Sometimes I feel like everyone talks about growth but hardly anyone talks about growing pains. These aren’t something new to me. As a child I had these lots and my parents soothing me with massages remains a sweet early memory. This past year has been a time of immense healing and growth for me. It feels transformative. At the same time, there are growing pains – no longer of the achy muscle type like when I was a child, but more a sense of weariness and feelings of destabilisation.
I’ve been getting to know these growing pains a bit more. Here are some of my explorations.
When we are healing, we are often going much deeper than it may seem
A big working ground for me is early childhood trauma around separation and loss. I’ve tended to find ‘endings’ extremely painful because of this and until recently this has meant that I’ve tended to stay in relationships (I use this term to cover a whole range of relationships, friendships included) where I haven’t felt the reciprocity of valuing, kindness and care that I want to feel. This year there have been significant shifts. I’ve managed to close some doors that needed closing. I wouldn’t have done this in the not-so-distant past. This has felt big and it hasn’t been easy. I read these words by Maryam Hasnaa the other day which struck a chord instantly: “Break up with the pattern not just the person”.
So whilst on the surface it looks like I’m just dealing with my relationship with one person, the reality is that in changing the way that I think and act in that instance, I am actually disrupting deeply-rooted patterns from the past – ones that create suffering. When we are healing, its helpful to remember that a lot of it is about healing aspects of the past in the present. This is partly why we feel it so much.
When we are growing, we are often stepping into unfamiliar territory
When we grow, we are discarding old and familiar ways of thinking and being. Instead, we step into the unfamiliar. Thich Nhat Hanh says: “People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar”.
The unfamiliar can feel scary. Growth demands change. Change involves loss. I’ve definitely moved away from certain people recently where our ways of being feel much less aligned. I’ve also experienced the loss of some of the ideas I have had about who I am. As the healing journey can show us time and time again – we are not fixed entities, but like all things are ‘impersonal changing phenomena (SN Goenka). On the subject of things not being fixed, I love the concept of bardo states in Tibetan Buddhism. These are ‘intermediate states’ that apply to the times when ‘gaps appear, interrupting the continuity that we otherwise project onto our lives’ (Pema Khandro Rinpoche). Periods of growing pains feel like bardos, in-between states where we are perhaps no longer one thing, and not yet something else.
I’m trying to be as gentle and as patient with myself as I can through this, whilst also feeling curious and excited about what may emerge at ‘the other side’.
Healing is often messy and imperfect
I am an Aquarius. Big-style. We are idealists with a strong sense of justice. I am very inspired by ideas and practices around transformative justice with its emphasis on repair by reducing harm. Navigating these processes with others, both when I’ve felt harmed and when I’ve caused harm has helped to nourish understanding and growth in big ways. However, as we all know, this kind of repair isn’t always possible – for so many reasons. This can feel disappointing. And messy. Yet, we can find small ways of beginning to heal, so that our growth isn’t dependant on somebody else or on circumstances over which we have little-to-no control. I love this prayer by Nakeia Homer:
“I pray you heal from things no one ever apologised for”.
Here are 5 things that help me when I have growing pains:
Journaling has been a useful way of archiving my journey. Looking back over past writing is helping me to be softer with myself, realising how far I’ve come. If journaling isn’t your thing, you can choose whatever modes of expression feel good for you.
Sharing my feelings and thoughts with friends who have known me a good while and can reflect my journey back to me has been a lifeline at times – especially when things have felt full-on. This has also helped me along when I’ve struggled with self-compassion through the growing pains.
- Connecting with ancestors
I try to remember that many of my ancestors didn’t have the luxury to do the kind of inner work that I’m able to do in my life. A lot about their lives had to do with daily survival. Keeping this close makes me feel inspired to continue the healing, knowing also that my healing is intimately bound up in theirs.
In meditation, it helps me to bring my ancestors to mind (political and spiritual ones as well as familial) and to feel their love and wisdom with me.
- Cultivating joy
Consciously making time and space for fun, lightness and joy feels a really great and necessary antidote to the growing pains. Lately for me, this has meant wild swimming whenever I can and a lot of food adventures!
- Be good to yourself
As Idil Ahmed says:
“Love yourself a little extra right now. You’re evolving, learning, healing, growing and discovering yourself all at once“.