December 24, 2012

I Hid Behind a Dumpster. ~ Jenny Finn

photo credit: Sheila Dunn Art

Connection and care–that’s what the darkness within us needs.

I was in a coffee shop, writing a research proposal for my PhD program, when I heard about Connecticut. I was actually cruising through the news feed on Facebook, to avoid the work that really needed to be done, and noticed many posts about sending prayers to Newtown. I clicked on a link to an article on the Huffington Post and read some of the few details known at the time.

People shot, most of them children, in a school, in a suburban town.

Suddenly, I felt a blackness enter my belly–one of despair, powerlessness and deep sorrow. Tears overcame me as I scrambled to locate my phone. I needed to talk to my husband. I grabbed my phone and quickly exited the coffee shop, leaving all of my things on the couch, rounded the corner of the building and called my husband. We cried together as I told him the news of which he was unaware. Coming up for air in between sobs, I noticed where I had situated myself in the midst of my panic–I was shivering behind a dumpster, hiding my tears.

I am part of what some might call the problem–I call it pain. When I take my tears of despair out of the cozy coffee shop and to a bin of trash, I am contributing to a culture ashamed of its feelings. A culture that is ashamed of its human fragility.

Be strong. Put a smile on that face. Buck up.

We have all heard these phrases and I am not saying they are inherently bad. What I am saying is this: when we ignore, distract, numb, and avoid our own darker feelings, or do that to others, we are part of the problem. And honestly, which of us can say that we don’t do that?

I spent the first two decades of my life avoiding pain through drugs, alcohol, people pleasing, and care taking. For the past two decades, waking up through the sobriety from all of these behaviors has not been easy. The reality is, even with all of the work I have engaged in emotionally and all of the teachers I have had in my life who have led me into my discomfort, I am still hiding behind the dumpster with my tears.

Today, I took my children to school and I stayed an extra hour and a half. I listened to my son and other children give presentations, dressed up like explorers with painted-on beards and wearing their mother’s riding boots. My daughter’s 3rd grade class, where in between reading books and doing worksheets, they were whispering things like:

“Yeah, and the teacher threw herself in front of her children to save them,”  or  “The shooter shot himself in the head.”

Things you wouldn’t expect from eight-year-old children. But today, we do.

As I left the school, I saw a child who has been in class with my fifth grade son for the past five years. I am going to call him David. He comes from a lot of pain in his family–you can see it in his eyes. Every day, I say good morning to David and all of the children–summoning as much love as I can to shine on them. But this particular morning, when I looked at David, his pain seemed to be even more starkly than before. He doesn’t make eye contact, his shoulders are slumped, and his energy is low. He is like this almost every time I see him. I made eye contact with him, imagined every cell of my body lit up with love, and I shined out a big Good Morning! to David. It was the usual response, David staring at the floor mumbling and looking sort of lost. After we passed in the hallway, I heard this from within me:

Until we love every single David, we will not find the peace we are looking for. Until every David is woven into the fabric of this society, we will not find the connection we are looking for.

I would also say this: unless we love the David within us, the part of ourselves that is low energy, sunken, and doesn’t want to be seen, we cannot love those who are dejected in our communities. It begins within your own heart, and before you think that you don’t have those parts, think again. We all do. We are all human. We all have stories and we are all living this vulnerable, fragile, human experience.

What do you fear? Do you hide it behind a “dumpster” so that no one can see it? What are you ashamed of? Do you wear an “I’m fine” mask to cover it up?

When I hid behind the dumpster with my tears, I contributed to the problem we have as a culture of being ashamed of the more difficult emotions. It is not time to buck up and move on. It is time to feel and not just the good stuff–when we show up for ourselves fully, we can then show up for the David’s in our world. The David within and without needs connection, needs love, needs care. This requires the courage of a warrior–to show up for what is uncomfortable in a society where we have infinite opportunities to numb, avoid, and ignore our pain.

As I said, I was writing my PhD research proposal when this news hit me and I ran out. My proposal is on how turning towards the darkness is the most powerful thing that we can do. And how talking about it often is not enough. We must embody it, feel it within our whole bodies in order to heal.

Eventually, I did summon the courage to walk my talk, and walk back in, ask for some tissues from the woman behind the counter, and sit back down for a moment. I cried on the couch as I called others that I love. A woman then approached me and asked me if she could share the couch with me. She reached down to a plate of chocolates on her table and said “Would you like one of these?”

Connection and care–that is what the darkness within us needs.

I devote my life to opening the door to what we want to shut the door to. I do this knowing that reclaiming our vulnerability is where our greatest strength lies. I cannot imagine a louder wake-up call than when the most innocent among us are being killed. Let us wake up and be brave. We can’t ignore it anymore. We just can’t.

For some of us that is a larger task, I know. Nonetheless, we can’t avoid it anymore. Here’s to waking up to all of what is real–especially the darkness. Pay attention and notice when you turn towards what is dark, the light rushes in. That Mystery, the holy light, will guide you and your tears from the trash bin, to the cozy couch in the coffee shop. Light is what the darkness longs for and it will find it on the couch with a stranger, the warm “Good Morning!” from adult to child that really needs it, and in the tissues offered by ones who care. Darkness gets darker when it shivers, alone and afraid, behind the trash bin.

If you are no longer interested in being ashamed of your vulnerability and interested in facing what is real within you, there are many ways to begin that journey. This is what is needed now–the courage to turn inward. Here are just a handful of resources to begin the journey:

Brene Brown

Miriam Greenspan

Links to many doing this work in various ways


Jenny Finn, PhDc is a licensed social worker and embodiment educator living in Colorado Springs, Colorado with her family on an urban farm. She is the director of the school Soma-where body meets soul, dedicated to sustainable living through the integration of body and breath and the language of creative expression. To learn more about this work, please visit www.somamovement.org. Jenny is seeking her Ph.D. in Sustainability Education at Prescott College where she is devoted to studying the healing of power of facing what is uncomfortable, unknown, or painful through the language of creative expression.


Ed: Lacy Rae Ramunno


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