, my hope and intention is that I'll welcome myself back with open arms.

Good luck out there,


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