“thank you for all the ways you’ve been saying ‘thank you’ and ‘please’ and doing great cooperation together, love.”
“you’re welcome, mama.”
“it’s fun to be in a good mood together, right?”
“i love you when you are grumpy and upset and sad, too. i love you, and i love being with you, no matter what mood you are in.”
“me, too, mama. i like all the feelings.”
i glance in the rearview mirror at my three-and-a-half-year-old cutie pie. he’s looking content in his car seat, munching brown rice crackers.
you like all the feelings???
you. like. all. the. feelings ???
i imagine his insides, his feelings.
the firework shower of unabashed excitement when he shows me a new rocket ship tower he built.
tossed overboard by the tempest of abject disappointment when i chose the wrong color bowl to hold his snap peas.
the crashing waves of sadness when we can’t find Lovie! where did we leave Lovie? we can’t go to sleep without Lovie!
i imagine that many of these times are the FIRST time he has felt this particular emotion in his whole life.
loneliness. longing. rage. grief. indignation. injustice. bliss. joy. mischievousness. contentment. shame. pride.
as these storms of kinetic, powerful and new sensations flood his entire body, i imagine that instead of being horrified or mystified, instead of feeling ashamed of some and proud of others, he “likes all the feelings.”
i tear up at the wheel because i am only beginning to really, truly, “like all the feelings.” and i’m proud that he’s getting the hang of it 35 years sooner than me. (give me a high five, mama!)
but it’s not entirely an accident he’s learning this.
i tried over the span of a year to “handle” his two-year-old “tantrums” well. i admit that at that time, to me, “handle” meant make them stop, or not last not so long or so loud, or at the very least not render me a wailing two-year-old as well.
mostly, my “handling” was me trying to talk him out of his tantrums and trying not to care what other people must have thought about me as a new mother.
one afternoon, however, he broke down in abject sorrow in the playroom when a friend took a toy he was playing with. i scooped him into my lap. his little body melted into mine. i grew larger than his sobs and became a mom-shaped cradle and i gently rocked his wildly flailing limbs.
after a few minutes, i told him that i bet he was feeling sad and disappointed and probably angry too. he pointed to his belly when i asked him where in his body he was feeling those things. when i asked him, “when she took your toy without asking, did it hurt your feelings?” he started crying some more and wailed yes.
i told him it made sense he was feeling sad, disappointed, angry and hurt. i told him when i was a little girl, i remember feeling the same way.
i told him what happened: “you got your feelings hurt when she took away the toy you were playing with without asking.”
he nodded and the storm started to downshift.
“you are feeling a lot, love. feelings are strong; they are so much energy, aren’t they?” another nod.
“keep getting out the sads and the angries. let the energy out.”
and then, “let’s breathe together, ok?” we took three deep breaths into our bellies and slowed the exhale from our mouths.
“how are you feeling now? do you want me to dry your tears?” not yet he told me, he wanted to cry some more.
and after a few more minutes he asked me to dry his tears and told me he felt better now.
“do you want to tell her that it hurt your feelings when she took your toy without asking and that you want her to ask you ‘how many minutes?’ next time?”
he nodded and went over and delivered his truth. she said ok, she would next time. and offered him a turn with the toy.
i don’t know how i figured out to do that just right with my little one.
but at each step of the way, i just knew what to do.
i was cognizant of doing with him what i wished someone had done with me when i was two — and what i wished i knew NOW in present time around navigating and learning from emotions.
so then i got to bring it back into my own life, and got to practice this simple (not easy, but simple) technique during the next six months of the darkest, most radically disoriented time of my life, where i had two choices: 1. to “feel it, all of it,” or 2. immolate.
alone in a dark apartment, i put down my car keys realizing i wouldn’t be able to drive if my hands were shaking like this, with this rage.
fetal position on the bed, choking on grief.
convulsing with the sharp hot pangs of blame, unable to get my fingers to unclench so i could dial the phone to get a girlfriend to talk me off the ledge.
a sadness so heavy it sat on my lungs uncaring if i would be able to take my next breath.
trying to crawl out of my own poisonous skin: a fatal case of self-doubt.
day by day, month by month, i got in-the-trenches practice in “feeling it, all of it.”
neither my son nor i have “tantrums” anymore — we have fucking intense emotional storms that overtake our bodies and minds and then have a clear message, a kernel of wisdom or a power-packed truth to deliver.
we know how to surf and not drown. we know how to “feel it, all of it.”
i believe that the root of our suffering, as women, as humans, is our inability to fully feel our feelings without attempting to escape them, numb them, drink them, shop them, caffeinate them, cut them, eat them, or smoke them away.
we assume that if we fully feel our feelings, we could die.
we could be discovered as the fraud we think we really are. we could be cast out of the family/tribe/group. we could turn to ash from the shame. we could be exposed as weak/not enough/too much.
so we think, the more i can get on top of my shit and have it all together — or LOOK LIKE i have it all together — then i’ll stop having all these problematic FEELINGS. or i’ll get really good at hiding that i have all these problematic feelings.
the point of life isn’t to stop having shit happen to you. IF you want a life that feels right and true and well-lived and often quite satisfying, that is.
the ups and downs are not problems, nor are they indications you are doing it wrong.
problems will be. strong, difficult, intense emotions will be. it’s how you be with them that is the key. [tweet it if you wish, brave one]
and it’s not just that you have these weird, unwieldly emotions happen to you and you simply need to tolerate them, like that crazy uncle you sit next to at thanksgiving dinner.
emotions aren’t a mistake. they are the best part of you.
feelings aren’t a design flaw. they connect you with your intuitive superpowers.
and here’s how.
feel it, all of it.
here’s how you welcome these wily comrades and thus connect with your instinctive brilliance.
here’s a distillation of what i did on the floor of the playroom with my son. and by myself in my padded cell, i mean Emotions Dojo.
1. welcome each emotion.
2. let it pierce you to your heart.
4. mine for the gem of wisdom that each emotion carries, designed especially for you.
let me say more about each step.
1. welcome each emotion.
take on the stance of inviting your emotions — as though you were saying, “come in, you are welcome here.”
“strong,” “intense,” or “negative ” emotions are part of life. stuff you don’t want to happen, happens. to everyone. forever. and while this might indicate something is “wrong” or misaligned in your life, having emotions never indicates that something is “wrong” with YOU.
welcoming each emotion is an attitude, a stance. if ordinarily you tense up and feel dread at the onset of an emotion, see if you can instead open your mind and heart and body to it.
when you find yourself reaching to drink, shop, purge, eat, cut, smoke, drug, whatever … pull back your urge and stay put.
invite each emotion to tea.
2. let it pierce you to your heart.
i first heard this phrase from the buddhist nun Pema Chodron.
let the emotion — and all the body sensations that it rides in on — pierce you to the very epicenter of your heart. instead of armoring your heart and collapsing your chest, take down the dam and let the emotion flood through your body and being, absolutely and completely.
breathing is good. crying is good. shaking is great. swearing, pacing, yelling, panting, laying face down on the cold floor …. all good.
get the sads and the angries out. or better said, let them have their way with you and let them be through with you when they are through with you. sads and angries hate to be rushed. they will mess with you big time if you rush them, no kidding.
the more you relax, the more you lean IN to the feeling rather than contracting and running the other way, the more you let each emotion get all the way into your heart, into each nerve fiber, the sooner it will release you.
counter-intuitive but true.
the lifespan of any emotion is anywhere between 20 seconds to 20 minutes, unless we resist it or “re-aquire it” as my mentor likes to say it, which is another way to say looping on it or wallowing in it — and then it can last for a lifetime.
this heart-piercing step is to simply stop yourself from automatically running away from “bad” emotions, however intense it is to let them course through your body and being.
as you are letting the arrows of your feelings burst your breastbone, i find it helpful to ask myself and my body questions like:
“what are you feeling? what sensations? where in your body are you feeling them? tell me more. what is this like for you? what’s important about it? tell me more.”
instead of using your mind and thoughts to talk yourself OUT of whatever you are feeling and INTO a latte or a shopping trip or a serial movie on netflix, use your mind to notice the sensations and locations of the feelings.
what sensations? and where in your body?
use your mind and thoughts to BE THERE along with your bodily feelings. partner up these parts of yourself.
often when you feel a biggie emotion, you are fully or partially “triggered” and have age-regressed; meaning, it’s as though you’ve gone back in time to when you were three or four or younger. you are literally re-feeling your feelings from when you were my son’s age.
this whole step allows you to take yourself into your own arms and go absolutely nowhere.
this whole step will offer you peace with yourself and with life.
this kind of peace has nothing to do with “transcending” or sanitizing anything. in the next moment, there is just as likely to be a joy storm as a shit storm.
this kind of peace has everything to do with the kind of radiant self-acceptance that is emergent when we don’t run from whatever it is that we feel.
a deep inhalation; the calm of the storm pausing or stopping: wait for this.
in neurology, this is called a “parasympathetic reset.” when you are in “sympathetic” mode you are hopped up on adrenaline and coasting on cortisol from some (real or perceived) stress.
when you are in “parasympathetic” you are relaxed and relatively centered.
this step, “wait,” means you need to wait for the moment your system shifts from “fight, flight, freeze or collapse” mode into “rest, digest and peace” mode.
often what you are waiting for is a deep breath. or a sense that something has completed.
with my son, i thought he was ready for me to dry his tears but he had more to get out. so i waited. and the deep breath came.
that part about an emotion lasting for 20 seconds or 20 minutes unless we rush it or re-aquire it? that part is really important here. wait. you’ll feel it beginning to pause or complete.
wait for it.
4. mine for the gem of wisdom that each emotion carries, designed especially for you.
this step might come in the few minute lull directly after the storm, or later in the day or week.
i do this by asking of the feeling, “what are you trying to tell me?”
whereas i used to feel deeply ashamed of about 90% of what i felt, i have developed a reverence for emotions. i think of them as bearing vital messages for me from my Soul Journey Headquarters. i feel that each is a bearer of a truth — a gift — that i am apparently now ready to hear.
in order not to spontaneously combust with the flame and heat of my emotions, i have had to develop the stance for them that each are wise, not flawed.
if there was wisdom here, what would it be?
what is the core message that this emotion is trying to convey?
for example, anger’s core message is: “something you value immensely feels threatened.”
heartbreak’s core message is: “something you had your whole heart in, is gone.”
fear’s core message is: “there is (real or potential) danger here.”
envy’s core message is: “i see something in you i want for myself.”
like this. ask each emotion what its message is for you.
ask each feeling what its wisdom is for you. and then listen.
this step will also help you get clear on “what happened.”
for my son, naming that “when she took your toy without asking, that hurt your feelings,” allowed the storm to subside. he was heard, seen, gotten.
yes, we see: that is what happened. what happened, was witnessed.
and yes, you see: what is so valuable to you you would protect it ruthlessly from threat, what you have loved and lost, where your intuition is smelling potential danger, what you dearly want for yourself.
it begins to dawn on you what, eventually, it is that you might want to express about it.
and then dignity touches down in your belly.
as i am writing this post in a bright upbeat cafe in a small high-mountain town, there is a three year old little girl crying and yelling at the next table over. “i want a pickle! i want another pickle to eat!”
after explaining gently and in many different ways, over the span of about 5 minutes, that she can’t have another pickle, her mom finally gets up and says, “we’re leaving. you can stay if you want, but we are leaving now.”
and then to the hot mess of tears, “you have to calm yourself down, Lily. now!”
a woman at the register slides out of her place in line and comes over to say disapprovingly to Lily, “just stop. for the love of god, please, stop. you’re disturbing us all!”
i feel what i imagine Lily is feeling. and i start to tear up myself.
Lily’s mother, staying relatively calm, tries a few new rounds of reasoning and when those only escalate Lily’s “tantrum,” she picks up her blonde waif and hauls her out the door still sobbing for another pickle.
the older couple at the table next to me reviews the scene like a tennis match. “that child is obviously used to manipulating her mother to get what she wants.” “the mother handled it fairly well, i think.”
and so, this is what we learn:
what we feel doesn’t matter. our feelings disturb everyone. they are a form of manipulation. the ideal is never to have any outbursts. if we don’t want to be left, we’d better calm down — and how exactly do we do that?
i’m not passing judgment on Lily’s mom or her parenting. toddlers are hard. no joke hard. i have carried my own kid out of cafes, also kicking and screaming. i have found myself shocked and humbled, pushed to the edge of my resourcefulness with my own little one, and found myself deeply ashamed of the bottom-of-the-barrel choice i made in some moments.
but what if Lily’s mom could have scooped her up and held her tight, and let her know her feelings were OK? what if Lily’s mom had named her feelings — because who knows? maybe this was the very first moment this little one was feeling indignity?
what if she assured her little one that her emotions were right and good and praised her love of pickles? what if she explained grown ups also often throw fits when we don’t get what we want?
what if she waited with her, without leaving her, for the relative calm that will inevitably come in 20 seconds or 20 minutes? what if she breathed with Lily, and asked if now was the time to dry her tears?
and what if then and only then, laid down the party line about enough pickles and screaming in a crowded cafe?
what might she model as a mother and what might she teach her daughter? what might Lily learn and who might she turn out to be?
maybe a little girl who “likes all the feelings.”
maybe a young woman who knows how to “feel it, all of it,” rather than jumping to stuffing her finger down her throat to stay thin or having sex before she wanted to in order to feel a facsimile of love.
maybe a woman who is in direct conversation with the sacred messages from the divine: her truths, her values, her fierce and tender loves, where the dangers were lying in wait, what she deeply wants for herself, her boundaries.
a woman who knows, “i feel, therefore i am.”
a woman who knows that her feelings are the fiery, intense, wildly human reconfirmation of her divinity.
PS: please share with me below an emotion of yours that you are hard-pressed to see as an indication of your divinity. let’s see if we can find the kernel of white-hot wisdom in it, shall we?