Feeling Emotions In Your Body

As I was growing up, I remember crying quite a lot. I guess it’s normal for kids to cry often, especially little girls. Even as a teenager I have many memories of crying myself to sleep at night. It seems sad, but I actually miss those days. Now I go literally years without a single teardrop. That’s a good thing, right? Well, not exactly. Not crying doesn’t necessarily mean you’re happier than if you cry every day. Crying is a release. It’s a release I’ve actually been longing for and unable to find for a long time now.

Until recently I didn’t think too much about it. I figured if I wasn’t crying, I must just not be sad enough. As an adult, I’ve always thought of myself as not a very emotional person. However, as human beings we are all emotional creatures. Unfortunately some of us have just cut ourselves off from those emotions. I don’t necessarily know if it’s a natural defense mechanism in my case, or if it’s because of the SSRI that I’ve been taking for around 6 years now. Perhaps neither, or a combination of both. I suppose the reason doesn’t matter.

It’s only come to my attention lately because I have been working with a few kundalini meditations. For some reason, each time I do one of these practices, I feel this deep pit of emotion open up inside of me afterward. I’ll randomly feel the urge to cry throughout the rest of the day. It feels like there is so much feeling welling up, but still I am unable to fully release that energy. Although I’m sure I need that release, it’s not a pleasant experience. So, true to form, I’ve been shying away from kundalini, despite my interest in it.

With emotion front and center in my mind, I happened to stumble upon a podcast that was talking about just that. The woman being interviewed even described exactly how I’ve been feeling, but haven’t been able to put into words. She said that she never really understood it when people talked about feeling their emotions in their bodies. For her, emotion was always a mental state, not something you necessarily felt physically. She even talked about the way she likes to visualize walking down a staircase from her head into her body in order to find that deeper, primal connection with herself.

After hearing that, it dawned on me that I haven’t been feeling into my body at all for a long time now. I guess part of me even felt powerful and strong for never crying. But courage is sitting with those emotions, not blocking them out. I want to make an effort to really rediscover what it feels like to experience life from my whole being, not simply living in my head all the time. I feel like I’ve been taking this body for granted, not fully embracing it as a part of myself. I’ve somewhat disassociated from my body as I’ve grown older. I’ve lived the last decade or so of my life as if I’m just this floating head, completely disconnected from the physical world.

Even though it feels scary, I’ve been trying to come back to my bodily sensations when I notice myself getting too caught up in my thinking mind. It seems like the only two emotions I feel anymore are anxiety (if that can even be considered an emotion) and anger. So I’m going to start there. I’ve already noticed that allowing yourself to be open to the experience of whatever it is you’re feeling let’s you have the space to really be present with it. It feels much better than trying to avoid or control it.

The next time you feel yourself starting to get overwhelmed, take a few breaths and tap back into your body. Let go of any thoughts you might be having and simply ask yourself, how do I feel right now? What is going on in my body? Maybe your chest feels tight. Maybe your clenching different muscles. There’s no need to try to change what you notice. Just noticing it is enough. Give yourself permission to feel whatever it is. Forgive yourself for the way you feel. Offer yourself compassion. Emotions, even painful ones, are just another part of the human experience. They teach us about ourselves. They connect us to others. They are energy moving through us. Trying to avoid these feelings just causes them to become trapped within us rather than flowing in and out of us like the breeze. Let’s relearn how to let go. Become the curious observer of your own human experience.

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Biting Your Tongue

One high school memory that still haunts me to this day is from my junior year photography class. We were going on a field trip to the Andy Warhol museum. I never like Andy Warhol’s art. I still maintain that he’s not a good artist, he just became famous for being a weirdo that people were interested in. I kept professing these kind of sentiments and complaining that this was where we were going. Eventually my teacher cut me off. Irritated, he said, “Bite your tongue.” I felt so ashamed and honestly wished I would never have to speak again in that class. I wanted to disappear.

The reason this memory sticks with me is because it seems to mirror similar situations throughout my life. There have been many times when I’ve ended up embarrassing myself or making my own life more difficult because I seem to be unable to bite my tongue. It is usually when I am feeling angry or irritated about something. It is very hard for me to just let things go for some reason. I feel compelled to voice my displeasure. Loudly and whenever I get the chance.

For example, today I have to stay late a work for what seems like the thousandth time because of a particular CPS worker that likes to take advantage of my friend and coworker’s good nature. We will stay after hours to do emergency interviews. Sometimes a child is in immediate danger and it’s necessary that we talk to them as soon as possible so we can make sure they have somewhere safe to go. However, this CPS worker just uses the word “emergency” to manipulate and control us so that things work better for her schedule and deadlines.

The interviewer I work with is a very nice, easy-going man. To him it’s never a big deal and he takes pride in the fact that he never refuses to do an interview. He always says that I don’t have to stay and he can do it all himself, but it just wouldn’t feel right for me to let him do that. So here I am, stuck doing two interviews at 4:30-6 or 7 today when our office closes at 4. And surprise, surprise it couldn’t be further from an emergency. The children are completely safe.

My problem isn’t even that I have to stay late without pay (we are a very small non-profit that only gets paid for 40 hours each week no matter what), it’s that this horrible woman continues to take advantage of us for her own convenience. In my nearly two years with this organization, no other CPS worker has asked us to stay late. Not only that, but this specific worker does it practically every single time we get a call from her. It just makes me feel so furious that someone even has the nerve to do this continuously to such nice people like my coworkers.

On matters of injustice or unfairness, I have an especially difficult time biting my tongue. It’s one of the reasons I still struggle to do so when I hear idiotic comments about veganism. I get a familiar rumbling, hot sensation in my chest that causes viscous language to spew out of my mouth like a volcano. It never makes anything better though. The anger continues to build. Not only that but when I speak out I also start to pile on feelings of shame and self-hatred. I’m embarrassed by my uncontrollable outbursts, and by the way others look at me when they see me so angry.

I’ve always clung to the idea of operant conditioning and to the idea that staying quiet and complacent is the same as condoning a behavior. At least those are the reasons I give myself to rationalize my violent reactions to these types of situations. I feel it is my duty to do something, to protect myself and others from injustice or abuse. I feel very passionately about it. But I don’t want to feel this way when the result is that I become spiteful and vindictive. The outcome is never restoring justice, it simply ruins my day and possibly the image that others have of me as a person.

When days like today happen, I have been trying very hard to use them as an opportunity for personal growth. These are the moments that I’ll need to utilize in order to begin to create new, more healthy, productive, socially acceptable pathways in my brain. It’s never easy. I still get caught up in brooding over all the reasons that I shouldn’t be put in this situation, finding fault, blaming others, and coming up with ways to make these things stop happening, or at the very least to get revenge. I feel a great resistance bubbling up inside when I try to transition away from these thoughts to more positive ones. Something inside of me is always dragging its feet, insisting that if I allow myself to be okay with this, it will happen even more, and the injustice will continue to expand and grow larger. Part of me still tends to believe that’s true, but even so, I’m missing the point. Does it even matter if these things happen to me more if they no longer produce such toxic emotions?

I am trying to stay curious. Rather than getting wrapped up in the spiral of self-justifications, I ask myself, “Why is this so hard for me? What is it that keeps me from letting this go? Wouldn’t I rather be happy than right?” That’s really what it comes down to, that last question. Sometimes it’s hard for me to remember that being happy is better than being the smartest person in the room or being right or even having control. When I start feeling like I am helpless and powerless in a situation that is out of my control, I just need to remind myself that I am always in control. Maybe not when it comes to what happens to me, but I get to decide how I react to those things. That is what is truly important.

As I continue on with this unbearably long day, I am going to choose to focus on all of the things I have to be grateful for instead of the few small irritations that I have to put up with occasionally. I love my job. I love the people I work with. I love (most) of the people in the other organizations we work with. I can get away with coming in 15 minutes late everyday. I can leave early another day since I’ll be staying over tonight. I got to work from home for nearly a year. My job is usually easy and not stressful. Yesterday I got to spend the whole day at the office chatting with my lovely work friends. We even got lunch delivered to us from Panera thanks to one of the board members. I am so grateful for having the opportunity to be a part of this place, even if that means learning how to bite my tongue sometimes. This is a valuable skill, one I genuinely want to learn. So I should also be grateful for these opportunities to practice it.

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A Life with No Resistance

I have been thinking a lot lately about how I create my own suffering. I have been so fortunate in this life. I really have not ever experienced any true suffering. I have always had food, water, shelter, family, and friends to support me. I got a free education all the way through college. I have been healthy and so have my loved ones for the most part. I have basically wanted for nothing in my life. And I am truly grateful for that.

I so often lose sight of all of that though. Somehow I still manage to find reasons to suffer. The mind seems to always be looking for problems, for ways to fix things. Even when changing the situation is useless or even impossible. Internally we rise up against so many little aspects of our day. We wrestle with our own discomfort and rejection of reality. In the end nothing is as bad as our resistance makes it seem.

I read a metaphor that sums this idea up perfectly. Imagine a leaf landing on the still mirror-like surface of a pond. It is going to create ripples. Maybe we don’t like these ripples. Maybe we were staring at the reflections in the water. So we try to remove the disturbance, resist it. But in the process of trying to get rid of the leaf’s ripples, we end up creating even more disturbance in the water. Now it will take even longer to return to stillness.

There will be things that come along in life that are truly unpleasant, but even those problems are best accepted and allowed to pass through you. The brain seems to think the best way of preparing for the future is to “protect” ourselves from anything we dislike and lock ourselves away, closing off our heart. But in reality all of these small, daily, disturbances are gifts. They are opportunities to practice releasing, allowing, letting go. I want to use these minor moments as training to learn to live each moment with more ease and less resistance.

I try to think of this practice as a game. After all, I have always taken life too seriously. But this game is more challenging than I thought. I find myself getting easily frustrated with myself. After years of building up a strong tendency to resist every moment, it is incredibly difficult to learn to release and let things pass through you instead.

My mind is quite crafty and persuasive when it wants to be. It throws out endless reasons why we must resist. It jumps from one thought to the next, stirring up my fears and anxieties, encouraging me to close my heart, to seal myself off, to “protect” myself. But what I’m really trying to protect myself from is my own internal dialogue. What happens if I decide not to defend against it? It cannot hurt me. All it can do is talk and rustle around inside my head. I don’t have to let it touch me or let my heart close because of what it says.

So far, I don’t think I’ve been very successful at this game of releasing and allowing. But I am not going to give up. I am going to keep trying until my heart is perpetually open. Even though I am already impatient to achieve peace within myself, I know that this is the work of a life time. I’ll have to be patient and gentle with myself as I continue along on this new journey.

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