Writing can be a cathartic experience. There have been numerous times where I have written something and found myself relieved, to the point of tears. It’s almost as if seeing the words come into existence, allows you to finally face things that you’ve consciously and subconsciously buried away in dark corners of your body and soul.
But the things that we bury – those hurts, disappointments, anger, frustrations, etc. – they never actually go away. They are always with us, manifesting themselves in little ways. Perhaps manipulating us into choices that are bad, perhaps teaching us to fear things we otherwise wouldn’t, perhaps preventing us from experiencing authentic joy even in the midst of life’s struggles. And it’s not just all in our heads.
In traditional yoga practice and meditation, it is taught that the hips are where we carry a lot these things that we bury. It makes sense. Think of how we cry in the fetal position on a bed or on a floor. Or how we sit up against a flat surface with knees up and feet on the floor and face buried when we are in despair. Our physical bodies take on the pain of our mental and emotional experiences. It is why in a physical body activity, on a run, in a yoga practice, it is not unknown for people to start weeping uncontrollably. That is catharsis.
I fear that in our current culture however, the experience of pain and suffering has sometimes been turned into a competition, and not only that but a means by which to take advantage of the sympathies of others. In a digital culture where thoughts and words and feelings are shared, on one hand we have the capacity to touch each other authentically by letting each other know that our struggles, our pains, our fears, are not unique. There is solace in that knowledge. But there is also, I think, another side – a darker side to this phenomenon of communication. And that darker side is the manipulation of emotion in order to monetize pain and suffering.
If you think about this dark side, it almost sounds sociopathic and perhaps it is. But it is the consequence of a modern-day voyeurism where people do a proverbial dance between trying to present a life to be envied, and yet also engaging in a certain performance where one’s suffering provides a certain attention, attraction, and audience. And where there is audience and hyperawareness of audience, there is temptation to manipulate the performance of self, if that morbid performance is rewarded.
Now one must be careful in any observation of the world because in the first place, we cannot measure or know for certain the intentions of others. Secondly, when we observe, we have to be careful to be cognizant of the prejudices that affect our lens. Thirdly, we must be self-aware enough to know that what we see when we look at the world around us, is not actually a looking-glass in which we project our own reflection unto the world.
I do think that we are a better people when we are taking care of each other in small and big ways. Because life does constitute pain and suffering in many forms, and none of us can escape any of it entirely. And the most beautiful things can be created from the ugly and shameful parts of life. Beautiful things that last beyond any one person’s lifetime; beautiful things that can change the world. But an abuse or misuse of pain renders us traitors not only to ourselves, but to mankind. And even more than that, it insults the soul. We must tread lightly in how we use our pain and suffering. We must keep the soul intact.