There are certain feelings that we are familiar and comfortable with and certain feelings not so.
I know I am very good with positive ‘affects’ such as Love, Joy, Peace, Empathy, Compassion, Optimism, Gratefulness, etc, but not so good with more negatively associated ones such as Anger, Frustration, Repression, Overwhelm, Sadness, Uncertainty and Instability etc.
I think, in general, in today’s modern, conformist, highly socially aware society, how we present ourselves in the world and how we are perceived has become more important to us than listening to and dealing with what lies beneath the surface (i.e. truth and suppressed emotions). If I call to mind certain tribes, closely connected to the natural world, in years gone by, I conjure up images of humans at one with the natural elements, in ceremony with fire, music and ritual processing all the harder emotions like Grief and Oppression in an open, safe, sacred space, supported by the collective. In my vision, I see them celebrating birth, life, death and all the messiness of joy and sadness in between. This, I feel, is greatly missing nowadays here in the West.
“The fiery intensity at the heart of anger asks neither for smothering nor mere discharge, but for a mindful embrace that does not require any dilution of passion, any lowering of the heat, nor any muting of the essential voice in the flames.”
Robert Augustus Masters
You’ve likely heard the two concepts – too much of any one thing can be detrimental and your strength can also be your weakness.
Well lately I’ve found them to be very true. There is a certain ongoing issue that I’ve been trying my best to deal with using my ‘strengths’. I’ve tried to remain optimistic, looked for and focussed on the positives, reminded myself daily of the things I am grateful for and journaled about how I feel. I’ve continued with my meditation practice to help ground me and bring me more peace, and used my asana practice and other forms of exercise to keep my inner strength and spirits up. But despite of all this, I missed out the key action. Turning towards and dealing with the actual problem.
Of course, that sounds like an obvious solution but it’s also often easier said than done. To be honest, I had tried to go to the root, but in a tactful roundabout way with not much luck. Maybe you can relate? Part of me was holding back as I wanted to avoid conflict and difficult conversations, but that’s just my personality – trying to keep the peace (true Libra). Other than the usual chaos of being in a family of six, I was raised in an agreeable household with fairly relaxed parents, so throw me into an environment where emotions are heated and heightened and I feel pretty ill-equipped and anxious.
The current Yoga Teacher Training course I am on with the amazing teacher Sianna Sherman, has really helped me realise that we have to create a healthy relationship with all of our human emotions, not just the happy ones but the ones that reside in our shadows, the ones we would rather not look at and face head on.
The other day when this issue reached a climax I felt an immense amount of emotional pain rage out of me. In that moment, I felt and heard Sianna’s encouraging voice inside my head and heart, and proceeded to let everything out that I had been holding onto inside. Yes, it was uncomfortable and ugly, but it felt right, it also felt like my last option to deal with what I was feeling and going through. I roared and released and it needed to happen.
There are certain things, often temporary things, that all those lovely healthy/beneficial/self-care practises will help with and quite likely resolve. But what is also fundamental and should be part of our personal healthcare/spiritual practice, is turning towards our problems, getting to understand them and connecting to how we feel deep down inside in order to help with the bigger issues.
There’s a term known as “Spiritual Bypassing” which refers to avoidance, repression of unresolved emotional issues or psychological wounds. This is why I’m writing this post, because I don’t want you to fall into the avoidance trap, which is a very common problem.
Break Down – Break through
Have pen and paper to hand.
Take a moment to ground and centre yourself. Sit comfortably, close your eyes and after a few deep breaths ask yourself the following questions.
(The same answer may come up multiple times and that’s okay.)
I recommend journaling what comes up – feel free to do so in the moment or at the end.
- What are you avoiding/hiding from?
- What are you trying to repress?
- What are you casting away into the shadows?
- What parts of yourself are you rejecting?
- What parts of your life are you rejecting?
- What are you afraid of?
- What uncomfortable emotions are you trying to separate yourself from?
- What do you feel shame around?
- What are you struggling with?
- What are you fearful of?
Maybe try this exercise a few times so you can refine your answers and be more specific.
Pick one answer, place hands on your heart, close your eyes and silently repeat to yourself:
I feel (fill in the blank)…
Take your time to unpack the different layers of what you’re feeling (emotions, physical sensations etc.)
I feel anxious
I feel a knot in my belly
I feel uninspired
I feel tearful
Expand into what you are feeling.
Lean into these feeling with a sense of openness, rawness, honesty, vulnerability and courage.
Don’t judge or create a story about what’s arising, just keep exploring the feelings.
Sit with them – not on them.
Whenever you feel compelled to do so, take a big sigh out of the mouth, feeling the release of any trapped emotions.
To take the breath work a stage further and for a bigger release practise Lions Breath (Simhasana).
Breathe in deeply, filling up the lungs fully in all directions, and as you exhale stretch the face wide, extend your tongue – right from the root all the way to the tip like a dog, gaze to tip of nose or between your eyebrows. Repeat this as many times as it feels good to do so (however, I recommend no more than 10 breaths – it’s quite intense.) Either release just the breath on the exhale, or breath and sound, I find the latter more beneficial in helping unblock that which I’m holding back and I enjoy the primal element to it. When you exhale bring anything to mind that you want to give voice or expression to, or just want to release. You can also lean the chest/heart forward, opening up to and leaning into the unpleasant.
To close this practise, return to nostril breathing and rest in the rhythm of breath.
Heart Break – Heart Awake
By carrying out practises such as these you are learning to face, lean into and become more intimate with all the wonderful emotions we are capable of feeling as a complex human being. Multi-sensory, highly functional, highly intelligent, yet highly sensitive. In the process of confronting ‘the difficult’ you may find insights and treasures, like the reasons and lessons behind the anger or anxiety for example. And by embracing your wholeness, your light and shadows, it creates a foundation and opening to find greater inner and outer harmony.
And for those of you who, like me, find it hard to put words to feelings, here’s a chart to help you…