Emotions create sensations. When we say we’re enraged, we’re describing the feelings that are flooding through our bodies—maybe our blood pressure is rising (thus we’re “hot-headed”), or the breath is shallow, or the jaw is clenching or the shoulders are up around our ears. When we say we’re depressed, we’re describing the weight of being listless and hopeless, of having no energy to get out of bed, or take a shower or “start the day”; we’re describing that ache that’s settled into everything. When we say we’re in love, we’re talking about the endorphin rush that’s coursing through the system, making us feel giddy and excited and “drunk” on someone else. If we’re feeling jealous, we’re really talking about that burning deep in the belly, that primal instinct that tells us we’re threatened.
The next time you’re having an intense emotion, observe what’s happening in your body. Get quiet if you can, sit up tall, close your eyes, and see if you can just breathe in and breathe out, witnessing your experience. For so many people, when uncomfortable feelings arise, the tendency is to run, or numb, or deny, to “push” the feelings away, or sit on them, but no feeling is forever and when we race from how we feel, we lose an opportunity to know ourselves, to figure out where we are, what we need, and why we’re feeling what we’re feeling. Why are we enraged? Are we feeling disrespected, unseen, unheard, or invisible? Is that an old, familiar feeling, and if so, when did it first arise? When we understand what’s happening within us, it’s a gift we give to ourselves, and all the people in our lives; it’s a relief. Things that felt skewed and uncomfortable suddenly fit, even if we’re left with a feeling of grief, rawness, and deeper understanding of where we still have healing to do. Now we can be accountable for the actions we’re taking, the things we’re saying, and the energy we’re spreading.
Conversely, racing to numb a feeling robs us of all this very valuable information. This is the source of all addiction, this idea that we “can’t take it”, that we have to do something, that the feeling is going to do us in unless we act. When I say addiction, people jump to drugs and alcohol, and of course those are big ones, but plenty of people are addicted to shopping, or the internet, or exercise, to eating or not eating, to throwing themselves into relationships or turning to sex to make the painful feelings go away.
If we want to be at peace, we have to come to an understanding about who we are and what we need. Not knowing yourself is the loneliest feeling there is, and it’s also a sure way to flail around through life. Happiness will be short-lived and accidental, something you just fall into by chance. One of the biggest gifts of a consistent yoga practice is the ability to breathe through intense sensation. Sometimes the quadriceps are on fire, or there’s a “fire in the belly”, and we breathe and observe. Then in life, when painful or pleasurable sensations arise that threaten to throw us off our centers or rob us of our peace, we breathe and observe. I think when we say we want to be happy, we really mean we want to feel that inner steadiness. We want to feel we’re living in alignment with what’s true for us. We want to be able to identify what’s blocking us, or inspiring us, or terrifying us, so we can work with that stuff. When we come up against some pain, some jagged, raw place within us that still needs our kind attention, we want to be responsible with our feelings. We want to show up for ourselves and other people in a way that feels good. We want to believe in our ability to have a positive impact on the world around us. There’s no way to do any of that if we run every time a difficult feeling arises.
Sending you love, and wishing you peace,