Years back I worked at the top of a sky scraper as a project officer. There I became good mates with a fellow work colleague and we often took time out for lunch down in the food court on ground level. We both had interesting roles within the company but neither of us were particularly content with our lives or knew exactly where our careers were headed.
Our lunch breaks became a place to contemplate life, relationships, dreams and goals (or lack there of) and were a daily respite from the stress of office life. Looking back I realise how lucky I was to have work mates like this.. people who I felt a genuine comradery with as this doesn’t always happen in jobs.
I remember a time when Carly (for privacy not her real name) came to me distressed because she had overheard a conversation about her, whereby another colleague had said
“Carly is very nice but she seems like a troubled soul, she doesn’t seem very happy”
More than anything Carly was upset that people perceived her as unhappy.. she could accept that she was discontent to a certain degree but the fact that people perceived her that way, that she was somehow coming across as a miserable idiot was unthinkable. It really shook her up.
I tried to console her, pointing out her strengths and how I felt grateful for a like-minded supportive friend. But nothing I said really made a difference. Some part of her believed what she overheard, and she was deeply concerned for her wellbeing.
A few weeks later she returned from an interstate trip home to visit her parents and I noticed she had a new lease on life. She walked into the office with an extra spring in her step and a bright and bubbly smile.
At lunch she revealed to me that one night, at her parents, she let it all out and cried.. for hours. she cried in their presence about how sad she was having been perceived as sad and miserable. She cried about everything that was crappy in her life, every missed opportunity, every relationship struggle and she said she even cried about endangered species and refugees. For one night she indulged in every negativity and her parents listened, with loving presence, in support.
She said her parents didn’t really have anything profound to say but something about their loving presence healed the pain. She just had to cry in front of them and then somehow the pain lifted.
From that day onward I never saw Carly look unhappy in the office again.. and from that day onward I realised the healing power of indulging in negative emotions. I’m not saying I think it’s a good idea to dwell in negative emotions on and on for weeks or months on end but sometimes, things affect us and we just need a supportive shoulder to cry on.
They say a problem shared is a problem halved and I think that one of the most healing forces is a mother’s unconditional loving presence. The hippies call it “holding the space” … and sometimes that’s all you need to process negative emotions and upset, someone to love you unconditionally through your darkest hours.
Oriah Mountain Dreamer explores this in her poem, The Invitation.
“I want to know if you can sit with pain
Mine or your own
Without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it…..