A number of us are going through some ordeals that are creating emotional pain. A lot of break-ups. A lot of personal challenges. So today I’d like to share a bit about pain – how it works and what it needs to clear.
Years ago I was driving up Queen Anne Ave from the north side. It was a pretty steep section of the hill. I was thinking about something, an “issue”, I thought I had already dealt with that was now back and I was having to deal with it again. It was causing quite a bit of discomfort and pain.
I was frustrated and hurting and not sure what to do. So I pulled over and asked.
I closed my eyes and said “What are we supposed to do with our feelings?”
Very gently a voice said “You feel them.”
This was a revelation to me. It seemed too simple but it also seemed true. So I gave it a shot.
Since that moment I have practiced getting out of the way of feelings – not “managing them” or trying to change them or upgrading them into some spiritual perspective, but simply feeling them.
I have learned a lot from this. Like how much we distrust our emotions or our capacity to handle them. And how scared we are to let others see how we feel. And how expressing emotion and being emotionally dramatic are very different. And how intense it is to let emotion swell in the body and run its course without doing anything other than feeling it as a primary tool for handling emotions.
So here is a diagram I created that charts what happens and I will use it to show you how emotional energy actually works.
When emotions surface they show up as an energy in the body. If it is a particularly intense emotion (shame, guilt, heart-ache, anger) it will begin to rise quite sharply, as shown by the red line in the diagram.
When our mind registers the emotion, what we feel is this intense rising and most of us will intervene and attempt to either shut it down or diminish the intensity as the blue line illustrates. Everyone has their own blue line point – some people have a very low tolerance for emotional intensity, for others it can be high.
If we can get out the way sufficiently, what we see is that the emotional energy has a life-cycle: it rises, peaks, and falls. All feelings have a beginning, a middle, and an end.
The problem is that we do not know when the energy will peak. And what we do, where things get problematic, is we fear it won’t peak or that when it does peak it will be “too much”.
“Too much” for most people is when the imagination kicks in and we imagine ourselves doing something we don’t want to do, like becoming violent, or say or doing something we would regret.
In this way we can understand that in order to allow emotional energy to run its course, we must develop the capacity to handle it.
We do this by playing with the blue line. Instead of shutting down at our normal point, we resist the urge to shut down and let the intensity rise more. We need to peek beyond our tolerance and see what happens if we go further.
Shutting down the intensity comes from not trusting ourselves – either our capacity for emotional energy or the shadow part of us that might arise.
I have had clients share with me that they are afraid that because their father or mother was violent or violating that they might, too, behave this way if they don’t control themselves (i.e. control their emotional energy) and then hurt someone the way they were hurt.
The shadow side is the part few people are familiar with. At least, having a healthy shadow that you aren’t afraid of.
And here is the gift with cultivating the capacity for emotional energy: You learn what you are inside – you get to see what’s really in there – not the stories, not the fears, but what you really have inside. And for most people this is a journey of self-trust and discovery.
If you encounter a part of yourself that is really dark or really scares you, go see someone to work with that, don’t just push it away. Your juiciness and life and joy are based on a deep sense of self-trust. Your freedom requires that you are not a prisoner of your fear or your limitations.
One of the ways you can work with emotional energy is via the breath. You don’t need to just sit there – you need to let the energy out. This can be crying, punching a pillow, going for a walk, or breathing.
I like 2 different exercises for this. The first is a breath that can help with capacity:
Inhale through your nose for a count of 8. Hold your breath for a count of 8 then exhale through your mouth like you are blowing out a little tiny straw, like one of those skinny red coffee stir sticks. Repeat this at least 4 times, preferably 6 to 8.
This exercise hyper-saturates the blood with oxygen. When in an emotional state we hold our breath and this sends a signal to the brain that something is wrong. If you are emotionally charged AND getting a body signal that something is wrong it makes it really hard to deal with the energy. By saturating the blood with oxygen, the body won’t send that signal, or won’t send such a loud signal, and it will help you not freak out and shut down.
Second exercise: Dolphin Breath
Inhale as deeply as possible through your nose then hold as long as you can. When you exhale, forcefully blow out in a big burst through yoru mouth the way a dolphin “pops the cork” via it’s blow hole when it surfaces for air. Your will spray spit when you do this. If you don’t, you aren’t doing it right. Do 4-6 dolphin breath cycles.
With both of these techniques, don’t do them while driving or do fewer as you can get light headed.
As you are better able to ride the wave of emotional energy, allowing it to rise, peak, then fall away, you will find that you move through “issues” much more quickly and much more deeply. This means the energy doesn’t come up as frequently or for as long a time. Something in the past that may have taken months to “get over” may take just a few days as you learn to let that energy have its natural cycle.
Resistance is what prolongs pain. Pain itself has an energy we can surf and let flow – it doesn’t usually require our intervention, it requires we get out of its way.
Some pain does require intervention and it is important we pay attention, loving attention, to ourselves so we can recognize when intervention or help is required. Many of you know that I dealt with depression this last year. That required intervention. I got it. And now I’m free from it.
There is so much shame in our society around having feelings. Feelings indicate that life is affecting you. And for some reason we act like life isn’t supposed to affect us, like being affected by life means we are wrong or not doing it right or something. Which is total BS.
We are all learning as we go. And that learning doesn’t end because as we get an insight we also deepen in who we are so our encounters with the same issue will change because we are a different person experiencing the issue than we were 2 or 10 years ago.
It’s a never-ending unfolding and we can become more and more graceful in our dance with life as we grow our capacity for the energy of it. And since life energy is an emotional experience and emotional experiences are physically felt, the more we can allow that physical energy to move and flow, the happier and more secure and confident and healthier we will become.