Photo by Tommy Lisbin on Unsplash
As a result of a leukemia diagnosis and treatment a few years ago, I get my blood tested with some frequency. This morning, as I waited for my appointment, I was feeling a bit heavy and down. I observed myself searching for the reason I was having these sensations. I was torn between wanting to hold on to the feelings as the truth and wanting to push them away as a threat.
Feelings – pleasant and unpleasant – come and go. Being human means we experience a full range of emotion. These are the result of our biology and our environment. We have been raised in a culture where we are taught that some feelings are okay to feel and some are not.
For example, when I am coaching a client and they connect with a strong feeling, tears are often a result. When this happens – every single time – the first two words out of my client’s mouth are “I’m sorry.” Where does this come from?
Consider the small child who is happily eating an ice cream cone. So happy. Then the ice cream falls to the ground. So unhappy. Often, the parent who is uncomfortable with their child’s discomfort either goes sprinting back to the ice cream shop to replace the treat or issues a stern lecture to the child to be more careful next time – and stop crying.
Many of us did not get the simple instruction that in a normal and healthy life stuff happens that we don’t want and that we feel stuff that is uncomfortable. One of the main reasons we get stuck in a funk is because we do not see what we are feeling for what it is.
Your feelings are not the truth and they are not threats. Nobody has ever died of an emotion, but plenty of damage has been done trying not to have them or diving into them so deeply that we cannot see anything else.
Feelings are information. We can feel them, observe them, and make choices about what we will do with them. We can develop a peaceful and powerful relationship to our emotions. This is a vital life skill that is strengthened with practice.
One of the keys to working successfully with emotions is developing an aware and accepting approach to them. A powerful practice is setting aside a few minutes everyday to pay attention to what is going on inside us without reacting. This is called mindfulness meditation.
We can develop an attitude of “yes, and.” As in “Yes, I am feeling down, and I can get some work done.” Or “Yes, I am feeling angry, and I can be kind.” This ability to feel something and then make a choice that is aligned with our values and goals is an incredible human ability. I am not suggesting that we suppress or ignore feelings – just the opposite. I am suggesting that being aware and accepting of the full range of feelings frees us from being a slave to them.
The insight that comes from practicing awareness and acceptance of feelings is that we are not what we are feeling. We are the person who is aware and accepting of the feelings we are experiencing. There is a tremendous amount of power in this realization.