When I was very ill with Panic Disorder six years ago, I was unable to maintain my default position of having it all together, being a source of strength and nurture for others, and being professionally successful. I was a lot more vulnerable, and with it, I was softer, quieter and needed love from other people more often. Being able to receive that love was so heart opening, and let me drop even more deeply into softness and quietness.
When a client – especially one like me: well-defended and high-functioning – comes for a session in particular distress, needing particular love and kindness and support, there’s usually a very beautiful atmosphere that descends on the session; a sweetness and a sense of gratitude and warmth.
Likewise, when someone we love is suffering, as much as we’d give anything to take that suffering away, nevertheless there is an unusual space that opens up for something much more tender and connectful; between us and the suffering person, and between the people present for their loved one.
Traditionally disconnected or distant relationships often experience a temporary break in the clouds while closeness and support become more necessary; while there is a tangible and immediate reason for hearts to be more open.
It seems as if crisis and suffering offer a doorway that allows people to step out from their more familiar or entrenched positions in family, friendship or professoinal dynamics to stand in the street together and look around to simply see what is needed, and offer it.
Some of the kindest things I’ve ever done have necessarily been in response to the suffering of someone in some way close to me, and the experience of being in that position, to give and to be of use, is an experience I treasure. It’s sweet and tender. And the most connectful moments I’ve had with other human beings have been in my own moments of deepest need and pain: like the time I was wrapped up in a duvet and held whilst laying on the living room floor of a house where I was having a major panic attack, or when the director of my training institution came across me sitting outside a shop crying on my own, sat down next to me, put his arm around my shoulders and promised that the college would help me get through what I was going through.
Would I be without the panic attacks? Obviously.
But would I be without those moments of vulnerability, connection and love?
I’ve realised that it’s harder than it seems at first glance to separate the bad times from the good times. Some of the most precious experiences depend on some of the most painful ones.
My sense is that most of the world’s spiritual traditions encourage us to stay more permanently in this experience of openness, connection, vulnerability, and need-met-by-generosity. What experience shows me is that more typically, when the danger has passed, we tend to head back behind our doors, our defenses, and our hard noses.
At best, perhaps our relationships with one another do remain fundamentally changed for the better, knowing that we at least were there for one another, and that we have shared a bittersweet journey.
And so whilst this is the case, it feels important to not miss the deep value of difficult times and to appreciate the open-heartedness that we experience when they come, knowing that the extended and beautiful moment will eventually pass.