I dated a guy named Jon in college who, after holding the door open for a woman in a wheelchair, commented to me, “We all have disabilities. Some are just more visible than others.” At the time, I filed that away as “interesting.” Now I think it’s profound and worth exploring. And, as usual, my Muse led me on a muse-ing journey . . .
First, I searched for the right term to use in this post: disability, handicap, impairment, infirmity, ailment, weakness, wound. None of them felt right to me. I finally chose “challenge.”
Then I thought, as Jon implied, about there being a spectrum of challenges with “visible” at one end, and internal/invisible or “hidden” on the other. For example, the woman in the wheelchair was at the visible end of the spectrum. At the other end—the hidden challenge—was Jon who battled the internal/invisible challenge of depression.
But what about other points on the challenge spectrum?
My Muse brought up an example of a mid-spectrum challenge that is internal/hidden but exhibits visible signs: addiction. I remembered a visceral, vicarious experience I had of alcoholism from reading a detective novel years ago.1 The book is about a down-and-out, street-smart, good-hearted NYC PI investigating a murder, but it also chronicles his struggle with an alcoholic downward spiral. The spiral stemmed from guilt over accidentally killing a little girl in the line of duty as a policeman; the spiral cost him his career as well as his wife and children. After solving the murder case in this story, he sits staring at a double bourbon in front of him on the bar of a “gin joint” as his internal demon and better angel battle it out: drink what he’s craving, or not. He finally chooses the latter and decides to go to his first AA meeting. The description of that meeting in the very last sentences of the book are among the most powerful pieces of writing I’ve ever read due to their simplicity and raw emotion:
I sat there during the discussion. The words people spoke rolled over me like waves. I just sat there, unable to hear a thing.
Then it was my turn.
“My name is Matt,” I said, and paused, and started again. “My name is Matt,” I said, “And I’m an alcoholic.”
And the goddamnest thing happened. I started to cry.
Wow. The crushing pain but also the stunning courage to make a life-changing decision to deal with it. “Life changing” is what facing challenges can result in.
This concept of hidden/visible challenges dovetails with a previous blog post here, Compassion Part 2: Looking Beneath the Book Cover—we never really know what’s beneath the surface of another person’s actions or appearance, what they’re dealing with physically or emotionally. But this current post takes it a bit further:
Circling back to finding the right term, I realized that, although “disability” is the politically correct term, all those words felt wrong to me because they connote “defect.” And I had the thought that maybe challenges aren’t defects but rather gifts. Really?? The pain and challenge of physical disability, depression, addiction, etc. are gifts?? I posit yes.
I think that not only do we have gifts like talents and skills that we hone with experience, but we also have the gift of challenges that can lead us to:
- garner soul learning,
- experience compassion for self, and
- feel compassion for other Human Beings.
But further, I believe all of this promotes a sense of Oneness because it all comes down to an experience I had in the est Training decades ago: In front of a group of about 200 people, participants shared their deeply personal and hidden stories involving shame, guilt, trauma, etc. only to find a lot of other attendees nodding their heads in understanding—as in ” Yes, me too!” The point: you’re not alone in your challenge and pain. Rather, guilt, shame, rejection, feelings of abandonment, jealousy, trauma, physical challenges, etc. are all part of “the human condition.” We all have them in common to one extent or another. And our shared challenges can help us to understand and feel compassion for each other, and to connect with one another. Thus we can experience that we are, indeed, all connected, that we are all One.
This is the third post I’ve been guided to write on the topic of compassion—it must be a critical guidepost and scenic vista for us to explore on our Path. So let’s explore it for ourselves:
Get out your trusty notebook (or ruled notepad or whatever) and start writing! . . .
What are my “challenges” (visible and not)?
You probably already know what they are—large and small. But spelling them out definitively can make them more actionable. Write as much of a description as needed (their possible source, how they make you feel, what they cost you in life, if there’s a payoff from having this challenge, etc.). Write from a place of observer vs. that you’re “bad” or “defective.” In fact, maybe write until you can feel compassion for yourself.
What can I do to mitigate, deal with, or resolve my challenge(s).
Consider doing one or all of the following:
* Research/dissect your challenge(s) for possible mitigation. For example, I’ve read that exercise can help depression. If you have a bum knee, maybe an injection or brace might help—so get an orthopedic referral. Maybe there’s somebody whose forgiveness you need to ask for, or whom you need to forgive. Maybe it’s time to just let go of a particular resentment or jealousy.
*Do stream-of-consciousness writing—let your inner knowing provide insight and guidance.
* Identify someone you can ask for help or support. Maybe a family member or friend, a support group, a relevant professional or practitioner, an organization or company, or whoever. BUT whoever it is, make sure they’re worthy of your trust, and are capable of helping or supporting you.
NOTE: Please be cautious about how you work on and resolve your challenges. As always, trust your inner knowing in all things. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.
If you decide to ask for help or support from a family member or friend, I suggest you don’t just spring it on them. Ask first if this is a good time to talk about something important to you; if not, schedule a mutually convenient block of time. After all, this IS important—we’re talking about your soul learning here. If you decide to work with a professional or an existing support group or organization, ask around and get reliable references, then personally check them out to make sure it’s a good fit for you. Interview them.
Be aware that this is probably another one of those (damn!) processes and practices this impatient Aries rails against. So keep working on it even when one approach you try doesn’t pan out. And maybe you’re ready and eager to jump right in to handling your challenges, or maybe you need to just sit with this a bit. It’s fine either way. Be gentle with yourself.
I delayed publishing this post because I had the concern that it could do more harm than good if you, for example, get bogged down in describing your challenges, or ask for support from someone not trustworthy or not really capable of helping you. But I chose to trust that you will exercise the muscle of tapping into your inner knowing to know what’s right for you to do, and who to ask, and when, if at all.
Ultimately, I really think it’s time for us to begin lifting the veils of shame, guilt, and even anger we feel about challenges we perceive as impairments, misdeeds, injustices, etc. It’s time for us to really begin to face our challenges and heal our wounds, as rapidly or as slowly as personally appropriate.
Mostly, I think it’s time to acknowledge that each of us is an awesome, perfectly imperfect, Light-filled Being. And it’s time to let our Light shine.
BTW: Note that the hidden-to-visible challenges spectrum does NOT imply a greater or lesser level of pain. The pain of a challenge is totally individual depending on the circumstance and the person. Whether visible or not, your level of pain from a particular challenge may be much less or much worse than my pain associated with the very same challenge. I suggest you don’t compare challenges, one against another. They’re all daunting for the person facing them.
1 Eight Million Ways to Die, Book 5 in the Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block. (Read the book. Don’t watch the 1986 movie version—not a great adaptation.)