How To Uncover The Wisdom Of Heavy Emotions
In Western culture, most of us live from our busy minds alone — unsurprising when we’ve been conditioned to revere logic above all else.
We are, essentially, cut off below the neck. It’s all too easy to distract ourselves from anything that feels remotely scary or unknown — with busy work, constant scrolling, or Netflix binges. The idea of cultivating a relationship with our body and the emotions that flow through it — quite literally, energy in motion — is foreign territory. And who can blame us? We weren’t taught to engage with our emotions as the wisdom bearers they are.
Charting the course
So how do we unlearn a lifetime of conditioning, and start cultivating a relationship with these deepest, most unknown parts of ourselves? How do we get out of our minds and into our bodies, to feel those emotions crying out to be felt? When we learn to engage with our emotions, we learn that they’re actually the opposite of scary — and in fact, contain wisdom for our lives. Here’s a practice to start gently exploring your own.
Explore your emotional landscape
Start noticing the situations where you feel overcome by challenging emotions. Particularly those you feel an urge to shut down or to distract yourself from. Be mindful this might be fairly unconscious at first, so you’re going to want to use your inner detective to develop new awareness. Pay attention to whether there’s a particular emotion that often comes up for you. In my experience, we usually have one or two really hot buttons that will set off a particular feeling in us — maybe it’s anger, or guilt, or shame. There’s no right answer here. Just notice what’s true for you. When we observe these reoccurring emotions in ourselves, we start recognizing them as the messengers they are.
Zoom into a moment in time
Once you’ve got some awareness of the situations that set you off, and the emotions that are most present for you, pay attention the next time they arise. In that moment, ask yourself — what situation preceded this?
- Was it something someone said, or did?
- Did I hear or see something that didn’t sit right with me?
- Or was it a thought process that led me here?
Try and capture the essence of what triggered you in this particular moment.
Lean into the emotional experience
While still fresh, allow yourself some time and space to sit with your emotional experience. A few moments of privacy are good — whether that’s at home, or even shutting yourself in the bathroom cubicle at work — whatever you can do to find a moment’s peace. Close your eyes if you can, and feel into your body.
- Where do you feel this emotion or energy right now?
- What parts of your body do you feel it in?
- Is it an all-encompassing feeling, or perhaps located in one specific area — like a lead weight in your gut?
Notice the actual physical sensations that are present. And notice how they might shift or change as you observe them. Now gently go further into this energy, provided you feel comfortable.
- What does it feel like?
- Does it have a color, a shape?
Maybe it’s stagnant, solid, thick. Maybe it’s swirling, morphing, hard to pin down. Whatever is here is perfectly okay. Gently, and without expectation, invite this energy to reveal whatever you need to see, hear or experience right now. Try not to force anything, and trust that you’ll receive whatever you need to at this moment. Trust that the act of being here, showing up for yourself, is enough.
Try not to engage in your mind’s stories
You might be feeling deeply through this process. And the invitation here is to keep going gently, and kindly, and allow that energy to move on through. I want to point out Jill Bolte Taylor’s famous 90-second rule here — any pure, overwhelming emotion will pass within 90 seconds.
We’re not aiming to rehash any stories using our minds — this is all about engaging with the felt experience. Any more than those 90 seconds, and you’re likely getting entangled in some story which will keep you stuck in the experience. With practice, resisting the urge to get entangled will become easier. So take a few moments to breathe and complete.
The art of ongoing practice
Next time, return to your quiet spot and do it all over again. Building a relationship with your body and emotions is an ongoing practice — an art form. Every experience is going to be unique, but I can assure you that your whole self, the one that exists beyond just your busy mind, will be grateful for this generous act of self-care. It’s a radical act in today’s world to cultivate this type of connection with ourselves. And learning to trust in the wisdom that lies within is one of the most empowering things we can do for our healing.
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