Why and when did being emotional become a negative characteristic? As weird as it is to think about, we are often unaware of the emotions we are experiencing for a couple of reasons.
First, in order to recognize what we are feeling or thinking we must observe it and most of the time we are just in the thick of it. This is one of the reasons why mindfulness is so important because when we build that muscle of being able to observe as we live in the experience, our world moves into a kind of third-dimension aliveness.
The second reason for being unaware of our emotions is the disconnection we have with the physical body. I know it sounds a little woo, but it is a real phenomenon. Those I have coached with trauma often remember the scenes of their trauma from a bird's eye view or from the corner of the room.
I believe we separate from our bodies in other everyday ways too. Those of us living in more affluent countries, towns, or neighborhoods do not know true sensations of hunger especially hunger for food that nourishes our bodies because we overeat pushing full sensations aside. We ignore the body's message of “stop, too much”.
So, to really feel our emotions we must do two things.
1- Add an observer
2- Be able to tune into the messages your body is sending.
Emotions are key to living in wholeness. We have been convinced that feeling angry, especially for women, or sorrow (tears) especially for men, are signs of a character flaw - unwelcome in our experience. We have agreed as a society to create a hierarchy of emotions, and it makes sense in a way because there are emotions that deplete our energy and vitality and there are emotions that energize us and even heal us mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
But think of it this way, if we filled our car with fuel or (energy) and then just kept filling and filling it, we wouldn’t go anywhere. It is burning the fuel or depleting the fuel that gets us places. There is a quote that says,
“Remember that life’s greatest lessons are usually learned at the worst times”.
I heard Tom Brady speak about winning and losing, and he said that of course, he loves to win but that when you are winning you are never looking at ways to improve. When you lose you ponder and question every move. You strive to be better.
All the emotions have value. But we must actually experience them. We must feel them and be familiar with the sensations that belong to those emotions. We must be aware of the thoughts that cause AND RESULT from those sensations. The sensations usually come first.
I say it every time, but trauma is at the core of all of this misunderstanding, ignoring, and labeling emotions as bad. Trauma is not a traumatic experience. Trauma is what happens in the body.
When I was a teen I was working at an amusement park and there was a puddle of water on the ground and when I stepped in it and touched the ride controls I got a big shock. I felt it vibrate all through my body.
It is funny, not funny. I picked up the phone to call for some help I’ll never forget the feeling I had as I tried to explain what had happened. I was looking at the buttons and could see in my mind what I wanted to say but what kept coming out of my mouth was, “the piano, the piano”. My brain connections were all askew. I was motioning pushing the buttons but the idea of a piano was how my verbal language was expressing it. Crazy!
A traumatic experience - remembering that this requires a very broad, personal definition - causes trauma in the body, like an electric shock.
The EMTs that looked me over after my shock wanted to be sure that the electricity left my body. If it was still inside I could have a heart attack. Damage from a shock can occur for up to ten days.
Trauma is very much the same. The reaction your body had to fight, flight, freeze, or appease can be felt by the nervous system for days, weeks, or years - especially when we feel like we are in or appear to be in a similar situation again. Smells, sounds, anything can trigger that trauma to ignite within us.
These things I am teaching and preaching are so important because they are at the core of so much upset in the world today. I know that’s a big statement but let me try to explain. We have two intrinsic, core, deep-seated, and elemental drives within us. We want to be ACCEPTED and VALUED, and we want to be an INDIVIDUAL and have a sense of SELF.
Our outside world or community helps to create and form our beliefs, values, and traditions. We hope to be accepted by our community. I cannot stress how important this is to our wellbeing. And, we are accepted as long as our definitions within our individuality align with the community's “rules”. Let me say first that in some ways it is valuable to sacrifice ourselves for the whole. This is true. Belonging to a community requires common ideas and practices. The spiritual body needs these things for connection.
But when someone chooses to hold on to their individuality or sense of self in the face of our community, it is our own sensations, emotions, and thinking that is really taking the hit. So many times in everyday life someone expresses something and that something goes against what we like or believe and without that observance we react, but it is really the sensations, thoughts, or feelings within OURSELVES that we are really trying to pull away from. Why wouldn’t we? It FEELS wrong and uncomfortable. With observance, we will notice the discomfort. We see it without being attached to it, and we see that the impact we are feeling is not really coming from the outside. The actual words we hear or see in a post or a text or in the news are simply letters put together in sentences. They are completely benign.
Once we arrive at this kind of self observation, we can begin to come together as a community and ultimately humans. This is empathy. This is compassion. The community and individuality are both equally important. Neither should win nor lose at the expense of either.
Listening to our healed inner observer will guide us when to act toward community and stand in our individuality. For sure, it will help us belong to our community AND allow others to keep their individuality intact and not feeling it as an attack.