by: Jennifer Brighton, MSW, RSW, PH.D(c), Psychotherapist, Meditation Teacher & Somatic Therapist
I wonder what it would be like to spend this entire month simply respecting and honouring our emotions. Would it be possible to do this while at the same time not taking them too seriously?
The fear many people have is that their emotions will overwhelm them, so they stifle them in an effort to cope. The difficulty is that this does not allow our feelings to process, but instead displaces them until the next time they get triggered. We don’t learn from the emotions, and we repeat patterns that enable them to rise to the surface over and over again. At the same time, we do not want to get swept away by our emotions as this does not serve us either. There is a balance with this.
Can we give ourselves permission to feel our emotions within our tolerance? Dipping our toes into them with openness and surrendering ourselves to self-discovery and evolution. Our desire to make sense of our emotions takes us on a train of thinking that is often retrospective or projective. That is, it takes us away from the present moment. It takes us into story land.
When our emotions are strong, we can incorrectly assume they show us our truths. When in reality, emotions are merely information, they are anything but factual. Understanding our emotions is laden with interpretation and skewed by our personal schema. So as we honour and respect our emotions can we just allow them to be felt, have curiosity about the information they are giving us and temper ourselves from creating an interpretive narrative.
One of the most powerful and humbling realizations I have had is that we genuinely don’t know what we don’t know. Our brains are tricky and implicit memories will influence our interpretations. Implicit memories are recollections that are stored in our subconscious but are outside of explicit awareness. I often tell my clients that if an emotion causes you to feel like you have been sucker punched it likely is due to an earlier memory that you just don’t have access to. It is at these times that we want to be consciously aware of our internal dialogue as this is how we will steer ourselves away from the information arising from the implicit memory. It will also determine how we ultimately feel.
For some of us, emotions can feel scary. It can feel almost like the first time we started to learn to bike ride, only there are no training wheels and you know you are going to fall and get bruised. We can forget that all we need to do is put our feet down and stabilize ourselves. It is as though we fear we have chosen a steep hill and we are practising going downward, and the bike picks up momentum so quickly that we crash and get severely hurt. The thing with emotions is that even when they are rushing like this we can still put our feet down, breathe and stay in the present moment. We can also work deliberately to explore emotions with care and compassion and not choose the steep hill to practise on.
When we step away from our habitual responses even for a fleeting second, we can be humbled by everything. We truly do not know everything about ourselves or about the world that we live in. We are given a simple but blessed reminder that we ought to remain as a curious observer of our emotions, life, and experiences. When we take the path of an observer, we develop awareness of our internal self-talk that is causing us to feel particular emotions. Once we have this awareness, we can make a choice to bring increased conscious awareness to our emotions and respond to them from a place of insight rather than react to them mindlessly.
No one is perfect, that isn’t the point of being human. You will make mistakes, you will react, you will misinterpret things, you will be your emotions rather than merely feeling them. And, that is all okay. How beautiful it is to get the chance to make mistakes, to react, to misinterpret and to be our emotions. For in there is the muddled, muddy path of self-learning and growth. If it were a squeaky clean path, we wouldn’t experience our victories and triumphs with the same enthusiasm.
As the Peruvian Shamans say, everything is medicine!