“It’s not your negative emotions that affect other people. It’s choosing not to feel your emotions that affects other people.”
I’ve been doing the woo-woo thing for quite a while, and I have heard the above expressed in about a gajillion different ways across every wisdom tradition that exists. But last night, hearing one of my teachers phrase it just that particular way—for whatever reason, it was life-changing.
Here are a few other ways I’ve seen the same idea phrased, in case any of these more well-known phrases resonates more with you:
“You will not be punished for your anger. You will be punished by your anger.”
“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
“The truth shall set you free.”
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
“If you bring forth what is within you, what is within you will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what is within you will destroy you.”
However it is phrased in a way that we can fully comprehend it, this is the key. This is it. This is all we need to know. This is the path of reintegration. This is how we confront and release our deepest shadows, and allow a world to emerge that is based on compassion and honesty.
We steer away from the truth of our emotions most of (almost all) the time. Something gets stirred up and we don’t like the feeling, or think it’s not something we “should” feel, or it’s just uncomfortable for whatever reason. So, consciously or not, we act very quickly to neutralize that feeling. We either medicate it by steamrolling it with other feelings or sensations, or we slap a story on it and engage with gusto in the role that is required to fit that story. Both of these are paths of avoidance and stoke the personal and collective unconscious—which is actually running the show behind the scenes.
Whether it is by engaging in typical addictive behavior, or simply by putting on our mask and performing a designated role, in virtually every interaction we have throughout the day we are blocking ourselves off from our true emotions. We are shoving them in a corner and slapping a label on them that says “DO NOT DISTURB.” This is the shit that erupts, collectively. This is why we face our current crisis. This is why our president is a malignant cartoon character.
“Apocalypse” just means “uncover,” “reveal.” As within, so without. As we work with these things that are hidden within us, we will loosen their control over us at every level.
This work requires profound attention and deep alchemy. It means stopping in the middle of what you are doing to follow the yellow brick road. It gets easier with practice, but at first it feels completely ridiculous, because we are just that divorced from who we really are, and just that afraid to share ourselves with the world.
So here is the process. The next time you feel anything other than a pleasant peaceful sense of flow and love and abundance and good juju with the universe, stop what you are doing and do the following. If it’s possible to go somewhere where you can be undisturbed for a few minutes, that’s even better—you can do this in your car or in a bathroom at Starbucks—but it is also completely workable in the unfolding heat of the moment if you’re willing to tell other parties to just give you a goddamn second to commune with your divine self and you’ll be right back, ‘kay? (I’ve gotten to the point where I have no problem doing that, but YMMV.) You can also revisit key moments throughout your day in evening meditation and go through the same process; it works however you need to work it.
1) Feel whatever you are feeling. Anger? Fear? Jealousy? Anxiety?Judgment? Abandonment? Avoidance? Give it a name.
2) Locate the emotion in your body. Scan your chakras. Yes, really, we’re going to get into chakras, here. Your throat, heart, and gut especially are where the unresolved nasties usually congregate. It could also be somewhere else; you could feel shoulder tension, or a tightening in your jaw, or your knee starts to hurt for no apparent reason. Just go spelunking for the physical sensation that accompanies the uncomfortable emotion. When you’ve found it, try to relax into it. This isn’t about finding it in order to zap it into oblivion. You’re finding it to give it some love, like a little gnashing wolverine that just needs some cuddles. Breathe deeply and just let it gnash away a little bit.
You might be tempted at this point to start psychoanalyzing the wolverine. “OBVIOUSLY I feel abandonment in my heart chakra. My father went to get cigarettes when I was 7 and never came back. All of my problems forevermore stem from this core abandonment. No wonder I feel this way. I shall suffer in perpetuity and be thoroughly justified in doing so.” As best you can, try not to go down that road. Try to instead just feel what that abandonment really feels like. A gnawing feeling in your gut? A stuck feeling in your throat? A crushing feeling in your heart? Get specific with it. If other phrases or thoughts come up with this—general condemnations of the self like “No one cares about me” or “I can’t do anything right” or “I’m the only one who is holding this family together.” Whatever it is, let those bubble up too.
3) This is the part that feels a little awkward until you get the hang of this thing and start trusting the process, which takes a while. But you’re going to have a little Stuart Smalley moment here. This is affirmation central. You’re going to take that gnashing wolverine and that part of your body where it lives and you’re going to send it some unconditional love. Breathe into the emotion wherever it physically resides, and just start gently repeating….
“I love you.”
Many teachers who describe this process, including Pema Chödrön and Matt Kahn, liken it to singing a lullaby to a screaming, hysterical child. Your tone should be the same. Just keep repeating “I love you,” lightly, soothingly, playfully, for as long as is possible or practical, until you feel the snarled emotions begin to loosen. Yes, out loud. The lighter your tone and approach, the better it works. You are doing the work here of Siddharta under the Bodhi tree as Mara launched his worst monsters and demons at him. You are healing and resolving so much more than that one emotion. You are transforming your triggers and rewriting your past. You are reintegrating yourself into someone and something more whole.
Sometimes one round of “I love yous” is enough to tame the wolverine, but usually not. This is a practice that takes a lot of time and effort. But as it unfolds, it has profound and cumulative effects.
This is the “truth” we have all been systematically avoiding, blunting, redirecting. It’s the underbelly of what we refuse to feel that is really shaping the world in unloving ways. Our personal experience of the world as well as the collective experience of the world.
It’s all we are here to do. It’s all very simple. And by reintegrating ourselves, we allow others the space to do the same. That’s why I’m posting these woo-y AF messages here, even though it brings up plenty of my own fears and self-judgments. Because we are simply not going to make it through this with the same old garbage. We’re not getting away with that this time around. We can try, but at best we’ll just get more of the same: unhappy relationships, unfulfilling careers, political and economic systems based around notions of zero-sum extraction and predation, malignant cartoon presidents.
It’s not self-indulgent or the stuff of privilege to do this work on ourselves. To the contrary—it’s the most critical thing we can do to bring more of ourselves to our work, our relationships, and to the world, which needs as much love and realness as it can possibly get. Otherwise, as Goethe put it, we’re just continuing our tour as “troubled guests on a dark earth.”