I broke my hairbrush today. Not a big deal, you’d think. Granted, my hair was wet and the dryer was running and my thought was “now what?”
The poor thing suffered a clean break right where the handle joined the brush. But it was a good brush and it knew my hair just as I knew its shape. We worked well together. And now I will have to break in another. At 5:30 a.m., that’s a heavy thought.
But that’s not really the point. The point is that I broke that hairbrush while slamming it against the countertop in an effort to stop an emotion – in this case, grief over Charlie’s death – from overtaking me.
Slam! Crack! Skitter! There went the brush head off to the left, its now useless handle lying in mute reproach across my palm, hot air blowing in my face from the still-running hairdryer. And it dawned on me that, had I simply allowed that emotion to overtake me – had I been open to feeling what I just didn’t want to feel – my hairbrush would still be intact. And there’s a great lesson in that.
Here is what I learned today, in a very visceral way, and I’m grateful for it:
Hard emotions, thoughts, feelings, and sensations (the prick of tears, for instance) are perfectly normal, but we don’t like them and often try to avoid or suppress them or distract ourselves. Sometimes it takes the shape of busywork or binge watching fun stuff like Big Bang Theory. Sometimes it’s a broken hairbrush.
When we work too hard to control, change, or beat those difficult emotions and feelings into submission, we don’t heal, at least not quickly. It comes back to bite us again and again. We actually hurt more. And if it hurts a hairbrush to the point it breaks, imagine what it does to our bodies, our immune systems, and our psyches? Ouch. I don’t know about you, but sometimes when my thoughts veer off toward a hard place, I have found myself slapping my hand against the steering wheel or clapping my hands together hard enough to smart a bit in an effort to bring my attention back to the present moment and to what I’m doing in that moment (slapping my hands together – or maybe snapping a hairbrush in two). Anything, I guess, but give in to the intensity of a feeling I simply don’t want to feel.
But (and here’s the aha for me) when we allow space for those emotions, thoughts, feelings, and sensations without trying to control or change them, while also taking constructive action for daily living (the next step, then the next, and the next…), we often move more quickly and easily through them. The intensity of those feelings and thoughts eventually fades, and we heal.
Aaaaand we don’t have to buy new hairbrushes so often.
That’s a new awareness for me, and now I am rethinking some things. My aversion to sad movies, for instance, and my tendency to get really busy on new projects when something’s not quite right. My need to not know the music very well if I sing at a funeral so I have to concentrate on the mechanics without allowing the meaning of the song into my head. (There is, of course, some risk to that last one.)
But I know one thing: this is a time for the hard places for me, and I really want to move through them well and seemly. Letting grief claim its place in me may not feel good, and I may not like it, but it’s normal, it’s OK, and I will embrace it.