Can we talk about the sh*t for a moment? Can we acknowledge that there are moments (or months) where everything is not awesome? Can we, just for a moment, be real and say out loud that there are times that feel heavy and dark and gross and frustrating? And maybe just for this same candid moment of recognition, we agree not to try and justify it or give it a positive spin or attempt to dress it up… What if, just for a moment, we allowed ourselves to be present with it?
There is freedom in letting go of the idea that we have to immediately make things better, to feel like we have to ‘do’ anything with the emotions or the triggers that surface. There is spaciousness in shifting from striving to acceptance of what is. There is a sacred opportunity in transforming the tendency to bypass unpleasantness.
Now, I want to be clear that choosing awareness over fixing in these circumstances does not mean we are resigning ourselves to experience more drudgery or that we are conceding our power. Rather, we are stepping into a new possibility — one where we can harvest a deeper truth and an offering within us and allow a more expansive understanding to take root.
“We miss out on the depth when we rush through the difficulty.” -Chani Nicholas
Think for a moment about how you experience heavier emotions like anger and rage and disappointment. Think about what it feels like when you’re caught up in the constriction of tension and judgment. What do you do? What is your tendency in responding?
My methods and strategies have changed over the years as I’ve evolved on my path. Before really exploring and growing on my journey, I would deny and numb like a boss. Half the time, I wasn’t even aware I was feeling any emotion and the other half of the time I’d do anything — eat, stuff, hide, veg, spend, disconnect, perfect, zone out — to try and make myself feel better instantly (or at all.) As I began to unfold a new way of being, I gained some new tools and let go of a lot. And yet sometimes the very tools that were allowing me to create a better experience for myself were also the very tools that kept me stuck in the cycle of striving and fixing. With all the wisdom of the Law of Attraction and positive mindset, there can also come a fear of allowing anything unpleasant which can create an invalidation of our experience.
God forbid you spend some time with yourself if you are angry… You will only attract more anger — or worse. Or you think that if you could *just* say the right affirmation enough times or finally find the right key that unlocks it all that you’ll FINALLY feel free of the anger. Or you judge yourself for feeling angry, thinking that it is somehow not justified or worthy of the situation. This spiritual squirming is resistance. In the charged state of our own discomfort and unwillingness to be present with ourselves when we’re experiencing unpleasantness, we treat our anger like a hot potato with the destructive potential of a hand grenade. If we hold it for too long (or at all), we risk having ourselves and our lives blown up.
But, there is another way, another opportunity available to us. There is the possibility of expanding our own understanding and harvesting something very necessary for our journey. In the refusal to acknowledge the presence of a difficult emotion, we also refuse the potential of the gift within it. And if when we find ourselves experiencing an unpleasant emotion, we choose instead to take a breath and create safe space to be with ourselves in the moment of challenge, our whole experience might transform with ease and grace.
In our world, we are rarely if ever taught to understand and express our emotional experience. Rarer still are we offered healthy, nourishing ways of conscious processing and cultivating awareness. Because we’ve seen the devastation of extreme blow-ups of harsh emotions, we tend to see any expression of those emotions as unsafe and invalid. But anger is a perfectly valid emotion. Even rage is a perfectly valid emotion. The key question is what we do with it when it shows up. It’s all a matter of being aware when it surfaces and having supportive strategies so that it doesn’t build up or fester or add pressure to a situation.
So what the hell do we do then when these emotions show up that might encourage a more nourishing experience? Begin first with the breath. In the moment you realize you are triggered with an emotion, drop down into your body and your sensational experience. Bring your focus and attention to the flow of your breath and the beat of your heart. Invite the breath deep into the body, filling the belly first and then the lungs and chest. This conscious action begins to create a safe space for your body and soul to be as you are experiencing a challenge. This deep breathing actually activates the parasympathetic nervous system and calms the stress response in the body. You may also notice a drop in the tension in your shoulders and gut. You have the opportunity in this practice to reconnect from your head to your heart and engage the possibility of loving awareness.
Next, invite curiosity. See if you can name the emotion you are experiencing. See if you can identify it without judging yourself for feeling it or for what it might mean. Try and hold it with a sense of openness, acknowledging that it is there but not attaching expectation or outcome to it. If you are feeling courageous, you can even ask it juicy questions to allow your awareness to expand even more… Are you mine or someone else’s that I have unknowingly picked up? What’s good in this that I’m not yet getting? What are you here to offer me? Are you really all about this situation or are you from a past experience? Where have I become distanced from my core values and boundaries? How can I best care for myself in this moment?
The real key in the line of questioning, besides the opportunity to ask more expansive questions, is to pause and feel into the answer. Let the knowing come from deep within you. Sometimes, you may find yourself with competing answers, particularly when trying to make a decision. In my experience, this inner chaos is the clashing of the mind and the heart.You may be surprised to find that your mind answers quickly and often but that your heart takes time to find its voice. We live so much of our lives in our minds and in our thinking that it may take time and space to reconnect with your heart and your intuition and your deeper truth. It could take a minute or an hour or a day or a year for the deepest truth to come forward, but it is unmistakable and undeniable when it is surfaces. The more you practice these tools, the quicker the truth reveals itself.
It’s important to remember as you do this work of self-care that even though emotions feel very immediate and emergent, they may not really be about the present-moment challenge that triggered them. Emotions are independent of time and space. Sometimes, our bodies serve as protective storehouses for unprocessed emotions and experiences. Some are ours from years gone by; some are from our family of origin or our ancestral lineage; and some we may be carrying around unconsciously for others. When emotions are triggered within us, they become a lens through which we view our experience. And because we are uncomfortable, we look for any evidence of reasons why we might be feeling this way. The purpose of the triggering, particularly in the case of the emotion not being about our current experience, is simply for the chance to heal. It is an opportunity to gain a new awareness of the experience or about ourselves. And it is in the process of allowing this understanding to unfold that the emotion can be honored and released. Forever.
The final step to create a more nourishing experience with hard emotions is to allow inspired action and closure. Sometimes all the more that is required is to integrate the new awareness gained. Other times, we may need to take further action to bring loving resolution to our situation. Allow that inspired action to come from a place of wisdom and consciousness within you. Find what is yours to do from the space of your new expanded awareness and understanding. Allow your path to be illuminated by the light of your heart.
When we invite in the contrast we aren’t ushering in more of it, we are honoring and welcoming the contribution it can be. This is the potency of caring and vulnerability. It is through awareness and presence and self-acceptance that the clarity of understanding and expansion unfolds. It is through our willingness to hold ourselves in a container of our own loving kindness that the sh*t can be transformed into a wholesome gift.