Clean and Dirty

I’ve done a lot of thinking about this topic lately. There is the option to really fall into a depression about what might be: I might die of the anesthesia. It’s possible, however unlikely, that I could die from melanoma. My daughter could be motherless. My husband a widower. My mom could lose her second daughter! Oh my goodness, how terrible would that be??? There are all kinds of stories that we can create about what might be and for some reason, we as humans seem to love to dwell in the future. And we also seem to love to dwell on what’s wrong. I don’t know why, so if you do, I’d love to know about our compulsion to find the negative, both in ourselves as people and in our lives.

I’ve been really putting into practice paying attention to the “dirty pain” ideas that come up for me these days – like the ones I listed above.

Let me define the terms for you.

Clean Pain

Your best friend of 20 years, that currently lives around the corner and you see 3-5 times a week, that your spouse loves too, is moving all the way across the country.

That’s sad. And it’s something worth grieving.

Dirty Pain

My friend is moving across the country and I’ll never have another friend like her again. I’ll never drink coffee again, because there’s no one to go to Starbuck’s with. I’ll never ride my bike again (see previous). My spouse and I will never go out again because s/he doesn’t like any of my other friends. I’ll be alone. I’ll be lonely. Life will never be fun again.

So you see the difference. One, the clean pain, is all about WHAT IS. And it’s important to take the time to acknowledge and grieve clean pain. Allow yourself the time and self-compassion to be sad and to move through it at your pace. The other, the dirty pain, is all about the stories that we make up about the clean pain situation. It’s all of the negative stuff that we make it mean.

In Practice

So, I got a diagnosis of melanoma last week. I have a melanoma on my body that is going to be removed on Friday. Because they are concerned about the rate that the cells were dividing they are going to remove some lymph nodes too. Just to be sure. That is what is.

What am I making it mean?


Nothing other than what is.

I’ve told some friends and family and have asked for love and prayers and healing energy, I mean, I’m not dumb!!! But I’m not depressed about it and once the shock was over from people handing me cancer support group handouts and using words like “cure” and “possibility of death,” I haven’t even been particularly sad. I’m alive today, right now.

That is also what is.

And that's something to be really grateful for.

Laurie Jacobsen

Graphic Designer, Life Coach and Maker. Living the dream in Tucson, Arizona.