Clean pain is when something painful happens, in a particular moment. Someone breaks up with you. You burn your hand while cooking.
Dirty pain involves your thoughts around the thing that happened. The breakup becomes, "I'll never find love!" The burned hand becomes, "I'm stupid and clumsy and always will be!"
Yes, dirty-pain you is a messy bitch that lives for drama.
I'd like to take that idea and apply it to something I can feel on days and at times when I'm not careful and my most conscious: clean anxiety versus dirty anxiety.
See if you can relate.
Clean anxiety might be the rush that happens when you're stuck in traffic that may make you late for a meeting. Your fight-or-flight is blasting at full volume. WHY WON'T THAT CAR MOVE. WHAT WILL I TELL MY BOSS. (Let's note, too, that clean anxiety does have an element of clear, sharp problem-solving embedded in it. In that way, it can be useful.)
What, then, is "dirty" anxiety? It's a general feeling that (in your most whiny voice):
- Something that didn't happen, should have
- Something that did happen, shouldn't have
- I need to be doing something, now
- I don't want to do anything, now
- I need to be doing something DIFFERENT, now
- Everything is blah
- Everything is just too crazy
It's kind of like that "I'm hungry, but I'm not sure what I'm hungry for" feeling. It's not that there's a specific problem at-hand that's stressing you out. But you're still on guard. On watch. At full alert. It's not hard to imagine many of us are in this situation, given our current climate and all of its breaking news alerts. (Sigh.)
The dirty anxiety could be a completely habitual response; something that our minds and bodies get used to when exposed to over time. If you've been in a legitimately stressful situation for a prolonged period of time (a bad relationship, a stressful work project, a Reality Star President), our bodies adjust. Once those things end (and hopefully they do -- either on their own, or you walk away), it's time to RESET.
Lots of actors do this after taking on emotionally charged or challenging roles. DUCKS do this, too! Eckhart Tolle tells us:
When two ducks get into a fight, it never lasts long – they soon separate and fly off in opposite directions. Each duck then flap its wings vigorously several times. This releases the surplus energy that built up in him during the fight. After they flap their wings, they fly on peacefully as if nothing had ever happened.
You may have a purely habitual way of thinking, acting and feeling, and the opportunity is to work yourself OUT of that, one thought/deed/feel at a time! Flap your wings, baby.
Separating what's you're feeling into two different buckets -- "Clean, but I need to deal with it as much as I can," or "Dirty, and I need to shake it off and get into some new grooves," can be a solid way to feel just a little bit better. (Or a LOT better – try it and see!)