December 9, 2022
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Today’s episode is a coaching session with a guest who wants to stop postponing his enjoyment into an abstract future that never arrives. This session opens up an exploration of what can happen when we bring enjoyment into any moment: even the experience of chronic pain.
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Episode Intro: Welcome to the Art of Accomplishment where we explore how deepening connection with ourselves, and others leads to creating the life we want with enjoyment and ease.
Welcome back, everybody. Today’s episode is a coaching session with a listener named Christopher who recently brought onto his own podcast called Do Explain. Christopher has graciously offered to publish this session without anonymity, and I am really excited to share it with you.
Christopher wants to stop postponing his enjoyment in life. This session opens up an exploration of what can happen when we bring enjoyment into any moment, even the experience of chronic pain. On that note, we want to remind our listeners that this is coaching. The conversations we have on this podcast are not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease or mental health disorder. Thanks for listening, and please enjoy yourself.
Christopher: I have a very intense somatic practice I have been doing for a few years now, and I am at a weird stage right now where I feel like I have punctured a thick layer of psychological defense in a way where stuff is leaking out and it is very hard somatically to block it. It takes a lot of energy. It is close to the surface all of the time. I am wondering in this context. When I do it myself, it looks like an exorcism. I make weird noises and I move. It is very alien. I am slightly self-conscious that when we work through emotional material here, that that is going to be. Should I give in to what I usually do when I let emotions move and my body move? What do you say?
Joe: Be as authentic as possible. Follow your self. There is nothing you are going to do that I haven’t seen and there is nothing that you are going to do that is going to scare me. Enjoy yourself and let your body do what it needs to do.
Christopher: That’s scary. Okay, man, if you say so.
Joe: You could not be yourself. That’s fine, too. Would you prefer that?
Christopher: No, I like that idea.
Joe: What do you want to use our session about? What’s going on? What’s your biggest thing?
Christopher: I was thinking about how to summarize it right before, and there are two things that I think might be very tied together or even basically the same thing. That is I want to stop postponing enjoyment into an abstract, imaginary future.
Joe: How about right now?
Christopher: How do you know? If I am enjoying it now?
Joe: How do you enjoy yourself right now?
Christopher: I am enjoying it, and the second thing I wanted to get into there is how I can find.
Joe: Hold on. I want to hear that second thing, but I want to stick to the first one. You are telling me that you want to not have enjoyment as an abstract thing in the future and you are telling me you are enjoying yourself right now. I see this big smile on your face, and I see your head is confused. I see your thoughts are not quite jiving. What’s happening?
Christopher: Right. I feel like I can get glimpses of it, and then I oscillate in and out of it.
Joe: Are you enjoying saying that?
Joe: Okay, great. You can enjoy oscillating in and out of it.
Christopher: You can’t get into it so fast. We have got to hold off on the insights. So let me reframe it. How do I find my way back there when I tend to get stuck into thinking about the next thing? Tomorrow I am going to do this. Then I rush through the day to get there. In a week from now or when my pain is gone, I think that’s the major thing. I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time there.
Joe: What you are saying is how you get back to enjoying yourself when you forget to enjoy yourself, is that what you mean? What exactly are we talking about? I get the fact that you have a moment, and the moment is you get caught up in some sort of future which may or may not be enjoyable, getting caught up in. Then the next thing you know you are rushing through your day forgetting to enjoy yourself. Let me ask it this way. Is there anything about rushing through your day that can’t be enjoyed?
Christopher: Is there anything about my day or rushing through my day that can’t be enjoyed?
Joe: Is the issue that the rush prevents the enjoyment or is the issue that you forget to enjoy yourself? Some version of that is what I am asking.
Christopher: I mean oftentimes I feel like I am even running away from what is going on right now even more than chasing what’s coming.
Joe: What’s going on right now is enjoyment? What are you running away from?
Christopher: Last time I spoke to you I mentioned that I have a chronic illness. I have a lot of pain and discomfort.
Joe: I am just sorry that that’s the case for you.
Christopher: Thanks, man. I don’t remember how it was before then at this point, but now a lot of the time it is a part that wants to get away from that for sure.
Joe: Got you. In this moment right now, you are feeling some sadness. What would stop you from enjoying the sadness? I notice that your breathing or something to try to get into yourself, and I am curious about what happens if you just enjoy what’s happening.
Christopher: The sadness, I think I am okay with, but there is probably a hint of self-consciousness there or not wanting to appear like a victim or something like that.
Joe: You are a victim, bro. You are a victim to chronic pain.
Christopher: [sobbing] I feel really ashamed about that.
Joe: What does it say about you that you have chronic pain that makes you ashamed?
Christopher: I shouldn’t be like this.
Joe: For what reason?
Christopher: Because I am an inconvenience to people. [sobbing] It is not fun to be around. It is draining for people.
Joe: How much of that is a projection? There is this weird thing. Maybe like 10 times in my life that I have met somebody and within five to 10 minutes, I have known they were a caregiver to somebody. You have put your life on hold to care for somebody, haven’t you? They say yeah, how do you know? Because your heart is so soft, because there is such an openness in you. There is a way that somebody who has given care for somebody for years, years and years, it softens them. In fact, a lot of parents are softened by the experience if they are doing it consciously.
You might be responsible for softening people. How much of it is a projection? How much of it is that you are assuming your experience for the other person who is apparently inconvenienced?
Christopher: It feels hard to say because I feel shame is such a relational feeling and it is such a strong element of projection in shame or at least it is for me.
Joe: If you had to guess, what would you say? How much of you feeling like an inconvenience is actually you feeling like an inconvenience to yourself?
Christopher: Probably a lot of it, yeah.
Joe: You are feeling the shame. How would you enjoy your shame?
Christopher: I feel like when I embrace it, people can’t see it right now, but you can see how my body is moving, grass in the wind. I feel like I am letting it move in a way, which feels kind of nice.
Joe: Right now how would you not enjoy your shame?
Christopher: Convincing myself that I shouldn’t feel it, or you despise me for it, believing that story.
Joe: What stops you from enjoying your experience exactly? That’s shame, but you were talking about in the next week I am chasing something, or I am avoiding something. What stops you from enjoying chasing or avoiding what stops you from enjoying shame? What is the essential thing that’s happening?
Christopher: Running away from myself, maybe.
Joe: Okay, let’s explore that. Right now, run towards yourself and see if more enjoyment happens. Now run away from yourself and see if more enjoyment happens or less enjoyment happens.
Joe: You had a second thing. You said you had two things. I don’t want to forget the second thing. What’s the second thing?
Christopher: The second thing is I want to have a really, really deep and empowered trust in myself and my ability to deal with things as and when they actually show up as opposed to preparing a lot for something that may never happen and worrying about it and what I should say.
Joe: How are you not doing that now? I am sure whatever it is you prepared for our conversation, it is not what is going on right now. You even said it. We aren’t supposed to jump into it this quickly. Your preparation didn’t happen, and here you are prepared and trusting yourself. What am I missing? What do you want that isn’t happening?
Christopher: I think you are right. I do think that…
Joe: No, I am not right. I am asking a question.
Christopher: Okay, right. I think it is true that I do have already quite a deep trust in myself. I think there is still a small part left that doesn’t think so and thinks it is the whole of me or something like that.
Joe: You are defining yourself by a characteristic that arises at a smaller percentage of the time than the rest of you arises. Is that what you mean? Usually you trust yourself. Sometimes you don’t, but you are defining yourself by the part that doesn’t instead of the part that does.
Christopher: Right. Yeah, something like that. An example of that would be speaking in front of people, for instance, I have a new job right now.
Joe: There are going to be at least 10,000 people who listen to this.
Christopher: [laughing] There we go. Right. I guess somatically I still have a stress response before I am supposed to speak even though when I get into it, I feel fine. I don’t get bothered by what you said right there as much as I would starting the podcast or thinking about it beforehand.
Joe: How do the stress and enjoyment relate to each other? Or stress and losing yourself or not losing yourself or running away or towards yourself, how do they relate?
Christopher: Interesting. It seems like running away from myself is tied to the stress response.
Joe: Let’s be stressed for a minute and see what it is like to run towards yourself during stress. Stress happens whether you are running away from yourself or not running away from yourself. There are going to be moments of somebody saying something hard, everything going wrong or some timing issue. How do you run towards yourself in the time of stress?
Christopher: I am not sure.
Joe: Right now there is some stress in you because you can’t come up with the answer to this. How do you enjoy that just a little bit more? You just did it. How did you do that?
Christopher: I mean I got in words an eternal voice saying it doesn’t matter. Stop pulling the brakes, or something like that.
Joe: That’s amazing. The way that you leave yourself is pulling the brakes. Is that what you are saying?
Christopher: I feel like I have had that experience where I am really afraid of being judged and it feels phenomenologically like I am actually pulling a hand brake or pushing down a brake pedal all of the time, and those moments when I release that, it is so effortless and it is easy to be charismatic and to just be loving and open.
Joe: You, it is easy to be you.
Christopher: Yeah, right.
Joe: I am curious about something. It is a strange one. The chronic illness, is it autoimmune?
Christopher: It has elements of that.
Joe: How does pulling the brakes relate to your chronic illness? I am not saying cause or effect. I am saying when you pull the brakes with your chronic illness, what happens? Or how is your chronic illness a form of pulling the brakes? How do they relate?
Christopher: My initial response when you said that was if the stress response is always activated when I pull the brakes and this is kind of a stress disorder, which makes sense. But also I have nailed it down to it being a way to stop me from expressing my needs and wants. There’s a long story there.
Joe: It is super apparent. If you are the inconvenience for having it, then you can’t even express your needs when you are in chronic pain because that’s an inconvenience. I see it. Let me also ask a question. You are hanging out and feeling good, and then all of a sudden, the chronic pain kicks in. How do you pull the brakes in that moment? What do you say to yourself, if anything? What do you say to yourself that is a form of pulling the brakes when you experience the pain?
Christopher: I think I get really stuck in what interventions I need to make to be free of the pain, and that takes me out of enjoying the moment, which we spoke about.
Joe: The pulling the brakes is I have to fix myself. What would your chronic pain look like if you didn’t pull the brakes? Just to be clear, you could think about what to do to relieve your pain and not hold the brakes. That is very clearly possible.
Christopher: Absolutely. I can differentiate between those two phenomenologically as well when I am planning out something reasonable versus just ruminating and escaping.
Joe: What happens to your experience if you don’t pull the brakes when you experience pain?
Christopher: I want to say I enjoy myself but there is something that feels scary about that too.
Joe: I am curious. How often have you just cried out in pain, had the full expression of the pain?
Christopher: More so lately, but the first eight years, very rarely.
Joe: The more you allow the expression of the pain to exist, what changes, if anything? Maybe nothing.
Christopher: There is definitely more spaciousness around it. There is much more joy, love and nice emotion. It doesn’t feel nearly as bad as I thought.
Joe: One form of the brakes, and maybe they are the same thing, is how I fix myself because I am broken, and one form is don’t express the pain. Don’t let my body be in the anguish fully.
Christopher: Yeah. I mean it sounds kind of obvious now when we are laying out, but I feel like at some nervous system level, there is still some resistance to that.
Joe: What happened when you expressed your needs or your pain when you were a kid?
Christopher: I got shunned, kind of.
Joe: Let’s go one step forward. What do you think it would be like to say to your wife that the next time I am in pain, I want to be in anguish, express the anguish, have my body to have its full expression, and I want you to hold me and tell you I love me, it is okay I am in pain and it is okay to express my pain.
Christopher: It would be lovely. We have a little bind there, however. There is some discomfort on her side with that. I mean that’s also what I am noticing in myself. I told you that I was very afraid of coming across as a victim, and yet I always have this nagging sense that when I feel these things, I really want to say it and I want someone to say exactly what you said there. It is okay to be in pain. I love you anyway. It sucks. All of those things.
Joe: It is not I love you anyway. That still makes pain the bad guy. If I said that, I apologize. I don’t know what I said.
Christopher: I don’t think you said that.
Joe: What do you think makes your wife uncomfortable with your pain?
Christopher: Our entire relationship has been very shaped by me trying to get out of it and resisting it. It has limited her options a lot.
Joe: Her discomfort might not be your pain. Her discomfort may be watching you try to escape your pain, maybe.
Christopher: Yes, it might be. I also think she’s afraid of not getting her wants met and not getting the life she really feels she wants and needs because of my illness.
Joe: How would it feel to you to hold her while she has big emotions around that, maybe not getting the life she wants? Not trying to fix it but be with her in that anguish.
Christopher: I would be willing to pay her good money to do that.
Joe: You could do that for her.
Christopher: I would actually love it, but she is always trying to be so brave.
Joe: You mean like you. How is it different from you trying to be brave with your pain and not being the victim? How is this different at all?
Christopher: That’s a good question. It becomes this weird, twisted thing where if you are really, fully…
Joe: I want to hear everything you are about to say, and I want you to enjoy saying it. See what happens to your thought structure when you prioritize enjoyment. It is a twisted thing. That’s how you started.
Christopher: I got more curious, and more wonder struck right away. I feel like I don’t choke up my voice as much. It is easier to speak. In the long pause there, it seems like the expressing whatever want I have, like if I genuinely feel like I want to express the anguish and pain, squirm and squeal and ask for help in that, I think that’s much less hard for people to deal with than some kind of Mr. In-Between, where the want is squished by the shame, and you shouldn’t feel this. Then it becomes this awkward energy, like when somebody does something and feels really embarrassed and then people get embarrassed rather than saying I farted, look at that. Nobody cares.
Joe: Absolutely. People don’t want to sit with other people’s shame. You see somebody when they ask for what they want, they are much more likely to get a yes than if they say this is what I want, and it is full of shame. They are much more likely to get a no. People just don’t want to be around each other’s shame.
Christopher: I want to try something if I can, Joe.
Joe: Of course.
Christopher: You always say the vulnerable thing is to say the scary thing.
Joe: The scary thing that’s true to you.
Christopher: It would be if you would feel comfortable if you felt like you could hold space and say that you love my pain and my anguish and let me be a victim for a little bit.
Joe: Oh yeah, absolutely. I can do that. You have got to look at my face and see I actually do love your pain and anguish. For me, it is not even holding space. It is a privilege and an honor to be with it.
Christopher: [sobbing] It sucks to be in pain all of the time. I hate it. [sobbing]
Joe: I hate it for you. I am not even experiencing the pain.
Christopher: Thanks, man. Oh, fuck. At the same time, I feel so grateful that I get to be here at all, and I get to be here with you right now. I am so grateful for that.
Joe: Notice what just happened. Notice that when you allow that feeling of victim all the way in and all the way through, it moves to enjoyment. Notice that as you ran towards yourself, which was being in pain and in anguish, that enjoyment showed up.
Christopher: Oh fuck.
Joe: We are scared that if we allow the feeling of the victim to be fully there, we will end up being a victim forever. But what it actually just did is empower you. The empowerment you are trying to have when you don’t allow the victim just becomes this very natural thing once you allow it. It is not a push anymore. It is a natural flow.
Christopher: That’s such a shitty bind until you get it.
Joe: Then it is easy. That’s it? All I have to do is allow it? Most likely something is happening in you where you are feeling your wife’s anguish and feeling responsibility so you can’t just fully be with her in it. If you can be there fully with her in it, this is what's on the other side too even if it takes a couple of weeks. You are not going to have the life you want because I am in constant pain and that sucks for you. I can handle that.
Christopher: I get goosebumps when you say that. I don’t think I have ever said that to her. Thanks, Joe.
Joe: What an awesome pleasure. Thank you.
One other thing, I don’t know if your wife is a private woman or not, but if she ever wants to do a session with the two of us, I think that would be super fun. If she wants to do it, we could work on this together. It would be really fun.
Joe: Understood if she doesn’t want to do that.
Christopher: Yeah, I hope I get to talk to you again on the podcast. It is always too short. Have a nice day.
Brett: Wow, that was fascinating. Thank you Joe and thank you Christopher. If you want to hear more from both of them, check out their conversation on Christopher’s podcast Do Explain. Thank you for listening to the Art of Accomplishment. If you enjoyed what you heard today, please subscribe and rate us on your podcast app. We would love your feedback, so feel free to send us questions or comments. You can reach out to us, join our newsletter or check out our courses at artofaccomplishment.com.
Don’t forget we start the first cohort of the Connection Course on January 9th and early bird pricing ends on December 30th. We have just added gift certificates to the site, so if you have friends or family in mind that you would like to take the course with, you can find all of those details at artofaccomplishment.com. We can’t wait to see you in the new year.