One of my favorite guided meditations is spoken by Sarah Blondin on Insight Timer called “I would like to give you permission.” It is about the ways in which we tend to hide our true selves from the world, and I think it was originally recorded for the Live Awake podcast.
Sometimes we have a good reason we hide our true selves (Martha Beck would call this the essential self vs the social self). Most of the time it is because we have been taught to act “appropriately” or to hide our feelings. These are often well-intentioned pieces of advice, but they may not serve our highest good.
There is a line in this particular meditation that moves me: “Force no pain away, for it is all conspiring to bring you home.” What I like about this is the fact that we must embrace our feelings, admit them to ourselves, in order to be fully human. To push them away, or not to acknowledge our sadness, pain or discomfort, is to run away from our experience. We often do this in an attempt to be more positive, or because we think we should not experience negative emotions.
But emotions are just vibrations in the body, and we are likely to experience about half and half, positive and negative. It is the contrast between these emotions that makes joy so sweet. There is nothing wrong with us when we experience sadness or grief. These are normal and appropriate parts of being human. Getting angry at injustice can help us realize when we need to take action, for example.
When I consider how my emotions bring me home to myself, and I understand what thoughts drive these emotions, I fully claim my experience. There is no need for denial or resistance of these feelings. Indeed they provide the compass for a live well lived.
This past Saturday I woke up very early in the morning again (2am), brain churning again. On Friday I had a coaching session and apparently my subconscious had been at work. I woke up restless and tossing around thoughts in my head about something that had gotten me riled up during my call.
I got up and tried writing in my journal for a while, getting it all out and spilling it onto the paper so I could stop the brain chatter. Then I tried reading for a while, since the writing just seemed to “stir” myself up more. After a couple hours I tried to come back to bed. But sleep wouldn’t come, and after half an hour I rose again.
I felt like I wanted to crawl outside my skin. I thought about going somewhere for coffee (it was now 5a.m.) and realized that I was trying to escape myself, some deep feeling inside. So I pulled out my journal again, and surprised myself when a torrent of grief, sadness and shame came tumbling out. I held myself as I cried, and I allowed myself to write and capture what was coming out at that moment.
I cried for almost an hour, and emptied the thoughts that were in my mind, grieving mostly for that 7-year-old girl inside me, who learned to eat her emotions instead of feeling them. I allowed myself to feel great compassion for her intentions, which were just to make others happy and not to “hurt others’ feelings.” I allowed myself to feel compassion and grief for my parents, who had both lost one parent that year to cancer.
After that outburst, which scared my husband a little (I reassured him I just had to let out some grief, I would be okay), my mind calmed and my immediate thought was: what is in the fridge that would make me feel better. Then I laughed at myself: ah, I see! That is indeed the pattern isn’t it? Food is comfort, food is there when I have nobody to compassionately witness the pain. But I did not eat anything this time. I’d made myself a cup of coffee during the grief-storm, because having a hot beverage can be comforting.
I went back to sleep for a couple of hours, relieved that this feeling of wanting to exit myself was now gone. When I woke up I wrote a post about “feeling your feelings” rather than eating them. The words poured out into a nearly 1300 word post. But reading it, I felt a sense of that raw pain that needs to settle a bit. I was not ready to post, even after the next day when I edited.
Feeling uncomfortable emotions is difficult. Whether grief, sadness, anger, loss, betrayal, disappointment, they are sometimes hard to process. There is a visceral and deep expression in your body when these feelings come up. Resisting these feelings leads to anxiety, depression and other kinds of problems. Numbing the emotions with food, alcohol or drugs can lead to weight gain, addiction, and many other problems.
But some of us were not taught as children that it is okay to feel those feelings, to let them move through us and complete themselves. Emotions are like physical vibrations in the body. They are not permanent, they tend to arrive and leave in waves. They can altered by our thinking, and many a person has tried “think happy thoughts” to push those emotions away.
Some of us were told (by a well-meaning adult): “don’t cry, honey” and given ice cream to soothe us. Or when the adults around us were not comfortable expressing their own feelings, as some generations were NOT encouraged to do, it can seem like a foreign world to allow yourself to do this.
But it can also open up a wellspring of joy within you, when you realize that emotions are neither good nor bad. They just ARE, they exist. They are part of being human, part of living a full and rich life. Some of them will be positive, and some will be negative. It is that difference that creates the contrast. If we were happy all the time, how would we KNOW we were happy?
So this post is to encourage you to explore your emotions, and allow them to come up, even the negative ones, as they come up. Don’t reach for the chocolate or the ice cream or the glass of wine. Just name them, feel them, and allow them to pass through you. They will not destroy you, and you can endure them. Numbing them out and staying “asleep” to your inner experience is what a majority of people do in our culture.
Being aware takes effort, patience, and great compassion, but it rewards you when you truly begin to know yourself. Believe me, it is totally worth it. You are worth knowing.