Let it hurt so good
By Lisa Morford
“Suddenly you’re ripped into being alive. And life is pain, and life is suffering, and life is horror, but my god you’re alive and it’s spectacular.”
As a yoga teacher, I say a lot of shit and I think I know what it means. I’ve often told my students that we practice breathing through tough situations on our mats so that we can learn to breathe through challenges in our daily lives. I know: barf, right? I mean, it sounds good, though, and when you say it, you’re like, Yeah! They are so gonna think of this next time they’re in shitty traffic! I am so inspiring!
And then sometimes you are forced to eat your words, and you realize, oh fuck, it’s time to walk the talk.
Early this summer, my boyfriend of five years and I broke up. In some ways, it had been a long time coming. In others, it was like being hit in the stomach with a bowling ball. Or like. You know. Ten bowling balls.
As it was happening, I was a total wreck. I didn’t get out of bed. I couldn’t eat. I had all of my yoga classes subbed and quit my serving job. All of my time spent not hashing things out with him was spent on the phone in a soggy fog of tears with my mom and my closest girlfriends. I had the intensely surreal feeling that I was dreaming—or rather, trapped in my worst nightmare. A broken heart, they call it? I felt broken in my whole body. I kept looking for a way out—any way but this, get me out of this, let me wake up! I resisted the pain, and with that resistance came even greater agony.
Eventually, though, the pain became so intense that fighting it was no longer an option. In that moment, I finally had to face my own darkness. And from deep within my own abyss, every cheesy thing I’ve ever heard on my yoga mat began to echo through my brain, unbidden. Don’t resist it, I told myself. Feel it. Sit with it. Don’t label it. Dive into it! So I decided to try something terrifying. I let go. Instead of resisting the pain, I invited it in. I started to breathe—not to escape, not to make it go away, not to make it better—no. To let it in completely. To let it be there. I started breathing and I said yes. This fucking hurts. This fucking hurts so much. This hurts more than any fucking thing I’ve ever felt in my life. Goddamn it this is worse than hell.
I thought admitting this to myself would kill me.
Sitting with my heartache had seemed unthinkable, impossible. Yet there I was. I took one breath, then another. I acknowledged the depths of my sorrow, I let it wash over me, and, bizarrely, I didn’t die. And that’s when it hit me full force: yeah, this hurts, but holy shit, I’m alive!
When I stopped resisting the pain, when I stopped denying it and stopped trying to escape it, I realized something so ridiculously simple, yet profound: life goes on. I got out of bed. I went to a yoga class. I started eating. I showed up for my students from a place of raw compassion that allowed me to teach with a sincerity like never before. I went for a run, and while running I had a revelation: I came here to feel this. This is what it means to be human.
And I realized that we don’t breathe to escape tough situations. We don’t breathe to make our thighs burn less in warrior two or to make our hearts stop aching. We breathe deeply so that we can move through the whole spectrum of human existence. “Stay with it” isn’t just a silly phrase—it means sometimes letting yourself feel things you think you can’t bear to feel. When we do this, it doesn’t by any means imply that anything will become easier. It might mean just the opposite. What it does mean is that we’ll be able to ride the waves as they come—we’ll become more flexible, more fluid, more graceful, more compassionate. We’ll be able to transmute the experience into an opportunity for growth and evolution.
And then we’ll forget again. We’ll resist and we’ll suffer. We’ll dig in our heels and fight, starting the process all over again. Because we’re human. And that’s just what we do.
About Lisa Morford
Lisa Morford is a writer, yoga teacher, and spiritual nomad living in San Diego, California. She is pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing from UC Riverside’s low residency program in Palm Desert. Living boldly, taking chances, and laughing loudly top her list of aspirations. She’s a fan of running, yoga, green juice, craft cocktails, chocolate, coffee, and red lipstick. Her list of books to read grows at a much faster rate than she could ever hope to consume in this lifetime, but she keeps adding to it anyway.