By David Jones
One evening, while sitting on the couch watching TV, I tried to push myself up with sock feet on a wood floor.
A splinter slid right into my heel and I rolled my eyes.
I hated this little addition to TV night, because I’ve had splinters in my heel before and walking around all day just makes it red and inflamed. Even once my young lady dug the splinter out, I knew I’d have to walk in such a way that I didn’t put pressure directly on the sore spot. No problem, right?
Nah, I’m kidding. It was plenty problematic.
As I spent two days walking around differently than normal, I ended up with strains in both feet and my left leg, cramps in my toes and arches—the whole bit. The heel healed (that just rolls off the tongue) and I could resume walking normally, but it was too late. The cramps stuck around for a couple of weeks.
In trying to avoid one little sore spot I made a conscious decision that resulted in worse pain than if I’d just walked right to begin with. Sheesh!
Funnily enough, I followed this same pattern emotionally with my young lady.
I have a strong Avoidance Reflex because I was once married to someone who lashed out defensively whenever I expressed unhappiness or displeasure. I mean about anything really—it didn’t have to be about her.
She regularly got on to me because I didn’t express my feelings but only allowed them to build until I finally exploded. She would yell at me for exploding. She would holler about holding in my emotions. Of course, when I shared them rather than hold them in, she hollered about that too.
Yeah, avoidance was my go-to coping technique.
So now I have a new relationship, which should be all different, right?
My young lady said something totally innocuous to me one day and unknowingly tripped a psychological landmine in my skull. My feelings were hurt and I felt angry—but dang it, I wasn’t about to let her know about my feelings, because she’d just get mad at me for it. I have fallen into that trap too many times.
So I sulked. I withdrew emotionally and the walls between us were tangible. As we sat on the sofa in confused silence, my emotions locked down as intrusive thoughts poured into my noggin. Since she had been in a relationship with a similarly-minded person, my young lady also went into avoidance, because that tense silence was always so threatening. We both erected our walls and sat waiting for something to happen instead of just freakin’ turning to each other and talking about it!
This is something that mindfulness has taught me—accepting things and facing them cause way less pain and damage than avoiding them. Not that anyone could have told me that. I was more afraid of what I imagined could happen than any real, lurking threat.
I was conditioned to believe that emotional expression led to painful escalation. I was so afraid of that potential escalation that I avoided a little discomfort by choosing a path that brought great pain and discomfort to me instead. Worse, it brought it to the woman I love as well.
After a little while I got over myself a little and we were able to talk about it. She was as relieved as I was.
I’ve gotten better at it with practice. If I don’t attack her with my emotions, but instead get a little perspective and communicate, there is sometimes a little discomfort for it—but not volcanic explosions of recrimination and regret.
Mindfulness is often referred to as Conscious (or Intentional) Living. Instead of reflexively reacting to a situation, I get to choose how I will respond to a thing. The past conditioned reflex and I knew of no other way to behave. The enlightenment of knowing that I truly can face the things I’m afraid of (without bursting into flames or whatever) empowers me to behave in a more loving way towards others. It’s better on my physical/mental/emotional health, and it solves things way faster and cleaner than avoidance ever did.
I’m not really afraid of accepting the little pain in my heel now, because I know that the alternative is to avoid the possible little discomforts and fall helplessly into suffering to a far greater extent. I’ve learned to walk right in many ways.
But I ain’t calling my young lady My Little Pain in the Heel. Shoot, my heel would be the least of my hurt.
David Jones has a 27-year career with the United States government. He encountered mindfulness in therapy for his endangered marriage (which had led to anxiety-based depression and dissociative disorder symptoms), and writes about the experience in his blog as well as articles in various publications. He started writing articles about mindfulness for Yahoo Voices under the brand A Mindful Guy. Check out his blog here.
Editor: Dana Gornall