Have you ever sat cross-legged or slept in a funny way that made you lose sensation in part of your body? You wake up and all of a sudden you don’t have an arm!
I have a friend who sat with her legs crossed during an interview. Everything was going swimmingly until she stood up to shake her prospective employer’s hand and, now with only one foot, took a nose dive right there in his office.
My least favorite part about this experience (collapsing in job interviews aside) is what happens when the blood flow is returned. We’re all familiar with it – some people describe the sensation as pins and needles. I think that’s an apt description because it conveys just how painful and irritating it is. If it was any longer than a minute or two it would be a real problem. One second I can’t feel anything, and the next second anything I touch sends shock waves through my hand or foot. It goes away over time, but only through gritting and bearing it.
Well, I’m just like your foot.
I lose feeling – often without even noticing it. I go numb.
Because, fankly, it feels easier to avoid things. It feels easier to numb out when I’m feeling scared, sad, or angry. I can’t help but think I’ve duped the system and continue neglecting parts of my life that aren’t going according to plan. I’m often in the business of seeking pleasure and avoiding any pain that comes my way. I keep my eyes on the short term and keep clear of the long term.
Afraid of an upcoming job presentation? Dismiss those feelings – you shouldn’t be afraid. That means you’re weak. Feeling frustration well up at the last interaction with your wife? Stop that – you should be focusing on your work. And if you’re mad at her you might not love her as much. Get your feelings hurt when you’re left out of something? Get rid of that – it’s childish to have your feelings hurt. You have to be stronger than that. Unchecked thoughts because checking thoughts takes consciousness.
All the while I lose more and more feeling. I deny my true self until I don’t have a great handle on it even when I’m trying to get in touch with it. Sound familiar?
But then something leads to a stop in the numbness. For me it was starting my personal growth work individually and in groups. Maybe for you it’s a troubled marriage? A death in the family? Recommitting to your self? Sooner or later you’ll reposition your numb limb or fall on your face in a job interview. It’s only a matter of time until we all look our self-deceptions in the face and have a choice.
Continue numbing ourselves or face pins and needles?
Let’s face it. The trip back to consciousness is often a turbulent one. When we dig up all that has been buried, treasure won’t be the only thing we find. We numb ourselves (consciously or unconsciously) to avoid. And what are we most likely to avoid? Pain, of course. Either I foster mistaken beliefs that it will go away if I don’t think about it, or it’s just too hard and hurtful to be with a certain thought or feeling all on my own. I’ll fend off feedback if I always think it’s going to be bad.We all have reasons and ways that we lose parts of ourselves.
But the treasure I do find – being in touch with myself, being on my own side, fighting for fulfillment in relationships – is worth the pain. How can I know myself without knowing all of myself? It’s tempting to think that I can paint a picture of myself that others will buy, but let’s get real here. How often does that work when other people try it with you? On the contrary, we’re drawn to others when they lead with their vulnerability and are open with their weaknesses. We connect with others when they share their pain. It’s the paradox of 2 Corinthians 12:9 “…my power is made perfect in weakness”. Jesus wants us to know that pain isn’t always something that should be avoided and that we should numb ourselves to. It’s what makes us real, meaningful, authentic, and impactful human beings.
Pins and needles – if they lasted forever – would be unbearable. But the benefit of having control of whatever was asleep far outweighs the pain and difficulties on the way. We can choose to focus on the pain and stay small or we can look ahead to the vision of what can be in our lives and move through pain with purpose. We all have the choice of hiding our pain or accessing the full span of our experiences and abilities.