I love this quote. I spent so many years denying my feelings. Numbing, overworking, contracting, repeat, repeat, repeat. I would just do and do and do so I didn't need to feel. And then I turned my overwork into another thing I could overdo when I channeled my energy into an obsession with healing and spiritual practice. All under the guise of awakening. But I woke up one day and realized I was still operating under the false assumption that there was something wrong with me. Something that I needed to fix. That somehow my feelings of unworthiness, grief, anxiety, and fear meant that I was broken. And if I worked or practiced enough, at some point I’d never feel those things again. It didn't go as planned, of course. And I still feel those things depending on the day or month or moment. But I wasn't broken then, and I'm not broken now. I'm just human. And we are hardwired to think that shit is scary or something is missing that would complete our life if we had it/them or that something is going to potentially blow up in our face. And it’s normal to attach to things or avoid them or shame them. And it’s also normal human stuff to struggle with identity and ego and love and a sense of belonging. And sometimes things DO blow up in our faces or don't go as planned. And sometimes shit does get really, really hard. And sometimes it's so full of ease and joy and light. Or we suffer from periods during which we can’t access any peace. And, no, all things are not equal. Some of us experience way more loss or hardship than others, and some of us are subject to unjust and painful experiences.* And that is also the human experience. It’s not the same for each of us. And we get to work with that unique makeup of our humanness.
One of the most important people in my life is ill. And while I was back east during my break, I felt a lot. I sobbed for the loss that will come at some point. For the pain I'm experiencing now and for the pain my family is experiencing. I also soaked in the joy. Inhaling the smell of my new nephew. Relishing in my mama's infectious spirit and my dad’s ability to deeply feel. I got to be held tightly by my dearest and oldest friends who know every corner of my insides. And I got to feel really, really angry because WTF death and disease?! Every day, I allowed myself so much space to feel. And when I returned to SF a few weeks ago, I felt this pull to clamp down on my feelings. It was back to “real life.” Now I would have to stand up in front of a classroom or show up for client meetings. I felt a familiar and deep-rooted pattern playing out. How could I show up IRL with all of these feelings? It's one thing to weep around my birth town on a break (a time set aside, in part, for just this purpose; and, yes, what a luxury that I had that space and time; it is not lost on me), but I couldn't do that at work. Then people would see just how deeply I feel. They would see my humanity. This pattern (and the accompanying dialogue) is familiar to me, and I work with it often. And the pushing down of emotions has helped me in times when experiences were overwhelming, but inevitably it is not my path to freedom. I practice daily unwinding this false assumption that I can't expose my humanity.
But I do have to show up for clients and stand in front of a classroom. So how do I hold the complexity of the emotions I'm feeling while moving through my day to day? How do I respect the depth of my human experience and also go to work? I'm still working it out, but, this month, I made room for the tenderness, vulnerability, and grief that I was ultimately feeling that initially made me want to push things down. Then I made room for the second layer of shame that I lop on top of the vulnerability and deep feelings, which inevitably creates a deeper desire inside me to push my emotions down even further. I started each of my days with a practice to get me in my body, so that I could create a relationship with the emotions I was feeling before they got enmeshed with coffee, calendaring with my partner, and commuting to work. And then I set about my week practicing honesty when people asked about my trip. Practicing transparency about how I was feeling. Practicing opening up fully with my close community. And allowing other experiences to, sometimes awkwardly, float on the surface more. And it was all Ok.
Because feeling is Ok. Grief is part of being a human. Fear too. Also anxiety. Deep, down-in-your-loins desire is your right if you want it. Feeling is essential to our humanity. And it's also Ok that we all feel varying degrees of emotions all the time. There is nothing wrong with you if you feel deeply, and there is nothing wrong with you if you feel numb. Let me repeat: there is nothing wrong with you. And it's Ok if you get attached to your feelings or you tend to avoid them. You are just human, navigating how to be human. And because we experience being human in different ways, we can't always meet each other in the same place, which can feel weird sometimes. But I don’t think we need to. I do, however, think we can collectively support each other by taking the first step to practice honesty with ourselves. We can practice building our capacity to feel the humanness of our experience. Making room for the emotions and sensations we feel in our bodies however strong or hard to access. Practice recognizing them as innately human and watching our patterns of aversion, shame, attachment, and judgment. And then slowly, maybe, we can practice expressing what we're feeling to others. More intimately to our close communities who we trust and then reach out across the way to those we don’t know as well. If we can begin to be honest with ourselves and each other, making room for the pain and joy each of us experiences, I think we can build a country with a collective mission to love ourselves and others more. One that celebrates our humanity and doesn't hide from it.
So how can we support each other in this practice? I don't know. I think it's deeply personal. For some, meditation is hugely beneficial to soften our fight or flight reaction, so we can have rightsized responses to things that scare us or make us uneasy. It can also help us become more familiar with the patterns we use to neglect our sensations: judgment and projection, aversion and checking out, addiction and attachment, etc. For some, creative expression like dance and song gives us the outlet to know it's Ok to feel and helps us build those healthy patterns of expressing our feelings. We do best what we practice most. One of my favorite things to do is dance in my apartment for hours at a time and scream at the top of my lungs. No. I will not tape this. Ok. Maybe someday. For some of us, we need a slow and therapeutic embodiment practice in a very safe space, so we can begin to build our ability to listen to our bodies' sensory output. These are just a few that I use. There are many more out there. And I need all of these and each of them at different times. Therapy has also been helpful. Groups like al-anon I've heard can be amazing. Surfing and horseback riding, I would imagine, provide many with that sense of flow and space and connection to something greater. The list is endless.
I came to a slow and therapeutic approach out of desperation. Nothing else helped me embody like lying on a mat and doing practically nothing. I had to slow down so much--to almost pure stillness--to be able to stay with my breath cycle or make room for all the sensations I was experiencing in my body. And then from there I found other things that helped me feel again and start to feel a sense of peace with life: swimming in the ocean, running in the hills, slow sex, dancing and screaming in my apartment, and working with loving, compassionate, and skilled practitioners who helped me normalize my feelings. And this whole process felt like a homecoming. And this deeper connection with my own body and humanity began to impact my relationships, my ability to love, and the degree to which I can experience joy and desire and appreciation. I don't have it all figured out. Not by a fucking long shot. And I know that this type of slow practice isn’t the path for everyone, but I do feel clear that this assumption we have that something--our humanity, itself--is inherently wrong with us is causing us unnecessary suffering. And I think if we can begin to experience our emotions and sensations in our bodies as essential parts of being human and practice making room for them--and then start to practice expressing these emotions to each other--we can begin to suffer less. Individually and collectively. And I really think we deserve this.
*If things get to a point where you feel helpless or have experienced trauma and now your fight/flight response feels out of your control, please reach out to friends, family, and a mental health practitioner for help.