Let’s talk about feelings. Specifically, let’s talk about what my son and I call “big feelings“, the ones that knock you off your rocker.
It’s one of my favorite subjects, not just because I’m a life coach, but because I am a human being who has spent much of my life totally baffled, overwhelmed, blocked, frustrated, and sometimes victimized by my emotional experience.
I know I’m not alone in this.
The word itself, “emotion” has it’s roots in movement. Emotions are designed to move, to touch, to enliven. And truly, it is their nature to move through us, to come and go with ease, like clouds turn to rain turn to sun.
Yet most of us have a less than fluid relationship with our emotional selves.
Deep down, we might be afraid our anger will overpower us or our grief will swallow us. If we start crying, we might never ever stop. We won’t be able to carry on and there is so much to do. We don’t have time to feel our feelings!
Maybe we’ve used our emotions to rationalize bad behavior or to justify putting our lives on hold while we wallow. We find ourselves unable to relax with happiness or joy because we are on alert, looking for ways to prolong or intensify the nice feeling or waiting for the proverbial ‘other shoe’ to drop.
The most common ways of dealing with emotions are:
a) stuff that business down
b) project difficult emotions outward onto people and situations
c) become paralyzed/victimized by how we feel
d) some fun combination of the above
All this stuffing and projecting results in a backlog of emotional gunk: depression, numbness, apathy, addiction, explosions, misunderstandings, fractured relationships, blame, guilt…the list goes on.
What is UP with this? (My son, my best teacher on this subject, sometimes shouts this at the top of his lungs when he is frustrated. It helps, try it.)
It’s a relationship problem we’ve got here, folks. So called “negative” emotions get a really bad rap. We’re scared of them. Some of that fear comes from the reasons I mentioned above. But I think the larger piece of the emotion puzzle is our fraught relationship to life as it is.
Let me explain.
For all our talk about wanting to live in the present moment, our ego-selves are always and only seeking comfort and security. There is something poignant, painful even, about being fully awake to the present moment. Presence is disorienting to the ego; the usual markers of identify fall away, nothing to grasp at or strive toward. The moment is full of the truth that everything rises and falls away, which is freedom itself, but sheer terror to the part of us that believes life happens in a linear fashion that makes sense.
“The bad news is you’re falling through the air, nothing to hang on to, no parachute.
The good news is there’s no ground.”
-Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche
In other words, nothing is solid, there is no permanent state. Also, we are going to die. It’s important to tell the truth about that.
The phenomenon of emotion, the way it rises up unbidden and then falls away again, is a nightmare for the ego.
c) often painful
Basically a microcosm of life itself, no? Rather than look at this directly, we try to pin our emotions down. We try to understand them by exerting a lot of mental energy. We try to alleviate the discomfort by blaming someone else. We stuff them. Or we make them into a very big deal.
There is a better way! And it is not too late to learn.
We can build our capacity to relate directly to intense emotions, to stay with ourselves as they rise up and fall away.
Why bother?, you might ask.
Well, because hardening ourselves to our big feelings leaves us hollow and lonely or anxious and controlling. Nobody’s home.
Acknowledging that you are the one you’ve been waiting for, mothering yourself through choppy emotional waters, is brave work. It can be lonesome, too, but in a way that connects you deeply to the heart of other people’s pain and joy. It is a sort of full-hearted loneliness. Full and open heart with the ability to be touched, to be moved.
Truly, emotions are a gift. They call us to come home to the present moment, to the rich and mysterious energies that move through and around us. Feeling our feelings is a direct path to the wisdom of our own bright hearts.
The bedrock of the practice is loving-kindness, maitri. This sounds soft and fuzzy but it’s by far the hardest part. We’ll talk about that next time.
Meanwhile, take a look at your default settings when it comes to big feelings. How do you react when strong emotions come up, in yourself or in someone close to you? No judgement please, just be curious.
Notice if there are particular emotions that you turn away from, that you won’t even let yourself see. What are the stories you tell yourself about what it means to feel shame/anger/fear/sorrow/guilt/lust/jealousy?