Feel Your Feelings (Part One)

We all want to have the ‘good’ feelings – happy, upbeat, and confident. We resist feeling sadness, anger, and other ‘bad’ feelings. And I believe that our natural, clear state of consciousness is peace, bliss, and gratitude – some very ‘good’ feelings. But I encourage you to feel all your feelings as a strategy for being happy. Suppressing feelings is like “trying to be happy” and it just doesn’t work. When we refuse to feel emotions that come up then we are not free in life. And freedom is an important component of happiness so let’s see what arguments the mind might be giving us to persuade us not to feel our emotions:

1. If I let the emotion in, it will hurt

Yep it does. But it also hurts to walk around all day clenching. You don’t avoid hurt by stuffing feelings down; it’s just a different pain.

2. If I let the emotion in, it will grow

We have all experienced letting in a feeling and then it brings in its younger brother and cousin and so on. We can be afraid the line won’t end and there won’t be room for us! That won’t happen. It is true that as you change your approach to feelings from “go away” to “okay, I am listening” there will be a lot more showing up. But you won’t be consumed by it and at any point you can call a time out and come back to it later. 

Isn’t that what we are already doing every day of our life? We feel emotions to some extent and then suppress them (i.e., call a timeout), and then later, sometimes in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, we revisit them. We might as well make this process conscious rather than random. 

3. If I let the emotion in, I won’t be able to handle it

And where did you get that information? What horrible thing could happen if you allow these feelings in? Tears. Oh my. Ever feel relieved after crying? Me too. Let’s move on.

4. Suppressing emotions is working great!

The ego or “I Know Mind” wants to keep its job so it reminds of us of how well it is protecting us. We may have hired it back in first grade but it is time for an honest performance evaluation. This suppression strategy has its demerits.

When I resist an emotion it takes energy. Sadness, fear, anger and upset are going to come up in life and when I resist them I am resisting “what is.” The effort I expend fighting what is, is energy that I don’t have for living life. Our ability to relax, breathe and be present in the moment is diminished by that part of myself that is holding the lid down so that pesky feeling won’t get out. 

Missing out on life is a big price to pay to avoid a feeling. In the next part we will look at how feelings can be our friend. Until then, practice noticing when you resist a feeling and how it feels as you try to show up in the world in a way different from how you are feeling.

Our Mission or a Distraction?

I was at Burning Man for the first time in 2010 and noticing the prevelance of mystery and curiosity; more so than in my ‘normal’ life. Here is an example of why:

I’m looking for a friend named Brian that I knew was among the 55,000 people there and I wanted to say hi. Although I knew what camp he was staying in, I don’t know which of the 12 RV’s in that camp he was in. I asked a couple coming out of their tent… “Do you know Brian?” The man replies,  “I don’t know Brian, but Byron lives in that RV over there.” I noticed my mind analyze the information, “That doesn’t make sense. Why would people with similar names know each other?” Still, part of me said, “Just go with it.” I stopped resisting and followed the lead. 

I approached Byron and introduced myself to him and told him how I got there and that there ‘must be some reason for our meeting’. We shared some water and conversation and somehow it comes out that I had lived as a Hare Krishna monk. He tells me he also visited temples in the 70’s and even met the founder of the Hare Krishna Movement, Swami Prabhupada! We were laughing and talking about the joyous, hilarious and definitly unique aspects of temple life, when his partner comes out and joins us; listening in. After a few minutes I noticed her looking at her partner with this gleam in her eye. It turns out she did not know about this part of his past. She got a whole new glimpse into her beloved’s life by witnessing our conversation about living in an ashram – a conversation that blossomed thanks to our shared experience. All three of us got so much out of our chance meeting.

Way better than finding my friend Brian.

Moral of the story: Life’s ‘To Do’ List may not be as important as the distractions that come up. Be present to it all.

Wanting the Cat to Bark

No one has the power to hurt you. It is only your own thinking about someone’s actions that can hurt you.

Epictetus

When I am sane, I trust that everyone is progressing along their evolutionary path at just the right speed for them. Just as flowers bloom at their own perfect pace, each person realizes the answers to their own questions only after the combination of suffering, surrender and support coalesce to bring about a transformation is thinking.

When I feel something less that peace and love, then likely I am caught in a ‘story’ that is creating stress and fear. Sometimes I live with this pain and the isolation it creates in my life, and sometimes I question my thoughts and purchase my own freedom with the currency of sincere inquiry. And this happens exactly at the right time. If you are tired of the pain and you are feeling it is time to question your thoughts, here are a few that I have found helpful to wake me up.

1. Notice when your thoughts argue with reality – Are you trying to get a cat to bark? It may sound ludicrous, and yet we do this many times a day. Thoughts like: “My body should feel healthier, my partner should listen to me, I should be thinner, or more successful or prettier. The car in front of me should drive faster.” How does it feel to fight ‘what is’? And which is more empowering “I shouldn’t have lost my job” or “I lost my job; what can I do now?” 

2. Stay in your own business – Byron Katie lists three kinds of business: mine, yours and God’s. When I am mentally living in another’s business, I feel stress. No one is at home taking care of me when I am in your business with thoughts like: “You need to get a job, you should just be happy, or you should exercise more.” When I am worried about earthquakes or when I will die, then I am in God’s business. These things are out of our control and inevitable. The next time you are feeling stress or discomfort, ask yourself whose business you are in – you may burst out laughing.

3. Question your over-generalizations – “My partner never listens to me” or “You never do anything for me!” are examples of the “I-Know-Mind” in action. Most likely my partner does sometimes listen, but when I operate from this position I am only able to recall the times where they apparently aren’t listening. I can only see what I believe. By finding examples of the opposite (find one time your partner listened to you) we open up to the ‘enlightened side of mind.’

This short list has kept me busy for years. The rabbit hole goes very deep…

Making Friends With Your Feelings (Part Two)

In our last blog I discussed how suppressing emotions doesn’t work. When I am busy monitoring my ‘feelings pipeline’ ready to cap the well should any unwanted feelings start to bubble up, then I am not fully present in this moment. What if we welcomed our feelings instead of filtered them?

Imagine embracing each ‘unwanted’ feeling with the same level of enthusiasm that you have for your favorite emotion. I’m feeling happy – Yay, my favorite! I’m feeling sad – Yay, my favorite! Frustration – Yay, my favorite! It would be exactly how children fully express their anger, and then they move back to love and openness without clinging to the past. Expressing emotions frees us; suppressing emotions keeps us bound to them.

Honestly Sharing Our Feelings

Did you ever experience talking with someone and having a flood of feelings fill your chest? You try to sound calm and ‘adult-like’ but inside you are screaming, “Why don’t you listen to me?!” Hiding and resisting a feeling takes a lot of energy. That’s energy you could be using to be present, caring and a listener. 

Imagine being in that situation and not pretending but instead, vulnerably reporting what is happening for you: “Whoo, let me take a breath. I am feeling frustrated and upset and I don’t want to pretend I am not having these feelings.” This vulnerable disclosure then creates a whole new realness that connects you with yourself and the other person. This presence and honesty can give rise to a new set of potential solutions that I can’t see when I am fighting my emotions.

The Power of Vulnerability

Once, I was in a job interview in front of a panel of five people and I was feeling nervous, sweaty and self-conscious about both. At some point I caught myself wanting to wipe my brow but I didn’t want the interviewers to see me do it. I was watching them, hoping they would all look down at the same time so I could discretely wipe my forehead. I realized how ridiculous that was and I took a deep breath (my first all day) and I wiped my brow as I declared, “You are all very welcoming but this is still a job interview and I’m feeling nervous. Could I get a drink of water.” They relaxed, I relaxed and one interviewer later told me, “After you told us you were nervous, you just came out! Whoom! Your presence filled the room.” Being real connects me with my powerful self. Hiding my emotions leaves me scared and withdrawn. (Yes, I got the job.)

The world wants us to show up in an authentic, honest way no matter what feelings those entail. Start today by choosing honesty instead trying to pretend the feeling isn’t there.  The format may look like this: “I noticed I didn’t share with you some of my feelings, partly because I can be embarrassed to admit I have them, but when you said ‘X’, I felt ‘Y’. I want to accept all my feelings and part of that is honestly sharing instead of hiding them away.”

Keep in mind, this exercise is NOT about blaming another person for what we feel. Our feelings are a product of your own thoughts (but that’s our next step). Our step here is become comfortable reporting our feelings rather than hiding them.  Welcome all your feelings as friends, not the enemy and notice how your life improves.