I’ve been reading some of Brene Brown’s work recently in which she talks about the ways we numb our emotions.
We live in a culture saturated with opportunities to stuff down how we are really feeling - entertainment, shopping, internet, alcohol, coffee, sugar, processed foods, sex, drugs, TV, busyness. But there is a heavy price to pay.
When we turn away from our difficult emotions they don’t go away, they just hum underneath the experience of our lives every day, making us feel sluggish, low, tired, anxious, or any other descriptive word that isn’t clear, vital or alive.
The thing is, running from pain is a hell of a lot worse than actually turning to face it. Learning to sit with, allow and feel our difficulties all the way through is a large part of mindfulness practice.
A huge reason why so many of us run away from ourselves is that we have been shamed for feeling certain ways, leaving us believing that we have ‘no right’ to feel how we feel. This is a completely false assumption. We feel how we feel. It is fact whether we like it or not. The only choice we have is in deciding what to do with our emotions.
If we numb, push away, deny and pretend they’re not there, then they are much more likely to seep out at our loved ones without our meaning to. They’re outside of our awareness and out of our control.
We can never work skilfully with ourselves or our lives until we have learned to acknowledge the realities that dwell within.
By learning to feel what we feel, we create a lot more space within us. If we can develop the ability to tolerate discomfort without lashing out or shutting down, we are free to respond more skilfully and wisely in every situation, improving our life experience exponentially.
Where does pain come from?
Pain can be triggered from emotional wounds in childhood. Think of this as like landmines buried in our bodyminds. If an external situation touches just the right sensitive spot, then we can explode with undealt-with emotional trauma, splattering ourselves and anyone who is nearby.
Often we didn’t lay the landmines, it wasn’t our fault. But it is still our responsibility to clear them up.
Finding a landmine is actually an opportunity in disguise. Your life force, or chi has been trapped in that landmine for years – decades even. Learning to turn towards your pain, feeling it all the way through, is an opportunity to process and reintegrate all that energy, leaving you feeling clearer, more whole, more creative, loving and happier.
At it’s heart, pain is the seed of wisdom. As Glennon Doyle Melton has been known to say, pain isn’t a hot potato we need to throw away as quickly as possible, it is a travelling professor, full of the life lessons that are ours to learn.
By turning away, denying or pushing away your pain you are prolonging your learning, pushing away the possibility that you could become a bit more wise, a bit more compassionate, alive, vital, healthy and a bit better at this human gig.
Pain can also be a real indicator that something in your life isn’t working, that you need to make changes. It is an inbuilt regulatory and warning system that we ignore at our peril.
Mindfulness meditation teaches us the skill of opening to ourselves in every moment, whether it is brutal or beautiful. And the thing is, really feeling your emotions isn’t that bad. It’s a bitter-sweet release.
The trick is to let go of the story your mind is telling and sink deep into the body, feeling how the energy of that emotion is landing in you. It might be sharp vibrations through your solar plexus, pangs across your heart, a feeling of ‘stuckness’ in your throat.
Whatever it is, see if you can get curious. Welcome it even. Know that it has something to teach you. Feel it deeply, all the way through. Your body might burn up, you might shudder or shake, burp or yawn. All of this is healthy and natural ways of releasing dirty chi.
Felt all the way through to the end, emotions burn away. And you are left clear, calm, centered. Your understanding of a situation might shift to a new perspective. You no longer feel the need to reach for that numbing agent.
In order to do this, developing some kind of practice is extraordinarily helpful - yoga, tai chi, meditation. The container and the discipline of the practice helps you learn to hold your pain without becoming overwhelmed, lost or stuck in it.
None of us get through life without pain, it is an inbuilt part of the human experience that we can never dodge.
Turning to face yourself is harder, realer, better. It’s a medicine for our times. There are lessons waiting in our bodyminds . We must gather the courage to put down our running shoes and receive the wisdom our lives are waiting to teach us.