Last week while I was working in Bondi I got chatting to a happy Israeli man named Raphael. After I told him that he was named after a ninja turtle, he decided to brief me about his time in military service as a young man.
Raphael explained that he had worked as a nurse, “fitting” he laughed as he told me that in Hebrew his name means ‘God has healed’. He spoke about the countless soldiers he’d nursed back to health after having an arm or a leg blown off, or having sustained some other horrendous injury. Although he smiled through it, when he spoke, I saw the images of war flash through his mind.
Instead of brushing over that very human moment, I decided to ask Raphael how he deals with the trauma. I was curious as to how someone copes with having memories like that tucked away in the back of his mind. He laughed and said “you know, it is funny you should ask. Only the other day I realised that all of these years I have had to picture myself in my military gear as I go to sleep. If I do not see myself lying there in full uniform, with all of my guns strapped to me, I cannot rest”.
He changed the subject after that.
Raphael is over 60 years old. He was 22 when he went to war. For forty years he has had a self-preservation system in place that he didn’t even know about. Bullseye Raphael, and thank you! I started thinking- how often do we experience pain and trauma in life and create an unconscious coping mechanism to bring us peace?
How much unconscious armour have you placed upon your heart to keep yourself safe over the years?
We try so fucking hard to stay protected in this messy experience we call life. We search high and low to find a safe place within or even outside of ourselves where we hope to rest peacefully. And it’s perfectly necessary to do so! But the tragedy happens when we create mile high barriers and barbed wire fences around our hearts on the journey to find that safe place.
As we experience the full spectrum of emotions life throws at us and we encounter the difficulty of grief and loss, we learn to shut parts of our self down. It is a far better idea to
put up a big ass DANGER – DO NOT ENTER barrier than to risk feeling that ever again right? Perhaps.
But perhaps when we put up that barrier, we actually rob ourselves of the opportunity for a full life.
How can you truly feel joy if you are watching from the sidelines, just because you remember how much it hurt when you grazed your knee taking that epic dive for the ball? How can you experience love in its exquisite entirety from up high in your ivory tower, holding a bow and arrow, ready to shoot as prince (or princess) charming approaches? All because of the time that jerk broke your heart.
You cant. You simply aren’t letting yourself.
We can’t be free to experience a full life if we aren’t vulnerable enough to pull the barriers down. Not if we want a balls and all, caution to the wind, authentic experience.
So what I propose is this: just for today, as an experiment, you throw it all down. Say ‘fuck it’ to the fear and go all out with whatever you are doing. Eat the worm out of the tequila bottle. Then snort the salt and squeeze the lemon in your eye. Too far? Maybe. But in the end I’d much rather be worn out, wrinkled and chipped from giving life my all, than still sitting on the bench all shiny and clean but left wondering what if. Who’s with me?