Thursday, April 7, 2011

Feel your Feelings

I’ve been thinking a lot about the last two posts and my advice to take the Mahamudra and Practice of Patience in its entirety, and apply it to whatever problem you might be having.

I’m going to hold to that, but add one final thought: Even in recognizing that pain or suffering is temporary, that someone would find it as pleasant, that you can use your problem as a path, etc., you are still allowed to feel your feelings.

So, what I mean by this is that if you are suffering from physical pain, and you are scared, you don’t have to pretend that you aren’t scared and put on a happy face. Indeed, the chance of you moving through fear to a place where you can practice equanimity and patience is much higher if you say to yourself, “Yes, I’m scared.”

Or, if you are working through feelings of anger toward someone who wronged you, it’s OK to acknowledge your anger, and feel angry.

The difference between feeling your feelings and wallowing in them, I think, has to do with your willingness to be honest with yourself and first identify what emotion you are experiencing, and then being able to let the emotion be felt and then dissipate—being able to let go. It is in this second step that we cease to identify ourselves with the feeling, and realize that our feelings do not make us who we are.

And of course, this goes for good feelings, too. Many of us (especially women) think we must be happy and upbeat at all times, or else we are somehow broken or high-maintenance. If you feel happy, good, but it is an emotion like any other, and does not define you. Indeed, trying to hold on to the good feelings can be as damaging as holding on to the negative ones.

I know that for a very long time, I was afraid to feel anger toward those who had betrayed me, because I thought that meant I was failing somehow. I prided myself on being able to bounce back from almost any obstacle, always the one who could hold it together.

How did that work out for me? Fine, for a while, as a coping mechanism. But feelings have a funny way of trying to leak out of even the most tightly sealed vessel. I was suffering. I was causing those I loved to suffer. I sought therapy, and as I began to explore my feelings and my past, I found a well of anger that I had never been allowed (as a child) to express. As an adult, I had never allowed myself to express that anger.

One night, I began writing about these angry feelings. What started out as a simple journal entry became a fury that I scratched into paper. The more I wrote, the more anger I felt. I started to cry. I was feeling my feelings, finally.

After I finished writing, I felt lighter than I had in many, many years. I could not believe how much anger was within me, waiting to get out. Because I realized where this emotion was coming from and who I was mad at, I felt no confusion or a need to take the anger out on someone else. It was clearly identified, and very obviously needed to be let out and then let go. My body relaxed, my mind cleared out, my spirit began to heal. (Incidentally, if you suspect you have feelings you need to feel, seek professional help. You need a therapist like a novice white-water rafter needs a guide. The force of these pent-up emotions can be scary and dangerous, and you don’t want to go it alone.)

So, your spiritual practice will help you center yourself in awareness and a peace-filled consciousness, but that doesn’t mean you should alienate or renounce or ignore your human self. You are a human and you feel feelings. That is as it should be. That is perfect.

Survivor of abuse? Feel your feelings. Cancer patient? Feel your feelings. Injured athlete? Feel your feelings. Grieving widow? Feel your feelings. Just got pulled over by a cop? Feel those feelings too.

But don’t dwell on them. They are not you. Feel them and then make space for new feelings. Feel them, and be a fragile, fallible, mortal human, and then let them go, and inhabit your beautiful, perfect, endless spirit.

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