“Sit with the pain until it passes, and you will be calmer for the next one.” – Naval Ravikant, co-founder and former CEO of AngelList.
I have always been a sensitive soul. Long before I discovered the tenets of spiritual practices that spoke to the importance of honoring feelings, I learned how to acknowledge feelings and process emotions. Perhaps, the child poet within my psyche came along with an awareness that feelings had great creative potential. I’d steal away to the basement staircase, attic, or a corner of the back porch to mope about an injustice, breathe out the anger brought on by my mischievous brother whose life mission was to aggravate me, or embellish a moment of joy I had experienced. Ironically, my mother, a woman who was pretty emotionless, raised me to be in control of my faculties and to NEVER express vulnerability. Just as ironically, my mother in her infinite wisdom never shamed me for feeling. In retrospect, it was one of the many gifts she gave me – the freedom to be me.
In today’s super-stressed intense atmosphere brought about an unprecedented culture of violence, a super virus that daily threatens death, and a political climate that has ripped families apart, it is imperative we learn how to acknowledge what we are feeling in order to move on and live healthily.
It doesn’t matter if you are highly sensitive, or if like many people you are only vaguely aware of emotions and feelings. Processing feelings is a vital component of good health for everyone.
When we don’t take time to analyze our emotions, and to sit with feelings, we suffer. We suffer from high blood pressure, lack of energy, impatience, and sometimes depression. What we don’t face today, does not go away. Feelings resent being ignored. It is as if they have a life of their own, and are always lurking somewhere within our bodies, psyches and spirits.
I once prided myself on how I dealt with anger. In reality, I had always curtsied to and moved aside any inkling of ire surfaced in my consciousness. So, it was a total shock to me when I became an active volcano, and exploded into a rage-filled five minute monologue with a family member. It was interesting that I was able to succinctly tick off every incident in which I felt I had been betrayed, even though I hadn’t harbored any thoughts of them. What I realized later was that I not only failed to communicate what I was feeling outwardly, I had never honored my anger inwardly. Each time our interactions caused me shame, sadness, or anger I had stuffed what I felt deep into the recesses of my mind. To say that my outburst was costly is an understatement. To examine all the horrible possibilities of what could have played out is frightening.
The thing about suppressing what we consider are bad emotions is that those emotions do not dissolve. We like to think that because we don’t talk about what’s bothering us, or analyze our feelings, or cry, or complain about them, they don’t exist. Nothing could be further from the truth.
We are spiritual warehouses. Like the information we delete from our computers is stored on the hard drive, our brushed aside feelings stay with us. I often see people not only deny themselves the opportunity to process so-called negative emotions; I witness them stifle laughter, shorten hugs and rush through deep expressions of affection. Many of us were taught that dwelling on bad emotions was equivalent to being self-pitying and reveling in good feelings was silly.
If we store away what we are feeling, like computer memory, it takes up residence in our beings. The space it takes up makes it difficult for us to completely and fully feel joy, peace, and serenity. Being with our feelings and acknowledging them is much like watching a movie. When one scene ends another one begins. The story of the film plays out little by little. As the watcher of the movie we are able to process what is coming by processing what has passed.
Stoicism is a respectable trait. We take comfort in projecting calmness and courage to others, because in doing so we convince ourselves we are well. What we present to the outside world is important. However, respecting our feelings by sitting with and honoring them is cleansing.
Acknowledged feelings dissipate. Acknowledged feelings free up space so we can dance freely and uninhibitedly with joy.