2 min read

To receive any new blog posts I write via email, please subscribe here.

“If the only thing that people learned was not to be afraid of their experience, that alone would change the world."  Sydney Banks 

There is a natural rhythm to our emotional life, and when we respect that, our learning and growth will flow more easily.

There is a time to grieve, cry and rage against what is, to feel hurt and hopeless, lost and desperate. I don’t believe we can skip the pain to jump ahead to the learning. Painful feelings are an integral part of our ongoing spiritual education. We may not always enjoy their lessons, but it’s reassuring to know that they have our best interests at heart in the long term. And there is also a piercing beauty to succumbing to the full force of them, and allowing them to overtake our bodies completely: to weep without end. 

And yet there always is an end. 

As Rudi Kennard says, “we are nature humaning”, and nothing is static in nature. It is always moving: rising and falling, contracting and expanding, flourishing and withering. 

And so it is with our emotional life. Our intellects give us the illusion that we can override the ups and downs of life through cleverness! But it is these cycles that join us with the natural world, and differentiate us from robots and machines. There is wisdom in the waves of experience which our minds can neither comprehend nor explain. Ironically, it is in trying to avoid the troughs that we get stuck in them. Through attempting to straighten out the wave, we flatten it. In our fear, we try to control what we don’t understand. 

During most of the time that I had difficulties with eating and body image, I viewed those problems as a sign that there was something wrong with me. I felt trapped in unpleasant patterns of behaviour. And I tried to think my way out. I couldn’t see that it was painful beliefs I had – thoughts that looked important and true – that were the source of my suffering. By focussing on my ideas about what was going on and trying to figure out what I should do about it, I kept myself in my head. I kept clinging onto my thoughts, so I couldn’t relax. As a result, I stopped myself from feeling my feelings to the full, and missed out on the guidance they were offering. I thereby interrupted the natural wave of experience, and stayed stuck for many years. 

We have learnt from our culture that if we are suffering, it means there is something wrong with us. If we are eating too much or too little, we have a permanent disorder which is a part of our unchanging identity. If we can’t see the truth of our beauty, we will have to manage our dysfunctional thinking forever. This perspective fails to acknowledge the role our intellect plays in our suffering. Through an excessive focus on our thoughts, we deprive ourselves of the healing impact of surrendering to our emotional pain. And because we are flattening the wave of our emotional experience through mental effort, we don’t realise that it’s there, and will return to its natural course as soon as we stop trying to control it with our minds. 

When fear takes hold, it can be really helpful to remember that we are creatures for all seasons – we’ve been designed to weather storms and bask in sunshine. When we are hibernating or wilting, we are not failing. There can be no mountain without a valley. 

When we get in sync with our waves of emotions, and allow ourselves to go down and feel pain, we will find a force coming into play, to bring us back up again. We, like other living creatures on this planet, are bound by the laws of gravity. Scrambling cognitively to avoid our feelings through mental effort only serves to prolong the downward spiral. When we turn our attention away from the stories our minds are playing on repeat, and drop into the feelings arising in our bodies, they will start to move through us. And, sooner or later, we will find ourselves rising up the wave of experience again. 

It is at this point that we can take advantage of the space that opens up within our consciousness. Room for reflection emerges. We start to be able to hear the quiet under the noise. We become curious about the possibility of seeing what we perceived as intolerable circumstances in a different light. We see through misunderstandings. What looked like only two terrible options gets replaced with numerous possibilities. Or the two terrible options start to seem more palatable. The unthinkable becomes… possible. A teacher, from whom we are ready to learn, may appear, in the form of a person, book, poem, song or new hobby. We are blessed with a fresh perspective. Life reorders the landscape of our minds, so the world looks different. This is the miracle of healing in action. 

We have been conditioned to view our lows and misunderstandings as aberrations, as if we exist outside of the laws of physics and aren’t subject to its natural rhythms. This is a limited view of humanity in which we are pitiful creatures, cut off from any natural wisdom, devoid of spirit, and reliant merely on cognitive analysis. Our hearts and bodies are reduced to inconvenient aspects of ourselves which need to be tamed and brought into line. I was totally unaware that I had fallen prey to this fallacy for most of my life. I’m extremely grateful to have found out that I was wrong. 

Painful emotions arise to help us. When you feel them arising, I invite you to let your mind rest. Release all effort. Give up the fight. Unmoor yourself. Enter into uncharted waters. Sink into the unknown. Fall. Feel. You can rest assured that any agony will pass – everything in nature is transient, including your suffering. And when the wave recedes, there will be a deeper peace and a greater freedom than before. Emotional pain is sacred – give it the space it deserves, and it will serve you.

To receive any new blog posts I write via email, please subscribe here.