How to want what you have when it’s not what you want

IMG_5787Last year I found out, rather unceremoniously, that I had lost my job. I was a part of a small private practice that was bought by a competitor, a change facing many physician practices today. Unbeknownst to us, we were not going to be offered employee contracts as we had previously been told and instead, we were pushed out of town entirely. As the most recent hire and youngest of my group, I was the first to go despite four years of service. Not only that, I was given three weeks notice.

Three weeks.

The competing group had known for months in advance that they wouldn’t keep me on but they chose not to disclose the information. Of course, I was bitter. It’s not exactly easy to find a position as a pathologist these days. Even after accepting an offer, it takes months to get hospital approvals and state licenses. So there I was without a job for the first time ever in my life and I had no idea when I would be working again. I didn’t know how to process the shock of what had just happened let alone make decisions about the future.

Continue reading “How to want what you have when it’s not what you want”

A meditation to keep your heart open to those who have hurt you

1402529_43662915One of the biggest challenges we face in a relationship with those we love is the occasional misunderstanding or conflict that results in an emotional wound. We are wired to seek connection with others, and it feels so good when we find it. When we feel the rift of disconnection separate us from those we love, even if it is just for a moment, we can find ourselves wanting to close our hearts and retreat into ourselves. Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable means that we allow ourselves to get hurt. It seems like a paradox. On one hand, we work hard to treat ourselves well and expect the same from others; and yet, we know that by consciously allowing ourselves to be hurt by others, we often experience our greatest growth.

There is not a single person alive today who does not know what it is like to have their feelings hurt by someone who he or she loves. We all have various coping mechanisms when this happens, and some of us are better at moving forward than others. How we deal with it depends on the person who hurt us, the degree of hurt we feel, and the nature of the hurt. Often, our suffering comes mostly from our own minds and attachments to what we think another person’s intentions are. Our egos can use moments like this, when we feel vulnerable, to rise up and reinforce certain illusions like “I am not worthy”, “Why does everyone end up doing this to me”, or “I should have known better”. We then project intense feelings of bitterness or disappointment onto the person who has hurt us, often out of proportion to their true intention. It is so important to catch ourselves in these emotional states, because we can lash out or withdraw from the person we love to such an extent that we in turn hurt them.

So the question becomes, how do we keep our hearts open to someone we love, who has hurt our feelings?

For those of you who are regular readers of this blog, the answer will come as no surprise. It is to simply breathe. It’s a hard thing to remember when we are caught up in our emotions, but becoming aware of your breath when encountering hurtful situations will help you get through them. Taking even, deep breaths during these times might even feel like you are actually breathing in the hurt, and this is ok. In fact, allowing yourself to breathe in the hurt, to feel it fully in your whole being, is the first step in letting it go. Breathe your way through the conflict, and then when you can take some time to yourself, consider the following meditative practice.

The Buddhist meditation called ‘tonglen‘ focuses on breathing in your suffering, and breathing out your happiness and blessings to others. This might feel counterintuitive at first, but it is a way of connecting yourself to anyone and everyone who might be feeling just as you are in the moment. And I can assure you, there is no hurt that you have ever felt where you have been alone. Someone, somewhere out in the world, has felt the exact same thing. In the depths of any suffering you might be experiencing, you are not alone. Ultimately, the situations that hurt us the most with others are the ones that make us feel suddenly severed from them, cut off from the warmth of their understanding and love. Whether this occurs in a new friendship, or with a spouse of fifty years, the nature of the hurt is the same. It is rooted in disconnection. While their words or actions might legitimately have caused us pain, it’s the feeling of disconnect that comes from it that creates the emotional wound. Practicing tonglen during these times is difficult, but reminds us we are not alone. We are never truly disconnected from anyone; we only perceive that we are.

Below are the steps you can use to keep your heart open during times of conflict with a loved one:

1. When you feel the familiar sting of emotional pain, acknowledge its presence.
2. Identity where you feel the pain in your body, and then take a deep breath in.
3. Breathe in the pain, deeply, visualizing it entering your heart.
4. Breathe out from your heart your blessings to everyone feeling as you are right now.
5. Allow any emotions to arise, and any physical reaction you might have to them, such as crying.
6. After several breaths, give thanks for yourself and the courage you showed in allowing yourself to be vulnerable.

As you work towards staying vulnerable and open, especially when you want to close yourself off and retreat from the world, be kind to yourself. It’s important not to judge yourself and your reactions, but to merely observe them. By practicing vulnerability in the face of emotional wounds, you are actually opening yourself up to feeling deeper levels of joy and love. This is ultimately the gift in our pain – it is the key that unlocks the hidden rooms deep in our hearts that have been empty and gathering dust, simply because we didn’t know they were there. Keeping yourself open to those who have hurt you will allow you to consciously inhabit your own heart.

The importance of emotional rest

file0001218052971Monday’s post on emotional numbing resonated with many of you. One of the gifts of life is being able to feel both pain and joy. The two stroll hand in hand, like lovers, down whatever paths we take them on. It is only our perception and conditioned beliefs that label one as bad and the other as good. Those two, however, have never known each other this way.

The reason we have labeled feelings like disappointment, grief or sadness as negative is partly because we don’t like how it makes our bodies feel. Emotional pain can be very physical, and since we have decided that certain physical sensations are “bad”, we then label the emotional counterpart in the same way. This is completely understandable, but if we can change our perception of what is “bad” and “good”, we might find a much greater value in accepting all emotions as they are. By throwing those labels out the door, we might stop resisting those feelings we don’t want to feel, which ultimately limits our ability to feel those we do.

I believe it is these darker emotional states that carry the most potential to fuel our personal growth. These are times when often we find our lives in conflict with our dreams, or our actions in conflict with our words, or our choices in conflict with our best interest. No matter what the circumstance is that triggers painful emotions, there is an immense possibility of growth if you are willing to see it. But equally important as allowing yourself permission to feel these emotions, is allowing yourself the time to recover from them.

Imagine you are in the gym, lifting a heavy weight. You know that the burn in your muscle, the burn that makes you want to quit, is necessary to feel if you want to get stronger. While many people quit when they feel the burn, the ones that continue to lift the weight often gain the benefit of those “golden reps”, the ones that carry the most potential for growth. These reps are creating small tears in the muscle tissue, which then initiates inflammation and repair mechanisms that ultimately lead to muscle growth. But the key is that the muscle cannot grow stronger unless the period of work is followed by rest. It is the weight that breaks down the muscle, and the rest that grows it stronger. Without adequate rest before the next workout, you risk temporarily, or even permanently, injuring your body.

In the same way, when you allow yourself to fully feel your painful emotions, it’s as if you are lifting a heavy weight that is breaking down some part of your ego. Likely, you are being forced to let go of something that you had an attachment to so that you can show up in life in a different way. Whatever it is, know that you are doing very important emotional work that is necessary for improved emotional health. When you start to feel the emotional “burn”, you are in the golden zone. See the process through, and then follow it up with emotional rest.

Emotional rest is a period of time after having acknowledged strong, painful emotions where the true growth actually occurs. I believe it occurs naturally after intense emotions, and is characterized by an emotional landscape that is calm and even. It’s when we absorb the experience we just went through, and it becomes integrated in our system. Micro transformations occur during these times, a subtle evolution in our life experience. If we are engaged in numbing behavior, we can never fully take advantage of emotional rest. And if we manage to avoid numbing, but never allow ourselves the time to recover from the painful emotion, we might miss out on the full potential for growth that is available to us.

One way to ensure you are resting emotionally is to rest physically. Get more sleep, take time out for yourself, and do something that centers you. Take a walk in the woods, meditate, or listen to soothing music. Try to avoid any intense emotional encounters if you can, and avoid negative people at all costs. Simply be, and allow life to gently sink into your soul, into your bones, and into your heart. You’ll know when you have had enough rest and can move forward.

My hope is that by allowing yourself these rest periods, you will adequately recover from any painful experience you might have so that your perspective on them can slowly change. It’s not always easy to love those things that help us grow the most. But it is easy to love the rest we can find afterward.

Numbing the pain is the antidote to joy

file1701347712205I want you to think about your vices. What do you turn to during times of discomfort, that have become habits in your life? These are things that generally provide temporary pleasure at the cost of your long term goals. It might be eating “comfort” food, shopping for something you don’t need, self-medicating with drugs and alcohol, or spending hours in front of the TV. Your rational mind tells you these things aren’t a good idea, but some other, stronger, force takes over and you engage in these behaviors anyway. Usually, after you are done, you don’t feel too good about yourself. And what’s worse, the emotional discomfort you tried to run away from not only sticks around, but it often gets a lot worse.

“Numbing the pain for a while will make it worse when you finally feel it”
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Why do we repeat this pattern over and over again? The answer is that we are engaging in emotional numbing. Emotional numbing is a concept that Dr. Brene Brown discusses in her book, The Gifts of Imperfection. She describes this action as something we all resort to as an attempt to escape emotional pain. Think about your vices again. Can you identify triggering events that lead to the behavior? Maybe it was a stressful day at work that you coped with by going on an online shopping spree. Or it was being cut off in traffic and nearly getting in an accident that preceded going home and ordering a pizza, that you ate by yourself. Our numbing behaviors are mechanisms we have developed in order to cope with difficult emotions. This, in and of itself, isn’t the problem – it’s the behavior we choose that becomes the problem, often leading to long term unfavorable outcomes with no resolution to the original pain. Not only that, the process of emotional numbing limits our experience of joy in our lives.

This last point is especially critical to understand. Dr. Brene Brown’s research has shown that we cannot selectively numb our emotions. If we numb the bad, we numb the good. By trying to escape our feelings of being overwhelmed, scared, hurt or fearful, we also end up escaping joy, love, fulfillment and passion. We become numb to life. Emotional numbing is a vicious cycle we get caught up in. It’s a positive feedback loop for the destructive numbing behaviors. We feel bad so we numb with a behavior; we can’t feel as good as we want when something good happens, so we supplement the experience with the behavior as well. Pretty soon, our lives are the ebb and flow of our numbing addiction.

Emotional numbing is not something over which to be critical of yourself. We all do it. It’s the mind’s way of coping with extreme discomfort. The thing is, usually what is triggering the numbing behavior is an area of your life that needs your attention, ultimately for your greater good. Emotional pain, like physical pain, is meant to be an awareness mechanism for deep healing, and if you are open to it, spiritual growth. If you sustain a physical wound, you know that you need to take measures to make sure that wound heals and doesn’t become infected. Small wounds can heal on their own. Larger wounds need your help, otherwise you risk much more damage to your tissues. Similarly, emotional wounds need to be addressed and cared for, otherwise they will fester. Ignore a bad gash on your leg, and you might need an amputation. Ignore a bad gash on your heart, and you might amputate your ability to feel love and joy. We must understand that pain of all types has a higher purpose.

“Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. 
It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” 

C.S. Lewis

The first step in stopping the numbing cycle is to be aware that it is happening. When you find yourself engaging in your numbing behaviors, stop and consider what event triggered your feelings of discomfort. That emotional pain is demanding your attention for a reason. Use your tools of self-compassion to heal the emotional wound. Figure out what behaviors you can engage in that would actually make you feel better about yourself, not worse. Acknowledge your feelings, and even though your instinct is to escape, be with those feelings intimately. Breathe. Accept what the moment is giving you with courage, knowing that what you are feeling are growing pains. It is by feeling these difficult emotions that joy can become a greater presence in your life.

Emotional intensity as a gauge for staying still

file0001755540776Most of our lives are so hectic that it is a struggle to devote time to staying still. It can feel like we are actually wasting time, when there are so many things that need our attention. We might agree in theory that stillness would actually help us accomplish the tasks on our to-do list by making us focused and efficient, but in reality it rarely feels this way. When you only have 30 minutes to run to the grocery store, pick up the dry cleaning and get to the post office before it closes, being still isn’t even an option. Days can blend together without our realizing that we never managed to find stillness once.

Being still is being mindful. It is quieting the body so that we can take a breather from our surroundings and connect inwardly. It’s not about thinking anything, or doing the work of stillness. It is simply being fully present, who you are, in the moment. Even one conscious breath taken in this way can be transformative. Scheduling time to be still is one great way to make this practice a lasting habit, but it can be hard to stick to the schedule when life gets really busy (although that’s likely when you need the practice the most). One way to incorporate stillness regularly without a defined schedule is to link it to your emotions.

For me, one benefit of practicing mindfulness on a regular basis is that I have become much more in tune with my emotions. I have always considered myself a sensitive person, but my mindfulness practice has dramatically increased my awareness of my sensitivity. This means that my experience of being moved by a song, for example, is several fold what it used to be. We all feel our feelings on a spectrum of intensity. By getting to know your own spectrum of emotional intensity, you can get a better sense about what triggers your feelings, and in turn, where you find the most meaning in life. The way you can enjoy that meaning even more would be to practice stillness when something triggers strong emotion.

Think of a scale, where 1 is being dead and 10 is the height of emotion (extreme grief, or extreme ecstasy). Most emotional states that fall on the low end of the spectrum are likely not within our conscious awareness when we experience them. On the other hand, emotional states at the high end of the spectrum can completely consume us until we are aware of nothing else. Figure out where your 5 is, and what that feels like for varying emotions. What is your middle of the road emotional intensity? This would be a sense of feeling at which point you are clearly aware that you are experiencing emotion, but it’s not so overpowering that it forces an interruption of the moment.

When you go throughout your day, try to pay attention to your emotional states. When you find that you feel something at a 5 or higher, pause for a few seconds and be still. Take a deep breath and just be with that emotion. Experience it. Stop any extraneous movements, close your eyes if you prefer, and tune in. What this does is connect your conscious awareness to your emotional state at a threshold level of intensity. At this level, your day is likely affected by these level 5 feelings, but you might not be aware of it or appreciate in what way this happens. So if you are feeling a positive feeling, it will feel richer and can be a source of gratitude. If you are feeling a negative feeling, you can acknowledge it and release it right then.

This doesn’t take more than a few seconds, but using your emotional intensity as a gauge for finding stillness can be as beneficial as an hour of meditation trying to quiet your mind.

I love feedback! If you have tried this technique, please comment below and let me know how it worked for you.

The physical pain of judgement

file0001394095753Judging others is woven into our society. We judge others’ religious views, appearance, parenting styles and speaking manner. We make immediate assumptions and value judgments on other people’s feelings, past experiences, or hopes for their lives. And while a certain degree of assessment is normal,  in the way we assess anything in our physical world, this act of judging is not. At its core, it reflects a deep disconnect within ourselves. It reveals a fractured self, two separate people who live in our heads, one that judges, and the other that is judged.

If you have ever been the subject of another’s judgement, you might be able to relate to the feeling of how intensely uncomfortable it is. When it has happened to me, I have wanted to shrivel up and hide away. I feel a sense of shame, for no reason at all other than someone thinks that I should. And while this is an intensely negative emotional state, it is also an overwhelming physical sensation. After all, our emotions are not just registered in our heads and hearts, they are registered in our entire bodies. In every cell. Every single beautiful cell of mine, innocently minding its own business and carrying out its duties, is judged when you judge me.

Those who are closest to us can hurt us the most with their judgements. In fact, in many families and cultures, this is a way of life. There is a spectrum of our propensity to judge others, and a spectrum of our sensitivity to being on the receiving end. Falling on the more sensitive side of things means we are acutely aware of the physical pain that judgement brings. Being judged, dismissed, or categorized is not a benign action.

If you wouldn’t walk around and punch most people you see in the face, then why judge them? Why ridicule someone for their body, race or religion? Why criticize someone for their life choices, just because they aren’t what you would choose for yourself?

The truth is, despite the physical pain that can be caused by being judged, there is a deep emotional pain at the core of the person who is doing the judging. There is a clinging to the need to be separate, which often breeds loneliness and isolation. Every judgement placed on another is like adding a brick to a growing wall whose only function is to disconnect us from each other. The reason people seek this separation is that they don’t feel secure any other way. Judgement is ultimately a preservation of self-identity.

By learning to be present and comfortable within ourselves, we can be present and comfortable with other people. We can throw out all the labels we apply to others, and instead simply see them. This does not mean we stop assessing others in circumstances that call for it (for instance, avoiding a scary person in a dark alleyway, or deciding who to do business with); what it means is that we stop making judgements about each other’s inherent worthiness as human beings. By stopping this, we stop the physical assault that judgment can be for some people. And most importantly, we can stop the assault on ourselves.

Emotional release to prevent physical disease

file0001008296057When babies cry, they put everything they’ve got into it. They wail and moan, the shed huge alligator tears and it doesn’t matter what the situational context might be. They don’t care who hears them. They don’t care what they sound like or what their crying face looks like. When things aren’t right, they cry and hold nothing back.

The same thing is true when they laugh. We all know those contagious deep belly laughs babies are capable of. Babies never lower their heads when they laugh, or move to cover their mouths. They laugh with gusto, often squealing with delight.

What is it that occurs during the normal course of growing up, that so many of us start to hold back? As adults, it’s often rare to see each other sob with grief, unless it’s with a few close friends after a catastrophic event. I’m sure most of us have experienced embarrassment, not to mention tightening of our throats, when our efforts to stifle tears failed. We are more likely to laugh with each other than to cry, but again, where is the completely unabashed squeal of delight and deep guttural laughter? There are those of us who restrain ourselves in public places for fear of offending the ears of our one-eyebrow-raised disapproving neighbor. So many of us are self-conscious about expressing these very human emotions. This is unfortunate, because weeping and laughing offer important emotional releases that as adults, we must continue to experience if we want to experience optimal physical health.

Our emotions are an important link between our psychological selves and our physical selves. The paradigm for understanding physical illness is changing, and we now know that our emotional health (of which a big part is emotional expression) is closely linked to the physical illnesses we may tend towards. Gone are the days when you were doomed to get a disease because it was “in your genes”. Now, more than our genetic susceptibility to disease, understanding our emotional susceptibility to disease may provide the most life-changing information.

What does emotional susceptibility to disease mean? This means that when unhealthy emotional patterns are continually reinforced as we age, we began to effect physical alterations in the actual tissues of our bodies. These changes accumulate if we do not address the emotional cause, until a critical threshold is reached and a “disease” can develop. Emotions are well known to create physical change in the body, such as a the rise in heartbeat before speaking before a group of people, or the relaxation of our muscles when we are held by a loved one. There is no question that each one of us has felt the physical manifestations of our emotions; indeed, it is often how we identify the emotion being felt. What has been less well understood, is how chronic emotional patterns affect tissues over time, especially when those patterns become dysfunctional.

It is not a far stretch to suggest that different emotions can be felt in different parts of the body. We can feel anxiety in the gut, love or heartache in the chest, and rage in our head and neck. The more we feel certain emotions, the more our nervous system efficiently communicates to our cells how to behave. This process is all normal and part of the intimate interaction between our tissues and our feelings. The problem arises when we reinforce dysfunctional pathways between our emotions and our cells. For instance, if someone has been mistreated by another in the past, and felt anger at that mistreatment, the body will have actively changed to accommodate the anger. There will have been a tensing of muscles, a spike in heart rate, maybe even dilation of the pupils. If this emotion is not dealt with when it occurs, then each time this memory even flirts with the conscious mind, the body will react in the same way. And the more the body becomes used to reacting to certain emotions, the more “muscle memory” is developed, making it easier to react in similar ways in the future. It therefore becomes absolutely necessary to the health of the physical body (as well as the mental, spiritual and emotional body) to process the anger, learn whatever lesson there may be to learn in the broader context of life, and then move on. This will prevent a dysfunctional pattern from settling in.

Strong negative emotions are likely the ones that may be the hardest to release, but the most necessary to do so. Becoming comfortable with emotional expression requires a state of mind free from judgement, so that a full release is possible in whatever way feels natural. Releasing negative emotions is not the same as ignoring their existence; rather, it is a full respect and acknowledgement of them, allowing the emotion to take its course. These emotions need to be felt when they arise. Negative emotions themselves are not dysfunctional; it is the reinforcing of them at later times that creates the dysfunctional pattern. If they can be fully felt, processed and then released, there is less of a chance that the intensity of that emotion will continue to play out in the tissues.

As for positive emotions, in general, their effects are favorable on tissues so the idea here would be to feel them as much as possible. This doesn’t necessarily imply that their frequency should increase, although many of us would benefit from more positive emotional experiences. But we must be in a state of mindfulness to extract the richness from the moment to get the full benefit. In an era where multi-tasking and information overload has lead to an ADD culture, this can be difficult. If we can stay present and open our hearts fully to the experience, we can know a far greater degree of satisfaction than we have known up till now. Imagine that everything that gives you joy right now could be magnified ten-fold, just by paying closer attention. It is certainly worth it to put down our camera phones when we encounter something exciting we want to remember, and to fully immerse ourselves in that experience, as this is the only way we can absorb it fully.

Even though I use the words “negative” and “positive” to describe emotions, truly no emotion itself is negative or positive. It merely is. It is a movement of energy through us, enriching our lives and allowing our soul to communicate to us in a conscious manner. So the next time you feel the urge to cry, go ahead and open your throat, open your heart, and cry. Give it everything you have, and wail like you have never wailed before. And when you want to laugh at something silly, laugh your hardest, all the way down into your toes. Grab your belly, slap your knee, and laugh until cry. Allowing yourself to feel and express your emotions physically gives others permission to do so as well. And we could all benefit from a little more emotional freedom.

Your dark side is where your beauty lives

I have written before about how powerful it can be to feel our so-called “negative” feelings. You know what I mean…there is a part of you that has probably felt rage, grief, loss or crippling self-doubt, also known as your dark side. These feelings are a part of the human experience – to be human means that we feel this way, some of the time. When we are struggling in life, trying to gain a foothold where it feels there is none, these feelings become more intense. The more intense they become, the harder they are to ignore, and the harder they are to ignore, the harder we try to ignore them by distracting ourselves with other things. Or we might break down, becoming overwhelmed by guilt that we aren’t living the happy, positive life others may think we are. We might feel ashamed, that we act out in ways we know will only lead to more pain. Whatever it is that you feel during your dark times, know that it is this place that holds the rawest expression of your inner beauty.

What is beauty, after all? Is it shiny, perfect and flawless? If that were the case, then there would be far less of it in the world today, and certainly the natural world would not hold up to this standard. My definition of beauty is a transcendental quality of raw expression, that has the potential to connect us to something greater than ourselves. Isn’t this what we all feel, when we are captivated by a compelling piece of art, or gaze upon the graceful form of a sculpted woman? Aren’t we as equally moved by those things that stir deeper, more complex feelings, that reflect an artist’s turmoil and pain? Any stimulus that so powerfully unleashes our emotional energy, whether negative or positive, allows us to access our own inner world that we are often so unaware of. Likely, the more out of balance your dark side is, the more you actively try to ignore it. It wants to be acknowledged, to be seen, to be loved for the role it plays in connecting you in emotion and experience to every other human being. It speaks to you of the beauty of life, which is like a double sided coin. With life there is always death. With pleasure, there is often pain. The day is always followed by night. By accepting your own dark side, and recognizing that it is that which makes you beautiful, you surrender to the experience of being alive.

The next time you find yourself plummeting down a hole of despair, or paralyzed with fear or indecision, open yourself to fully embracing this place and seeing it as you would a work of art that deeply moves you. Not only is accepting your dark side a grounding practice, but it will exponentially increase the beauty you appreciate in everything, and everyone, around you.

Is it natural to be negative?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHaving a negative mindset is something those of us committed to our well-being struggle to change. We have come to understand that “being negative” is not healthy, and yet we find ourselves in situations in which negative thoughts and feelings arise quite frequently. Some of us even take our negative feelings to be the source of disease and illness in our lives, and feel even more pressure to be positive. We try to muscle that negativity into something positive, to perpetually identify the silver lining, to the point that we sometimes feel like we are at war with ourselves.

It’s not natural to feel positive all the time. Negative thoughts and feelings are just as much a part of our experience as positive ones. And in fact, our conscious minds are primed to be slightly negative. Evolutionarily, being primed toward the negative meant that we could quickly identify dangers that threatened our survival. Thinking through all the bad things that can happen in a circumstance allows us to be prepared and potentially avoid them. The problem is, while this is a mechanism that was selected for because it enhanced survival, this mechanism was never meant to be activated as often as it is in modern times. Our perspective regarding threats has changed drastically, from infrequent, intermittent threats to near constant threats (as has our situational context for dealing with those threats, as I will discuss in a later post). Our perspective determines how negatively we assess a situation. Our predisposition determines our perspective. And ultimately, while a negative predisposition does lead to a heightened level of awareness that is more likely to identify a threat to our survival, it does have the potential to lead us down the path of disease, and to leave us unfulfilled.

The issue is not to force negative thoughts and feelings into being positive. Those of us who have tried this know how hard that actually can be. Telling yourself you should see the bright side of a dark situation is like expecting the sun to rise in the middle of the night. The negative thoughts and feelings need to be included in our overall experience, and embraced for what they are. They exist as a signal to us to pay attention, not to change them. It is our nonjudgmental awareness, not our forced positivity, that illuminates those negative states and allows them to become incorporated into our overall experience. And that truly is the only way to process those thoughts and feelings so that we can continue to make progress in our lives. Being stuck in a negative thought cycle is no different than being stuck in a false positive tornado. They both can be turbulent experiences that inhibit our growth.

The next time you feel or think something “negative”, become aware of your reaction. Are you embracing it, as a part of your life experience? Are you listening for any intuitive messages that are hidden underneath? Or do you get carried away toward being miserable, only to attempt to swim upstream back towards being happy? Both actions are exhausting. Let your awareness, which is neither negative or positive, be your safe haven. It will illuminate your darkest moments, and intensify your greatest joys.

You are your feelings, or are you?

Our feelings seem to be the stuff of life. They mark our biggest milestones, whether it’s getting our first promotion, giving birth, or experiencing the death of a loved one. Our feelings clue us into our lives and what action we want to take next. Without them, we would likely exist like a buoy in an ocean, bobbing up and down endlessly. Instead, our feelings infuse us with the energy of the waves, sometimes crashing violently onto the shore and at other times breaking like a gentle caress. Again and again, we feel the ups and downs in response to whatever Life is bringing to us in that moment. We feel emotion in response to what we are bringing to ourselves. Our feelings are how we know we are alive.

Sometimes we experience extremes of emotion that seem to take us over. Maybe it’s that feeling of frustration at the child who won’t stop crying, embarrassing us in a public place and drawing disapproving glances from those around. Or extreme bliss when we fall in love, which suddenly infuses us with the energy and creativity to accomplish long overdue projects. These extremes of emotion can often feel like in that one moment, the particular feeling is who we are. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. You are not the emotion itself. Who you are, is the experiencer of the emotion, the intelligence behind it. Just as the ocean is not each wave crashing against the shore, you are not the emotion passing through you at any one point in time.

It is important to understand this difference because the implications can change your life. Once you understand that your feelings are merely a part of your energy moving through you, you can recognize that they are drawing your awareness inward for some purpose. The frustration at the child might be a sign that you have been neglecting your own needs. The utter bliss of falling in love can be an expression of deep gratitude for Life and a sense of connection with all beings. You can use your emotions as a roadmap to your intuitive self. When you feel a strong emotion, focus your awareness on it and the location it occupies within your physical body. This alone can be a transformative practice for many, but once you locate the emotion, become open to the message it is trying to communicate to you. Likely, it is acting as an invitation for your awareness to address unmet needs, or to connect more fully to the flow of life. And while your role as the experiencer is not to appease the individual emotions that may arise, it is to derive information so you can make conscious decisions about your life.

You will begin to notice that your emotions filter through you like little pieces of information. Truly, they are sensory signals from your body to foster awareness where there had been none. For this reason, our emotions are the greatest gift our soul has to offer us. It is a direct translation of an immaterial, metaphysical aspect of our existence into one that is concrete enough to allow our consciousness to rest on it for continued forward progress in our self-development.

You are not what you feel. But what you feel is the roadmap to being who you are. Each emotion that you experience, whether you label it negative or positive, is part of your soul’s vocabulary that you must learn how to read in order to fully express your true, immaterial essence into your real, expressive self.