Would you believe me if I told you there is a ridiculous amount of freedom to be revealed in the acceptance of our emotions? And a scary amount of suffering in the resistance of them! What would you think if I shared with you it’s really OK to not be OK? And that it’s also OK to be OK…what if I were to tell you that both OK and not OK were perfectly OK? What if wherever we’re at, is OK..exactly where we are. OK..or not OK..what exactly does OK mean anyway? And where and when did we start to become so obsessed with one way being the right way?
How often do you get asked are you OK? And even if you’re not feeling ‘good’ you feel the pressure to say yeah I’m OK! Well I’ve been having a bit of a ride lately with the labelling of emotions & experiences as positive or negative. It feels like collectively we’re stuck in the polarity of right & wrong, good & bad…and if you’re experiencing emotions that are not joy and happiness – you’re not OK and that’s probably not OK.
I don’t think it’s a big secret that as a race, the human race, we are obsessed with feeling good, the seeking of pleasure and avoidance of pain..but in the seeking for feeling good, collectively we seem to have embraced a belief that anything that doesn’t fit within our idea of what that little bucket of goodness looks or feels like needs to be suppressed or denied.
While the suppression might initially appear to be a success in the avoidance of pain – it is for sure just a temporary avoidance as whatever we suppress will reappear again and again and again until it is given space to be be seen, felt & heard. More than that we’re definitely not helping ourselves on the path to feeling good by blocking energy or denying the innate intelligence of our human constitution. All we’re successfully doing is creating more separation, making boxes to put ourself in, self imposed prison cells of how we must look and feel in order to be a successful, happy, feel good human being….and we become weighted down by these ideas, closing ourself off to the full potential of being an alive, fully feeling human BEING.
“Label me and you negate me” ~ Søren Kierkegaard
When I first began teaching yoga I was told by a student they were shocked to hear me swear, ‘but you’re so spiritual…how can you swear?’ they said, and it was the first time I realised maybe I had just stepped out of one box (my corporate career) into a brand new ‘spiritual box’ where I was still expected to behave a certain way in order to belong? Triggered massively I launched into a stream of swear words to express my individuality…maybe not the most eloquent, but in the moment it was my authentic response. What I was feeling was
‘Don’t label me and box me into your ideas of what spiritual is, I never asked to be ‘spiritual’, all I asked was to be free to FEEL, and live life from the Heart.’
Really this sweet student just showed me my inner idea of what spiritual ‘should’ look like – so I could make a conscious decision to step out of that box…and into my authentic expression & still today I find myself continuously bringing down the walls of that box. But lately it’s the permission to not be OK I’m journeying with. A few months ago I found myself again feeling really boxed in this time by the belief that the experiencing & expression of so called ‘negative’ emotions such as sadness, anger or confusion means I’m not doing my ‘spiritual job’ well enough, that I’m not OK and even worse than that ….it’s NOT OK to not be OK.
When you think about what the word OK means…it means to say something is acceptable…so when we’re feeling something – and we think it’s not acceptable to feel that something – we’re actually not OK…literally speaking…not OK..because we don’t accept the feeling that is arising and we want it to go away. But what would happen if we accepted the feeling as it arose…would we then be turning our not OK, into an OK?…and maybe just maybe would that feeling feel seen, heard, loved…and no longer need to fight for it’s right to exist…and maybe just maybe could we receive the wisdom of that feeling, rest and enjoy life…and heaven forbid feel good?
Who knows…the mind could entertain itself for lifetimes upon lifetimes with the semantics of the english language and infinite possibilities. What I’m more interested in is looking at this toxic belief that we must always be OK..whatever that might mean?! The consequence of this belief is that many people are struggling with what they’re feeling, or more to the point desperately trying to bury the feelings trying to be felt.
Rather than embracing where we’re at, we’re being told by ourselves or others, that we’re not OK, that we’re depressed and so we’re medicating. We’re medicating either to 1) stop feeling the feelings that are arising…numbing out or 2) to try and stimulate ourselves out of the numbness we previously created to avoid feeling our feelings because when we shut our feelings down we disconnected ourselves…and now we want to feel connected again but don’t know how.
We medicate – to numb or to un-numb – with antidepressants, or alcohol, drugs, sex, social media, relationships, shopping, gambling, food, even sports, yoga, meditation & other spiritual practices can be used as a medication…to disconnect further and further from what’s really moving inside of us. If the opposite of addiction is not sobriety but actually connection as one researcher suggested…how crazy is it that we’re actually doing things to further disconnect ourselves from others and from our Self?
“The opposite of addiction is not sobriety…it’s connection” ~ Johann Hari
So is it possible instead of medicating we just start to get real with ourselves and each other about what we’re really feeling? I’ve been using the word ‘we’ but I’m not hiding behind the collective on this one. I’m choosing to share my personal experience because the only commitment I want to make is to authenticity…and that doesn’t always look like the perfect ‘spiritual’ package I once imagined it might.
Returning home to Perth earlier this year life didn’t play out quite the way I had planned. Life gave me everything I needed and a whole lot more, but not what I wanted and I struggled many times to feel joyful as I journeyed with a sadness and anger I’d never met before, never had the courage to stand face to face with before and I was overwhelmed by it’s intensity.
Having passed my whole life with this belief it’s NOT OK TO NOT BE OK, I buried my sadness and anger and held on tightly to the belief they burdened and hurt other people and therefore did not belong. I put on the strong independent woman mask instead and threw myself into serving others…and when that wasn’t possible I removed myself from being with people, deeming myself ‘not fit for human interaction’. Are you surprised to hear that neither were very successful in making me feel good..or avoiding my pain?!
Now let me be super frank, this wasn’t the first time I’d met sadness & anger. But over the years I’d become quite skilled at only touching the tip of the iceberg when it came to emotions. Have you ever tried to hold a ball or a balloon full of air under water?…eventually it explodes back out to the surface, unwilling to be suppressed any longer. As my ‘balls’ of emotion would eventually explode out to the surface, I’d have no choice but to acknowledge the feelings…but still desperate to make them go away again I’d acknowledge the feelings only enough for the ball to be small enough to shove back under the water. Until the ball was so full it wouldn’t go back down, and that’s where I found myself…no longer able to contain the grief and anger but unconsciously still trying to figure out what I needed to do to make it go away.
So life in it’s infinite wisdom & mysterious ways threw me all the experiences I needed to help me see I couldn’t suppress these emotions anymore. Each time I felt this overwhelming sadness and anger I found myself sitting before someone who reflected back to me their discomfort with my discomfort and the spoken or unspoken message…it’s NOT OK to not be OK. These loved ones were simply loving me the best they could and thankfully they loved me enough to help me play out my bullshit drama….until I could ignore it no more, and started to see this wasn’t about other people telling me it wasn’t OK to not be OK…it was about ME, TELLING MYSELF it’s not OK to not be OK..a message I carried deep inside my psyche.
I was uncomfortable with my own feelings, afraid of them, terrified if I really felt them and allowed myself to not be OK, they would consume me, and ‘I’ would never come back. Maybe I’d stay in bed and never be able to function in the world again?! Or maybe I’d lash out and the black jaguar inside of me would actually leap out and rip someone to shreds…or worse maybe my emotions (which trigger my behaviour) would stop people from liking me, and I would no longer be welcome in my tribe, in my community.
The truth is the idea of who I thought ‘I’ should be was continuously dying, and this version of the mind made ‘I’ was never coming back. By suppressing the emotions I didn’t make them go away…I just ended up drowning in my own pity party unconsciously pushing away those who I wanted to be closest to. With the emotions unable to be ‘energy-in-motion’, having nowhere to go they just repeated themselves again and again and again and again, begging to be witnessed, begging to be loved.
The pity party wasn’t going anywhere until I allowed myself to rest in the sadness and anger, to feel the weight of the feelings I had been buried under – and this was so different from the pity puddle I’d been wading in for weeks. This meant really allowing myself to sit still with what was arising in me. Really truly sit still. And listen to the wisdom within those feelings…all of these emotions were inviting me to enter a conversation with myself – to hear needs that had not been met and allow love to touch my pain, rather than fear.
“When your fear touches someone’s pain, it becomes pity, when your love touches someone’s pain, it becomes compassion.” ~ Stephen Levine
The absurd part is yes I had to get really quiet so I could allow the emotions to be felt, but they didn’t consume me, I didn’t need to wallow in my sorrow for weeks. The reality is, the more I practiced honouring the feelings as they arose, hearing and honouring their wisdom, the more naturally they moved through me. It turns out it wasn’t the actual feelings overwhelming me but my resistance to feeling them.
In Chinese medicine, there is a school of thought that emotions are a cause of disease. Not that having emotions causes disease, but more so when emotions are out of balance, and imbalances arise when we don’t allow the expression of energy (and emotions are energy) in the moment they arise. What begins as a pure feeling of life (energy) wanting to be expressed through you, unexpressed becomes a weighted toxic charge, an accumulation of feelings, energy in motion that has not been expressed freely. This energy becomes trapped within the body giving us physical symptoms of something that needs our loving attention.
The step into this loving attention, and the move away from resistance came for me in discerning the difference between honouring and creating a safe space for my feelings to be felt and expressed AND drowning in my own pity puddle. If I stopped needing to be ‘ good’ all the time, if I allowed whatever was arising in the moment to be present, then there was actually no puddle to drown in… the emotions really could become energy in motion – their wisdom & insights could be revealed, no longer suppressed, no longer being judged, no longer being expected to be anything other than what they were in that moment.
I also needed a little help from family and friends – I needed to ask for help and I needed to really let people into my life, so that they could do what they do best..love me. But to do that I needed to allow myself to be vulnerable, to be real, to be open and express what I had been perceiving as a weakness – my emotions. I resisted this step for a long time because I didn’t want anyone’s pity, which is what I felt I received when I expressed my full range of sadness and anger. What I wanted was their love and support, their compassion, I wanted to know that all the pieces of me were loveable and welcome and that they wouldn’t leave me just because I wasn’t overflowing with magic and joy.
The irony was I couldn’t allow myself to feel that love from my loved ones, until I made space for the emotions in my self – until I was able to give myself permission to not feel ‘good’ for a moment and let that be OK. To allow myself to not be OK…and in that allowing, in the acceptance of life exactly as it was in that moment I was OK…
Sometimes we don’t feel ‘good’, sometimes there are feelings we don’t know what to do with, sometimes they overwhelm us and we can’t participate in life the way we normally would, AND THIS IS OK! Like everything in this manifested world this is temporary and it too shall pass…it’s only our resistance to what is arising that causes suffering.
If we can be present with life it has a message for us. It’s calling us back to ourselves, to be all of ourselves, to embrace all the pieces of our Self…including these feelings of sadness, grief, anger. They’re all an invitation to enter a conversation in the present moment, to let go of our previous ideas of who we thought we should be and start to rest in the truth of who we are alive and present right Now.
Practices like mindfulness, meditation, yoga, exercise, nutrition – all of these things become super important tools to help drop the mind down into the heart, to not get lost in the illusion of the pity puddle and monkey mind that believes every thought and feeling is real, but they were never intended to be used as a means of suppressing our feelings, spiritual bypassing only perpetuates the cycle of disconnection.
I’m sharing this because I know so many people who feel they are struggling with anxiety and depression – and I can tell you that those of us on the ‘spiritual path’ – including me have not been immune. It’s sometimes really tricky to distinguish between depression…and the many dark nights of the soul that we might encounter on the path.
But I like to embrace the idea of depression that Jeff Foster puts forth – as a feeling of life pressing down on me, that I am being de-pressed, by the ideas I had of who I should be or what I should be doing. As I shifted my perception to this I started to see depression as an invitation to come into a space of deep-rest, to rest deeply in whatever is moving in this moment, and a space of deep acceptance of all the pieces of me.
The truth is, as important as tribe and community are, we will walk much of this path alone, so we need to take the time to really get to know ourselves – to know who we are beyond all of these ideas of good and bad. How can we expect to really connect authentically with our tribe if we can not even be authentic with ourselves?
There is no red pill, to magically pull us out of the illusion…there is only Love…and that love equates to deep rest and acceptance. So next time you’re feeling something see if you can allow yourself to really go into that feeling, feel it all the way down into the very core of your being…and then feel it some more. Feel what happens and listen…really listen to the wisdom of the Heart waiting to be shared with you. And if you still have a little voice (your’s or another’s) telling you it’s not OK to feel what you’re feeling…see if you can offer up some love to the part of yourself that tells you it’s not OK to feel that way…or if that still doesn’t feel do-able.. love that part of you that can’t love the part of you that tells you it’s not OK to feel that way…and remember we are all in this together in this divine dance of life.