Fear of pain is an important trick we’ve learned, and it does a very useful job in terms of keeping us alive. Aversion to the experience of bodily pain encourages us not to take stupid risks, to learn by observation, and to avoid things likely to hurt us unless they confer some necessary benefit (like not starving). However, the useful fear of bodily pain also predisposes us to a fear of emotional pain. It doesn’t help that heart wounding is often worse, torments us for longer and takes longer to heal.
Emotionally speaking, we are most at risk of pain when we care. The person who doesn’t care, doesn’t hurt, but they miss out on a lot of other things, too. The person who protects themselves simply does not pour heart and soul into anything – not human relationships, spaces, communities, or work. Being deliberately mediocre can be very unchallenging and comfortable, but it is also an unrewarding and meaningless state to be in, and I consider that too high a price to pay for ease.
I get seriously hurt on a regular basis. I take risks, throwing everything I have at unwinnable fights, work that is beyond me, and people who are threatened by excess care. If you’ve battened down the hatches, determined not to give a shit, then someone turning up with a passionate, open heart is a real threat to your quiet stability. I take on the impossible, but just occasionally, it turns out that my madness and ferocity are enough to turn the unfeasible into the achievable. That’s plenty of reason to keep trying.
What I have to learn to do now, is manage not to be afraid of the inevitable breaking. If I can accept that what I do makes heartbreak inevitable, I can learn to cope better. I won’t hit those dreadful walls of impossibility and rejection with the same devastating force. I can perhaps learn how to melt on impact, and to accept and forgive the people for whom I really am too much. Critically, perhaps I can forgive myself for being too much in some situations.
Recently, someone elfed me. Elfing is a magical practice, and refers to all those fairy stories in which pixies turn up in the night and magically do an impossible task and save the day. Usually I elf other people, but recently someone elfed me. It was a small, sudden, potent gift, a piece of work offered because a thing needed doing. Pure elf magic. I was stunned, a bit overwhelmed, a bit in awe, and it took me about five minutes to realise this was fine. An amazing thing had happened, and it was utterly right to be unsettled and a bit intimidated by the grace of that small piece of magic.
And so I learn that perhaps I do not need to apologise to anyone for giving too much, doing too much, and scaring them by being willing to care in ways that they do not. Maybe unsettling people a bit in this way, is actually a good thing.