The events of the past several weeks have been devastating. To see a strong, intelligent, composed and calm woman speak about her experience of being sexually assaulted, and then basically be ignored, was heartbreaking. Then to see a loud, belligerent, disrespectful man being honored, was unthinkable. It taps into a dynamic that many of us know too well— one where the vulnerable person is demonized for even speaking up, while the elite sneer and continue to smugly hold the baton of power. It was a deeply disturbing spectacle to witness and, for many of us (myself included), it once again reopened old wounds.
#MeToo has been an incredible movement of women speaking up and speaking out. We need to continue this push for societal change. But I want also humbly to suggest a second, quieter, hashtag:#NowWhat. Now what do we do with the pain that bubbles up? (This piece is about the internal revolution, but please go vote in your state’s primaries on Nov. 8).
The way I see it, we have a choice. We can either slide the pain under the rug (been there), or we can step directly into the heat of struggling to heal our past traumas. To choose to work with the painful emotions after all these years is not only uncomfortable, it’s downright bristling with difficult and sharper edges. Like old-school medicine, it might not taste so good, but working mindfully with and through our emotions is a fruitful path.
How to do this? For starters, explore what you have been telling yourself about the experience. For decades, I denied my truth, even in the intimacy of my own mind. It sounded like some version of “I must’ve brought this on myself”, essentially blaming myself for someone else’s illegal and immoral behavior. We do this because, frankly, it can feel too painful to recognize how vulnerable we were and how hurt we continue to be. It makes additional sense that we would engage in such rationalization, given the ways that our culture rewards us for pretending that we weren’t actually victimized. This can also sound like any message that is consistent with the following narrative: these “things” happen, it really wasn’t that bad, boys will be boys, or this is just the way it is. Yeah, no. Not anymore.
Noticing the cultural messages that we unwittingly assimilated is a key step in raising our awareness of how the cycle of pain reinforces itself within us.The next step is to be courageously willing to explore the uncomfortable raw feelings—I’m talking all of it—the terror, the anxiety, the sadness, the anger, the rage, the disbelief. By getting to know our emotional wounds around the trauma, we are less likely to have the past emotional experiences haunt our current life. To know that these feelings are part of our experience, and we are in no way diminished for having them.
Instead, bravely let the feelings come up—and then immediately surround them in the context of compassion towards yourself and what you’ve been through. When I’m working on this, I remind myself that I’m not my feelings, but that they are a part of my journey. Sometimes I imagine that the emotions are a good friend, and I’m getting to know this “person”. Keeping it real, there are times when the feelings are too strong for me to do even that. In those cases, I take the suggestion of Thich Nhat Hahn, who encourages us to embrace our feelings in the same way as we would hold an innocent baby: With tenderness, kindness, carefulness.
And, perhaps more importantly, just as you wouldn’t be threatened by a baby, allow yourself to not be threatened by your own emotions. Sometimes we push the feelings away because we are understandably concerned that they might overwhelm us. But if we trust that we can let the emotions in a little at a time, without the the shroud of anxiety that the feelings themselves will harm us, we step directly into the center of a healing space. We remove the fear that separates ourselves from ourselves.
By embracing this inner work of healing, the emotional structures that we installed to keep the pain at bay begin to disintegrate. We are more open, less fearful, more present. You might find that you no longer need to protect yourself from your own feelings anymore. All that energy that we used to hold back the feelings will be freed up to help us access our own core essence—our amazing gifts that are still there for us, vibrant underneath all the layers.
By tending to our wounded parts, we are giving ourselves the opportunity to reveal and explore the beautiful and unique aspects of who we are, with no apologies. The #NowWhat is a process of healing that lets your discernment, wisdom, choice, voice, and love, all aspects of your beautiful core essence, guide the way back to you, in a more powerful way than you may have ever imagined possible.