HEART ACHES

Sometimes my heart
aches a bit.

I call it my heart.
I think of it as my heart.
But I don’t usually feel it in my heart.

The actual ache is
often
somewhere in my
stomach.

Last week
it was a fiery little knot
of throbbing emotion
that rooted itself several inches
above my belt and below
(and to the right of)
my actual heart. 

In the past, I would ignore this ache.

I can go miles
and days
and months
with an ache in my stomach-heart. 

You’d be surprised how much
an ache
can’t slow me down. 

However,
I’ve come to learn that,
although advertised otherwise,
time does not actually heal all aches.

Some aches just
burrow
deeper
or
knot
tighter,
waiting to be untangled. 

Often
I try to pull an ache like that apart
with interrogations and analysis.
I circle round and round it with
endlessly
logical
questions.

What is the ache?
What does it need?
What is it saying?
Where is it from?
Why is it back?
Why won’t it leave?
How can I stop it?
How can I stop it?
How can I stop it?

This sort of spinning has never helped me,
ever.  

Fortunately,
sometimes
—usually after a nice deep breath or a cool drink of water—
I remember that, once in a while,
an ache
is an ache
and it doesn’t need
a definition.

It just needs a hug,
a hand,
a touch,
a little
reassurance.

So, I pause.

I place my hand
on my stomach-heartache.

I feel the warmth.
I breathe.
I try to remember
what I would say to my children
if they had an ache. 

I do my best not to shoo it away
or scold it for existing.
Yes, the ache is achey
and uncomfortable
and frustrating
and many things, but,
also,
it’s just an ache.

It doesn’t have the power to take me down.
It never has,
it never will,
it never can.

With care,
the ache will subside
eventually.

In the meantime,
why don’t we go for a walk
or watch an episode of Schitt’s Creek
so we can laugh
for a bit.

Sometimes the ache
is a longing
or a loss
that needs some care.
Sometimes it’s anxiety.
Sometimes it’s a painful memory.
Sometimes it’s hormones.
Sometimes it’s discomfort about an ongoing conflict.
Sometimes it’s another person’s ache
that has snuck in through
my empathy
and lodged itself in my stomach-heart.

Sometimes it’s a complete and utter mystery.

Other times (more and more often these days),
when I take the time to pay attention,
I discover that the ache
is actually a word,
or a sentence—
a plea, a protest, a pushback, a request—
that needs to be voiced.

It’s a piece of relationship that got stuck in my body
and didn’t know how
—or wasn’t allowed—
to escape. 

It doesn’t belong there,
and it’s aching
to get out. 

So I do my best to provide an exit ramp:
A blank page in a journal,
a brisk walk,
a good cry,
a cynical
or desperate
or angry
or earnest
prayer,
a letter I will never send,
a loud flurry of words in the car aimed at the universe
of past relationships where I didn’t/couldn’t
speak my voice,
a yoga class,
a meditation,
a steady push against a solid wall,
or—in the best-case scenario,
when it’s possible
(and after I muster my courage)—
a real-life conversation with a person the words might be for.

And sometimes the ache is true, deep grief.

There have been entire seasons
—years—
of my life
where I’ve walked around
with my hand (literally) on my stomach-heart
as though it were
a swelling,
pregnant
belly,
soothing the ache of my grief
and praying
it would birth something new
and healed
in my life
and in this world. 

That was all I could do.
And that was enough.

Those aches did eventually subside.
New life took root.

But there are always new aches
to be had.
I’m still learning how to soothe
a stomach-heartache,
and perhaps one day
I’ll learn how to prevent one.
(Although I rather doubt it. Is that even the point?)

For better or for worse,
I have a stomach-heart that absorbs
feelings,
needs,
fears,
words,
worries,
hopes,
and sadness.
But I’m getting better at releasing
what’s not mine
to carry
and saying
what’s not mine
to leave unsaid.

And I’m learning to give my stomach-heart
the gentle care
it needs,
without the interrogation,
whenever I can.

Because, yes,
sometimes there’s an ache,
but there’s also me.
And I’m still living,
breathing,
moving.
There is still beauty.
And there is still the powerful
force of life
that I call God.
And He is good.
She is love.
They are gentle.
I am seen.

I am not my aches.

But I am learning,
growing,
softening,
expanding,
and becoming more
because of them.

______________________

I guess you could say this is a bit of an ode to some of my default settings as an Enneagram Nine, INFJ, and human. Yes, I may feel things intensely and absorb things deeply (and, sometimes, bury and carry things even more deeply). But I am learning to not fear the feelings. And to take a walk when my stomach-heart aches.

Here’s to soothing our aches gently and becoming more than our status quo, friends.

xxoo

Image by Otto Kim

4 Comments

  • Julie

    Thank you, Jonathan. Here’s to getting better and better at being human. xo

     
  • Jonathan

    Such good words that get at the ache in all of us in our default settings as humans. Thank you for this gift.

     
  • Julie

    Oh Erin. Thank you for your words. You are so not alone. Hugs to you – and to your aches. xxoo

     
  • Erin Salmon

    I wept as I read this. I am feeling this ache so strongly these days. Thank you for putting such beautiful words to it and for reminding me that I am not alone. Grace and peace to you, dear friend.

     

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