When Progress Feels Like Pain


It’s pitch black. I hear myself panting, desperate to catch my breath. My heart is pounding with a force and urgency that I can feel throb through my entire body. Drenched in sweat. I feel sick. Confused and terrified. I catch the red lights in the corner of the room – 1:40. Stumble to the bathroom on weak legs.. am I sick? what’s wrong with me? am I ok? Unable to answer any of the questions swirling in my head I eventually catch my breath, get back to bed, and close my eyes….2:45.. 4:30.. 5:50..

When healthy looks broken.
When strength sounds like weakness.
When progress feels like pain.

feel Survival maps and old coping mechanisms are putting up a good fight lately; they are loud and aggressive. They taste sweeter than they should and feel like failure. And still, I know, they are there because they are being activated.. because I am actively working against them..because I am being courageous enough to look at deeper issues that summon them to attack.

In truth the choice to be courageous is a response to being clobbered with emotions, not an offensive strategy. It’s not like I was thinking the other week, “You know what, I’m feeling strong lately.. I think I’ll go look for trouble in the murky waters of my subconscious because I’m sure I’m ready to take on what’s there and I’d be happy to have the opportunity to grow some more”. Nope, it was more like being hit by a truck of difficult emotions and overwhelming thoughts and memories..and then choosing to sit in the wreckage and pain, instead of trying to limp away and pretend it didn’t happen.


The double-edged sword of getting stronger. It seems emotions, thoughts, memories lie like dormant volcanoes in the abyss of our minds, waiting to erupt. Waiting until we are strong enough to handle what’s there. It waits until we can handle more – and then it makes us. Upping the ante because it knows we will survive it. Our minds believe our resilience will allow us to come out of this alive – but the impact of the explosion is still devastating and lava still burns.


Yogis talk about this process in relation to samskaras; the subliminal activators -the imprints left on consciousness by actions and volitions. “In order for us to be free from the power of these subliminal activators, each samskara will have to be experienced again – and fully digested. Yogis found that there is a hierarchy of samskaras- that some samskaras are more deeply etched than others. ..some are grooved into consciousness like “a line drawn in water”; some are grooved like “a line drawn in sand”; and some, like “a line drawn in rock”. “ (Cope, Stephen. The Wisdom Of Yoga. pg. 197) It is believed among yogis that the more our consciousness becomes balanced, as The Witness (Observer Stance) becomes stronger, it is inevitable that these old impressions will resurface – in the process of purification (to allow us to heal them).  


It’s a process…(Prying up Floorboards and Rebuilding the Puzzle). It’s been almost a year since I wrote that blog post..and I’m still a fucking puzzle . I mean, really, how many more pieces are there?! It’s hard to have patience for the struggle when I just want to get on with it and live the most of this life. And yet I know, this is living too.


Another volcano erupted and I’m not sleeping, I’m panicking. Eating cereal and hiding in bed. Looking lazy and hopeless to the outside world, while fighting a battle no one else can see. I’m exhausted. I miss when my strength was being used to thrive instead of holding my ground. I miss when sleep was a sanctuary. I’m desperate to get back to that, and I know that I will.


For now I sing myself a lullaby to prelude the terrors that lurk in the darkness…”There is purpose to this pain, there is growth that will come from this suffering.” Growth that looks like complete destruction and feels like torture. Growth.


When healthy looks broken.
When strength sounds like weakness.
When progress feels like pain.

11 thoughts on “When Progress Feels Like Pain”

  1. So powerful!

    Thank you for sharing and you are right…if we only keep doing what we can do (same old patterns in response to our same old survival maps), we never become more than who we are today.

    It is when the old stories show up, AND we introduce them to our strong and healthy self, we change our response and relationship to them, that we can change the dance. I am sorry you are struggling- AND what an opportunity! I can’t wait to hear about the incredible dance as it continues to emerge!

    1. Thank you ILM,
      I am so grateful for your support. I like how you worded that it’s the process of introducing those old stories to our strong and healthy self.. I find that very helpful and it even brings up some pretty powerful imagery (involving a dragon, of course 😉 ), definitely one I will use to help lead the dance. Oh, AND I love your use of AND :). Many thanks and much love.

  2. So very powerful and raw. I am sorry and not sorry at the same time that you are struggling. I am sorry you have to go through the struggle yet I am elated that you are aware of and are facing the struggle from your strong healthy mindful dragon self. I look forward to the beauty of the broken seeds growth. To the story waiting to be written on the other side of the struggle. You are one very brave dragon! Love being sent your way.

  3. Wow. The brain is a magnificent machine. It has a way of drawing us or distracting us in completely captivating ways. Your writing is magic when describing this. My heart goes out to you. I can’t help but think there’s some creative genius that you tap in times like this that maybe are part of this truly engaged living that you are seeking. When I’m upset, stressed or somehow in drama or trauma in my life my partner will ask me “what’s the opposite of happiness?”. Boredom. It’s not sadness. It’s boredom. And even when upset or worried, I’m still engaged in life, struggling, seeking. It is living. It’s not peaceful and joyous always, but it is living. Thanks again for your courageous sharing. Is there any way to support you?

    1. Erin, I love the remark on the opposite of happiness being boredom- because it’s so true that this isn’t happy but it certainly is living (and not boring!). Thank you for sending your thoughts my way, the support you show me through reading, commenting, and caring make a big difference. Thank you for helping me feel seen, heard, and like I matter <3

  4. I have been feeling similarly this past week. I am impatient to get on with my life often forgetting, this IS getting on with it. Thanks for sharing and keep pressing on. <3

    1. Thank you Nancy, Sorry to hear you have also been having a difficult time and I love how you word it.. “this IS getting on with it”. I’m going to keep that one on a loop in my head as well. Sending love and compassion your way 🙂

  5. This comment is in reference to a question I received via email; with permission from the sender, I am posting it here – in the hopes it will also help others who can relate to this struggle.

    Dear Mindful Dragon,
    When you can’t catch your breath – what do you do in the short term until you find your inner dragon again? Just when I feel like I got this tackled – I get the wind punched out of me and I am just finding it a bit harder lately to reconnect with my inner dragon. Like the old survival map is in a rage.

    My Answer:
    Firstly, I’d like to say that I am sorry you are struggling – it is so painful and frustrating to have the wind knocked out of you and feeling disconnected from the inner dragon. Sending you much love, kindness, and compassion in this time of suffering <3

    I have discovered that the inner dragon strength looks different at these times, but it is still there. It's here right now helping me cope with the emotions and enraged survival map - it doesn't look like soaring right now, but it's still holding me. This is where I got the idea for this post.. "When healthy looks broken, when strength sounds like weakness, when progress feels like pain." I know I look broken, sound weak, and am struggling with pain right now, but I also know it's in the name of progress, strength, and health. I believe this struggle comes because we are getting stronger and consequently there is more we can handle, so there is more to deal with. It doesn't seem like a great prize for making progress (I mean seriously, how about some chocolate or a cash reward instead?!), but I do believe it will be worth it in the end.

    What I try to remember about the survival map being in a rage, is that although it is painful and difficult to deal with, it signifies progress- it's in rage because we are doing something different. It's putting up a fight and all we can do is deal with the shit it's throwing at us, and carry on despite it. I find some strength in this because despite (or perhaps more accurately, because of) the pain, I still know I'm on the right track to where I want to be.

    When I can't catch my breath all I can do in that moment is self-soothe. For me, I put my hand on my chest and try to focus on my breath (I find what works best for me is focusing on the exhale and letting the inhale happen naturally, so I'm not gulping air). If I'm feeling a bit stronger, sometimes I will tell myself "You are okay, you are safe" in a soothing tone you'd use for comforting a friend who's hurting. I think it's important to remember that our only job when those emotions come up is to feel them, not to get rid of them, just sit with it and let yourself feel. It's so difficult to do (for me anyways) because I do have this desire to get back to the 'soaring type' of dragon strength, and I just want to get out of this discomfort and be "better". I try to remind myself often that it's a process.. and the process is important.

    You do have this thing tackled; even when it's hard, even when it doesn't feel like you do. You've got this.

    Sending strength, compassion, and faith - from my inner dragon to yours.

    Much love,
    Mindful Dragon

  6. Agreed. Progress can be painful, especially when working on ourselves. It is a process, a journey, an enlightening of sorts that we must allow ourselves to feel (even though it feels awful!) to push through to the other side. It is growth for our soul. It can be how we learn to move on & change the patterns that no longer serve our authentic self.
    Keep your head up. You’ve got this. I believe in you. I am here for you 🙂

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