As the human drama known as rush hour commenced this morning, my subway commute in full swing, I looked around me at my fellow commuters. The woman to my left shook her head in disgust because someone accidentally brushed against her arm. A man a few feet away upbraided another man for not offering his seat to someone more deserving. A woman sitting nearby angrily clicked her tongue because someone’s music was too loud for her liking.
Outrage flooded my throat. I wanted to ask the woman with the valuable arm how much it was worth since it seemed to be so precious to her. I wanted to upbraid the man who had upbraided the man who wouldn’t give up his seat because I knew the first man just wanted the seat for himself. I wanted to say to the woman who was so furious about the loud music: “It’s just sound! You’ll live!”
I wanted to shout, “You’re all in pain!!!!! Don’t you see! Your feelings have nothing to do with anyone else!”
And then I recognized the irony, and became still.
I breathed, outrage expanding inside me, that sharp, tenacious self-righteousness like an air balloon filling my chest. As I allowed it to silently express itself within me, the fire of it billowed there, tiny molecules of heat bouncing around and reacting to one another (much as I had reacted to the humans around me a few moments ago), creating a kind of chain reaction, a domino affect that fed on itself, and fed on something else, some unknown part of me that, if I was strong, I’d soon come to know.
I closed my eyes, continuing to breathe. The outrage worked itself through my body, swirling and pressing on my heart, until, eventually, it began to lose steam. It had been granted the authority to exist, and so, mollified by its own welcome, it became calm. My allowance satiated it, and moments later, it was quiet.
When it settled down, I was able to examine it in a more rational way. Using reason over instinct, I looked at the innocent people I had been targeting in my mind, sent them love, and silently asked for forgiveness. Their behavior may have been flawed, but my responses to them had nothing to do with them at all, I knew. My responses to the people on the train arose from my own beliefs, my own history, and my own internal struggle. And so I asked:
What was my pain trying to tell me? What needed my attention, in that moment?
Was it the fact that I didn’t get enough sleep the night before, and I had a short fuse? Yes, certainly. But I looked around and saw many other tired people, more tired than me, who were not at all phased by the above scenarios. And even if they had been, there was no doubt that someone on the planet would look at the behavior listed above and feel completely neutral about it. Didn’t that prove that my pain was individual to me alone, and was not caused by the external forces surrounding me? I think so. The question, then, remained: What was it within me that needed to be seen? What was it that lead me to my responses?
Could it be that I was craving personal space and felt boxed in by those around me? Could it be that I wanted a seat, too? Could it be that the music irritated me, as much as it had the aforementioned woman? Absolutely.
But, still, there was more.
Do I have a tendency to feel like I am less-than? Do I suspect there must be something better, that I am limited by my life? Do I feel, in an unconscious way, like a bit of a failure, standing here on the subway on the way to a building that I’m chained to in order to eat and pay the rent? Do I crave respect, deep within? Do I resent doing the things I’ve been told I have to do because I know, in the end, that I actually don’t have to do anything at all? Do I want more? For sure.
And yet, it went deeper, I knew. I asked the gentle voice of my Self, the one who had been waiting behind all the outrage, what she hoped to show me. I asked her what was hidden there beneath all the surface-layer reasons for my responses. What had the lens of outrage made it possible for me to finally see?
Upon request, she kindly obliged and opened the door to my pain. I entered into the vestibule of my wound, the place where all my pain had been stored since time immemorial. I hovered near the entrance to it, and, then, with breath and silence, I entered.
The pain, triggered today by the incidents on the train, pain I had once taught myself to ignore, was there in technicolor, frozen in time, a piece of history that had not been truly seen yet. It was waiting to be acknowledged and softened with love and acceptance, memories waiting to rise up in my consciousness. Memories of injustice, of unfair circumstances made real, of poking and prodding and unrelenting harassment. Memories of exhausted desperation. Memories of anger and helplessness, of school bathroom stalls, mirrors, grassy fields collecting my tears, missed opportunities, cruelty, unprecedented abandonment. Memories that had been consistently shoved down, ignored, denied, and swallowed. The pain, lonely and unknown, was like a child hoping for rescue, a tiny baby puppy begging for food. All of this echoed as I looked.
This was pain that had been rejected, re-routed and made useless. It was pain that, had it been embraced early on, would have shown me how much I value myself in the face of being victimized, bullied, ignored, neglected, rejected and ashamed. It was pain that would have saved me rather than holding me back, had it been fully allowed, in the moment.
The pain I witnessed was my own, yes, but then, suddenly, I saw that I carried something even heavier: the pain of all the humans who have come before me, stored in my DNA. Humans who suffered and squelched that suffering just like I did. Humans whose pain transferred into the chromosomes and consciousness of each new generation until we, as a collective, could learn how to process it for the good of all.
I saw the enormous burden of disallowed pain, almost breaking the foundations of humanity, pain not just carried by me, I understood, but belonging to all of us. Pain that will remain our personal responsibilities, and our chance to save ourselves, once and for all, if we would just look at our own part of the whole rather than swallowing, blaming, judging and attacking the moment conflict arises within us. Pain that is a part of us, like it or not, and must be viewed as such.
These simple irritations on the train had been mere symptoms in an overall illness of denial and blame. This illness is healing. It is becoming scar tissue, the raw wound within hardening with the cool air of forgiveness and compassion. The part of myself that had fed the chain reaction of outrage had been made known. I looked at who I am, rather than looking at who I wished someone else (my fellow commuters) could be, and I was granted the strength to breathe with the challenges that inevitably form out of the process of growth. My pain begged me not to dwell on the flaws of the other passengers, but rather to dwell on the thing inside me that hurts enough to separate me from them, even for a moment. The pain of my outrage reminded me of my negative beliefs about myself, and then showed me my own worth as I stood, holding the pole on a moving train on the way to work.
A smile formed on my lips, even as my eyes became heavy with the early hour and my legs ached with the pressure of standing for the whole ride. The pain of this life we’ve carved out, heading straight to the center of capitalism, my desire for release from the reliance on more, more, more, showed me how to embrace the history that triggers my pain, even as I move into a future that doesn’t necessarily have to include what the present does. Or maybe it will.
Either way, my pain will show me the way, through it all.