I have a real hatred for being in limbo. A fiery, deep hatred. It’s as if my brain and body just completely reject the discomfort of being in-between, of not knowing what’s next or where to go or which way is right or wrong. There are a rare set of days where my body seems to set in with the in-between, relaxing and trusting it’s going to be okay, because it’s slowly learning as I continuously come back to this stage in life that it’s not necessarily DEFCON 1 but a necessary part of evolution and growth.
But most days, I am squirming, squealing, pleading for the in-between to let go of its tight grasp on me.
I’ve sat and stared at blank notes and screens and journal pages for months, mostly thinking: I don’t even know what to say to others or to myself… I don’t have any sort of clarity or epiphany or answer or beautiful pairings of words I can say that would make this part of my life make sense. The only word I keep coming back to is: uncomfortable. This is fucking uncomfortable.
Most of my people would think I’ve been coping as well as I can be after all the loss I experienced the last six months. From spending time in the sun, cooking more, getting out of the house, journaling, making video diaries, and fulfilling the once put-on-hold dream of living in San Diego by driving 23 hours in a UHAUL alone just last month, I’m sure on the outside, I don’t look like I’m that uncomfortable or hopeless at all.
But I am. I am still absolutely desperate for inspiration and peace again. And I know this because if I were to get just one, “How are you doing, really?” it might send me into a blubbering mess almost instantaneously.
The in-between is a lonely and isolating place. But if I’ve learned anything from the hills and valleys of my life, it’s that the in-between is a necessary part of healing and becoming new and whole again. In reality, all of us have been here at one point or another. All of us have come out the other side with a new perspective, peace, and protection over our hearts and minds. As cheesy as it sounds, it really is like the “beauty from ashes” metaphor. That a part of us must burn or die so that it can be reborn into something beautiful, something better.
What I’ve struggled to answer the last six months is: What the hell do we do during the in-between? What is the answer? What is the fastest way out of this painful part of life and growth?
And any therapist or wise teacher might chuckle at that response. Because there is no answer. There is no fast-track, self-help book, or gospel to finding peace and wholeness again. It’s a lot of messiness, hard nights, suffering, and pain with no linear timeline whatsoever. A truly depressing conclusion to someone like me who just feels really stuck.
But there’s a piece to the puzzle I was missing for most of this time until now and it might make you confused or furl your brows but hear me out. The piece I had been missing most of this time was nothing other than compassion. To add some color to this, let me use Brene Brown’s researched definition of compassion for context:
Compassion: The daily practice of recognizing and accepting our shared humanity so that we treat ourselves and others with loving-kindness, and we take action in the face of suffering.
When I first heard this definition, I didn’t think much of it. It makes complete sense. Compassion is something we extend to both ourselves and others because we are all living our own unprecedented case study called life. Your story is your story and my story is my story. I may not know your full story or why you are hardwired the way you are, but I can have compassion because I know you also do not know my full story or why I am hardwired the way I am. Compassion was something I witnessed my mother extend daily to us and others. It’s not a foreign concept to me whatsoever. But the part of that definition that was news to me was “taking action in the face of suffering.”
At first, I thought: Okay, I’ve been doing that. I’ve been using all of my coping mechanisms and staying afloat and have checked all the boxes to taking care of myself and get where I want to be. But… maybe… just maybe… I’m wrong. Or maybe the coping that once worked isn’t the kind of coping I need anymore.
Brene follows with a quote from Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun:
“When we practice generating compassion, we can expect to experience our fear of pain. Compassion practice is daring. It involves learning to relax and allow ourselves to move gently toward what scares us….In cultivating compassion we draw from the wholeness of our experience—our suffering, our empathy, as well as our cruelty and terror. It has to be this way. Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”
And that is the beautiful pairing of words I needed to hear so desperately.
I have thrown mental tantrums, blamed those who hurt me, numbed out the pain while I wait for the “peace and love” ferry to pick me up and take me back to paradise island, where I believe I’ll be happy and relaxed again.
I haven’t been relaxing or allowing myself to experience this and it shows. I have become more judgmental and less curious of others because I am sitting here judging myself daily, with little to no pride in my choices. I’ve been coping, rushing, medicating the loneliness and suffering, running as fast as I can to get out of this in-between, even going so far as to ticking off boxes as if there is some formula to healing (if you’re quiet enough, you can hear the therapists chuckling yet again.)
I haven’t had compassion for myself. I’ve just been pitying my own suffering. I haven’t gotten to know my own darkness, I’ve been running from it. That is why I am still sitting here, with so much discomfort and confusion and hurt, instead of relaxing and leaning into these signs of pain as a symptom of something deeper. Something that is trying to show me there is another way.
No wonder I’ve felt so lonely. No wonder I feel like a chicken running around with its head cut off. No wonder I feel so bitter looking at other people’s suffering. I refused to sit with my own darkness, with my own suffering.
So my new perspective and action is to just listen. Listen to myself, my body, my feelings. Listen to what this future and better version of me is asking for so it can actually break out and stand center stage with peace and confidence. Listen so that I can trust myself again. Or as someone once wrote, “Listen for inspiration and impression to proceed in ways different from those we may have thought of (before).” To find the third door, the unknown, the uncharted waters.
Peace will come. It is certain at this point. But for now, I must sit and I must listen.