Lately, I have found myself feeling strong emotions – in reaction to political, social and personal events.
By this statement, and confessing to it, I mean strong feelings: the kind of feelings that shoot through the whole of your body and don’t vacate. The kind of feeling that lingers, and may even erupt up again and to an intense level later in the day or just when you think you’ve got a handle on it.
I have heard via friends and acquaintances, as well as through listening to interviews and shares online, that I am not alone in experiencing strong feelings in recent times.
It’s highly probable, if not obvious, that this is a by-product of living through a global pandemic: or, more accurately, a seismic ongoing event that none of us have lived through before. An event that made the world slow down, took away a lot (not all) of distraction, and had most of us confined to one space.
I’ve heard of usually unshakeable CEOs losing their temper and reacting emotionally with colleagues.
Friends have confided they feel trapped, or confused, or despondent.
People are having more sleep issues: wanting to sleep more, or having broken sleep. Apparently there’s been a rise in people having wild dreams or nightmares.
Parents bearing the weight of caring for children and their own parents.
Young people hurt by broken dreams, be it of a liberated summer, outcome of years of study, or a projected career pathway.
Couples feeling the strain of a beyond normal sharing of time and space.
Single and people living alone finding the novelty of privacy and aloneness wearing thin, and finding themselves plummeted into deep loneliness.
People of all ages and backgrounds either directly facing or having family members or friends facing illness, loss, disruption – be that the physical loss of a loved one, a business, a career or even a home.
But what of… yoga teachers, meditators, spiritual guides and the like. Surely they are the beacons we can look to, as rocks of calm. They must be the ones riding these uncertain times with the most grace and ease. Well… there are two sides to that coin.
I find that my experience and practice of yoga and meditation brings me closer to the things that I believe in, and shines a brighter light on injustice and principles – both in the personal and social realms. In a way, my 20 years of practice could be compared to a slowed-down version of the impact of coronavirus: my practice literally slows my mind down, makes me sinks into the recesses of my heart and gets me thinking and feeling in a way that inherently points to what is important, and what is lesser so. How much I follow through on that is another matter, but it’s what my practice does.
So in a way, yoga and meditation has prepared me for dealing with events and challenges that would or could otherwise knock us for six. My practice means I am used to being ‘aware’ and sensitive to things that just feel – wrong.
But the fact my yoga and meditation practice brings home to me, continually, the sting of where and when things are not in alignment in the world, in my circles, and within myself – now coincides with a truth-telling phase on the planet. Well, like any collision, sparks are bound to fly…
A friend, writer and broadcaster recently asked: “what do we do when feel anger, or a really strong emotion?”
My thinking is that the day we are immune to injustice in the world, or a mis-alignment between what we know to be true and good and what we align ourselves to, is not the day that we have triumphed as humans in managing our emotions – on the contrary.
If someone close to us, maybe someone we love, does or says something that feels like a betrayal or creates deep disappointment, is it a spiritual act to not feel that, or to immediately forgive and then move on?
What of friends and acquaintances, or the mileu we find ourselves in. Should we let things be when we disagree on something that means a lot to us?
There being no formal expectation, or blood tie, or love relationship in everyday relationships, are we being overly sensitive and attached if a behaviour in these circles offends us?
When about an act of unlawful harm, violence or hurt – even if it has nothing to do with ‘our life’ or maybe even the country we live in, are we taking on too much by being affected by something like this?
As for those in ‘charge’ or with ‘power’, and having a duty to care and protect others – but instead unconsciously or consciously put their immediate need, reputation and desire above all else, do we shrug this off and accept defeat? Swallow the fact we are part of a bigger system that in our singular livelihood we cannot change the bigger picture, so why let ourselves be energetically pulled into it?
Should we be quiet and ‘deal’ with strong emotions by shooing them away, suppressing, denying, defending, or soothing with distraction, gratification and pleasures?
I suspect the answers to the above, deep within us (if we really let these questions go deep within us), are known.
Bringing this subject back from the deep to the here and now of our every day reality, how do we meet strong emotion – such as anger, betrayal, disappointment, rage, fear and having no foundation – without denying it, but also without being pulled into the vortex of it and suffering further?
Once you’ve had or are having a strong emotion, it’s too late to stop it as you’re having or have had it.
So, if you are in the ‘eye of the storm’ hang on, and wait, knowing the peak of the storm will – by the laws of nature and the universe – subside.
The answer to the question what do we do in that moment?
Nothing has negative connotation. But to practice being with something without impulsively acting on it or turning away from (or trying to fix it) is far from passive. It’s courageous. It’s not the end point, but it is a sound foundation.
Because however you channel your energy or distract your mind, you will still feel the feels. Thus, to be with it is actually a radical act.
But we can go further, if we are open to this:
We can learn and practice getting to notice the emotion and feeling even in the midst of having it and being overwhelmed by it. In the noting, recognition and allowing for it, even while it’s happening, there is a lessening of its charge and power, even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time.
There is also something real and respectful about honouring the fact – through noting and allowing – something or someone is affecting you in this way. It means something of your core beliefs or make-up is being impacted. Rightly or wrongly this deserves some space rather than a cover up.
The noticing of ‘strong’ reactions may not solve issues, nor does it absolve us of our part in the story that is making us feel the way we are, but is in act of courage: facing up to who we are in that moment.
Also, seeing and continually discovering who we really – the wholeness of our personality and being, which often shows itself through times and experiences that are challenging and affronting – helps us understand others and the world better. If we can get to a place of recognising what affects us and how that feels, we are more likely to understand and connect to others. Empathy, I think the word is here.
Some things will hit us harder and deeper than others. That’s one of the ways we are unique from each other.
What a politician does or says might be water off a duck’s back to one, yet a match to a fire to another. And it is true that it would be unhelpful in life, to ourselves, our loved ones and colleagues, if we reacted to and felt strongly about everything all the time. We’d be drained, quickly. But if it’s certain things in certain contexts that deeply affect us, then this is a sign of a value and principle that is important to us or our environment (or both). If we are passive to what is going on around us, or choose to be, than that makes us passive in life and unresponsive in the face of human evolution.
But the next step in that ‘allowing to feel what you feel’ must be to explore it, once the feeling has lessened or is more manageable.
Put simply, what is this strong emotion telling me – about myself and the world?
This exploration need not entail a month long venture into the wilderness or six years of therapy…
Exploration could be, in a quiet moment (such as a still warm night a few hours after having the strong reaction – a night like the one I am writing this in), sitting with it and giving the situation and feeling some space to breathe. Maybe journalling. Maybe taking a walk and letting it move through you and getting insight as it does. Maybe sitting with it in meditation. Maybe speaking about it with at trusted friend – or even a plant (that works too). Then we can see if what we felt or are feeling is justified and requires further action or thought, or if it came from an old wound, or resentment, or wanting more or less in our lives of something. It’s being the parent to yourself, kindly so.
Hearing yourself with respect and patience is a powerful response to a strong emotion.
Noticing where in the body we feel the strong emotions we have, and how our breathing changes, is deep work and another way of understanding who we are and how life flows. If an emotion runs deep and creates a reaction that won’t go away, rocks us to our core, that is a signpost to something that is yet unresolved in us. This does not make us weak or flawed. It makes us human – and a more likely instrument for positive change.
Just to finally add, I’ve deliberately not talked about ‘self-care’ here in the way we hear about it normally. Yes, do as much as you can do in your circumstances to look out for your health and wellbeing. But let us also be brave and intelligent in the way we connect with our spiritual core.
A healthy diet, fit body and lots of money do not protect from the injustices that occur in this world, even if it might seem they provide a fortress of defence.
Strong emotions contain a message. As practitioners, as human beings, let’s feel the emotion, and then try to understand it. Compassion and awareness right there.
Events in our current time are giving us much to practice on.
p.s. there’s a whole chapter in my forthcoming new book, Finding Peace in Difficult Times, on how to meet the tough times in our lives.
-picture credit: original illustrator unknown, attributed to The Lovett Centre in Houston, US.