Feelings lead to doorways which open the way for freedom.
As a Spiritual Director one of the things I notice a lot as I journey with people is a reluctance to validate emotion. It seems that many or most of us have not been told that what we feel is okay (and often quite the opposite!), and certainly never gone beyond that to receive true compassion for what we are experiencing.
How often do we truly connect with our feelings – whether joyful or painful? I mean really connect in a way that means we create space for them, welcoming them not pushing them away? I don’t mean placing them into our heads and searching for solutions to the problem that the feeling is attached to, neither do I mean jumping straight into fixing mode. If we allow them simply to be – without judgment, comment or reaction – our feelings can be powerful tools that open doorways to deeper places within ourselves which are crying out to be seen, held and healed.
We often perceive emotion, especially “negative” emotion as something we don’t like in ourselves and respond accordingly: with impatience, holding it at arms length, trying to ignore or bury it, or seeking to control what we can’t accept in ourselves. But what if we were to respond to our emotions in a more friendly way, to be with them as we would with a hurting child? What if we were to sit down with fear, grief, anger, sadness or jealously and put a comforting arm around it? What if we were to hold these feelings in a space of compassion and kindness rather than pushing them away, seeking control over them or fixing them. What insight, what gift could this simple “being with” reveal? What bigger picture is this thread of emotion attached to that could lead to greater freedom? Such threads will always lead somewhere if we take the time to follow it.
I frequently find myself telling people for whom I am a spiritual companion that they matter, that what they are going through matters and that what they’re feeling matters. We often logically know this to be true, but there can be a wide gap between knowing it cognitively and living as if it’s really true. We tend to give little room to validate our experiences in life and all the feelings that are attached to them. We often go straight to working out solutions that fix life, forcing it back within the constraints of our notion of what a happy life is supposed to look like. Alternatively, we move away from our feelings by numbing out on consumerism, social media, food, being busy and any other number of options, many of which can look noble and good on the outside.
Perhaps we wonder what good it will do us to give space and time to our feelings, what difference will it really make? Well, simply allowing feelings to surface and be seen is in itself a compassionate act. Compassion towards ourselves tends to be something we’re not that good at. We’re normally more skilled in self-criticism, getting it together and adopting a “keep calm and carry on” attitude. Most of us haven’t been shown how to treat ourselves with the kindness and consideration we have for others.
To simply be with our feelings – even when they’re of the “negative” variety – without judging them, or doing anything with them allows kindness and compassion for ourselves begin to grow. By being present to how we feel we’re validating our fragile humanity and our tendency to get hurt, we begin to live by a new script that says “I matter and what I feel matters”. It’s amazing how powerful this is and how much it begins to change us in the deepest places within. This ultimately changes how we interact with and treat others, although for those people who have a tendency do anything for the sake or approval of others, that isn’t the point!
Then there’s that thread, a place those emotions are pointing to, but perhaps we don’t really want to follow it into unfamiliar or even dangerous territory. As we sit with how we feel, as we welcome our emotions and settle into that space, we may get a sense of something else – a picture, a memory or perhaps a body sensation which opens up a doorway to a place within us that may need healing or a fresh lens. Gently following a thread in this way allows us to see more clearly where we’ve been hurt and gives us the opportunity to welcome the Divine ministry of God into that place. Freedom comes, we’re transformed.
It’s not easy to be with emotion. It takes courage to create a welcoming space for what we perceive as negative emotions. It takes courage to feel but to do so will bring change. To resist the urge to numb out, or put that feeling into the head where it can be rationalised, fixed and controlled will change us for the better. Perhaps the next time you begin to be aware of a feeling, even if you’re not sure what it is, sit with it, allow it to surface and see what happens. In time the practice will become more natural and healing will come in the most surprising and beautiful ways.