The conventional wisdom says, “Be positive!” “Be stronger than your emotions!” “Overcome!” “Trust God.”
Fuck all that. I say dance with your demons.
If you’ve been through any sort of trauma in your life (in other words, if you’re alive right now), I doubt you found these worn out aphorisms helpful either. In fact, if we want to move through our emotional struggles and traumas, the opposite of these axioms would be a better place to start.
We already know from psychology and neuroscience that the brain looks for evidence of what it already believes and filters out what doesn’t support those existing beliefs. We crave certainty as human animals and have neural wiring that is predisposed to ask only the questions leading to answers that won’t shake our sense of certainty too much.
That’s partly why it can be so damn hard to move through trauma.
It’s also partly because the emotional intensity can be so high. And it takes time. Like a plant that’s been damaged, in order to recover, we need the right environmental inputs, too. If we extend the analogy, then sunshine, good soil and water for the plant become loving relationships, professional support, and time to heal (among other things).
Often when we are young children, we have experiences that overwhelm the nervous system and go “unprocessed.” Those experiences don’t go away (as we would often desperately want), they go into what Carl Jung, the pioneering psychologist called “the shadow.” Those experiences are still there, but they become hidden in our non-conscious and stored in our body.
And they can have profound influences on us.
I’m speaking here from personal experience as well as from what I’ve learned from myriad psychologists, healers and teachers.
So we acquire these blind spots. We have a lack of awareness around what exactly might be steering the ships of our lives. Our perception becomes distorted.
Unfortunately, the existing language for working with these issues is often cloudy, overly-spiritualized and sickeningly trendy. The words and explanations are sometimes so confusing that listening to someone talk about these things can make me want to throw up.
Open your heart. Be present. Don’t live in your head. Let go (and let God). Ugh, I want to puke right now.
One of my biggest struggles in life has been trying to decipher between what people are saying and what they mean. Often the two are much different. Granted, sometimes this happens because adequate words don’t exist or haven’t yet been formulated. However, I’ve heard people describe these issues I’m mentioning here in language that is simple and easy to understand. Cryptic language is unnecessary and unhelpful. Sometimes I even wonder people want to feel like they belong to a super-secret extra-spiritual society, so they use jargon and gobbledygook language to let others know that they’re “in.”
Sure, those cliches sound great on the surface, but there’s no denying that you’ve got to already know what they’re talking about in order to decipher the code.
In this post I intend to use language that is clear, specific and helpful so that you might gain clear intellectual understanding of how to more skillfully deal with your emotions. Actually processing and working through your emotions is a different from having an intellectual understanding of them, and it’s also usually the harder part. But we’ll get to that.
Let’s take the first cliche phrase above: “Open your heart.” Again, if you’re already in the “inner spiritual circle” then you’ll understand what someone means when they say this. But if you haven’t felt this before, it can be annoyingly difficult to imagine what someone might mean. Obviously it’s not a literal imperative. No one is slitting their heart open with a kitchen knife in response to this.
What they are really talking about is awareness. That part of you that can be aware of your fingers, the back of your knees, your bellybutton or the location of your parked vehicle for that matter. It’s that part of you that can be aware of anything or anyone or any part of anything or anyone. Your awareness is that part of you that observes you reading this blog post right now. You can place your awareness in the corner of the room or at the base of your spine.
Now, bring your awareness into your heart and let it rest there and observe what you feel or don’t feel. That’s it! That’s really all that’s required. The “opening” will happen more or less by itself. It’s not something you can force, or “do” exactly. In fact, there might be “blockages” around your heart. We’ll talk more about what that means.
When we place our awareness approximately where our heart is located in our body and observe what we feel, we have begun the process often cryptically referred to as “opening your heart.”
What’s important to understand about all this, if we’re going to be successful humans and live a fuller and richer life, is that unprocessed emotional experiences get stored in our mind-body. They can and do hang out around key areas in our body.
When I first starting processing some of my deep grief a couple years ago, I had a lot of tension right around my heart area. It had been there for ages, and the entire time I wasn’t even consciously aware it was there!
With help from a Network Spinal Analysis practitioner in Charlotte, NC (Dr Matt Lyon if you want to look them up), I was able to become aware of the locked and frozen energy around my heart. I connected with it and cried it out. As I finally allowed myself to feel what had gone unfelt for so long, it hurt, and then in what felt like magic to me, it was gone.
By feeling the trapped energy, I was able to let it go. And I’ve had to repeat this process many, many times.
However, this may be much more elusive than it appears to be.
I’ve been doing this kind of work now for years, and I’m still uncovering traumas and unprocessed energies. In fact, I’m working on my most difficult one so far which is terror. I’m using a combination of different psychological, spiritual and mind-body approaches to process this now, because it truly takes a team and everything I have to deal with it. One of my favorite techniques I’ve been using is called Brainspotting, pioneered by psychotherapist Dr David Grand, where you become physically aware of encapsulated trauma in the brain, in order to connect with it and release it. Look it up. It’s great.
I tell this story not to air my dirty laundry, but to let you know that I am with you. I know a bit about how hard life can be, and I firmly believe there is always hope.
So the answer is: You’ve got to feel it.
And it hurts. And it’s difficult. And it takes time. And sometimes, only a little bit will be let go of at a time, and that’s ok.
And no, you probably can’t do it on your own. Or at least you’ll do a lot better asking for help. Asking for help is what it means to be a person and a member of society. You help people, people help you.
But the hardest part about all this is that first you’ve got to realize that you even have traumas! Most of us don’t know. And most of us don’t want to know. It’s easier to be comfortable with the familiar. The familiar pain feels safer than the unfamiliar pain.
And the fucking hardest part about it is that even if you’re desperately hungry for the truth, you still might not discover your trauma for a long time.
I know this because I’ve been there. I’ve been begging God and the universe for the truth for 9 years. I vividly remember at the age of 18 kneeling down on the steps of a church alter in the middle of a service crying my eyes out begging God for the truth. I’ve had many experiences like that. And I’m finally starting to learn it.
So what is the truth?
Love is the truth.
And as hard as it is, love–awareness of the truth–is the only answer to our deepest, most terrifying questions. The ones that are so big that we might not even know we’ve been asking them our whole lives.
So here I am as an example and as a light to help show the way.
I’m with you and I’m for you, more than you know.
We’ve got to feel these things. Anger, Sadness, Fear, Terror, Hate, Bitterness…. the list goes on and on. Fear will generally guide the way. Fear is the doorway to love.
Will you go through?
Because THROUGH is the only way OUT. There is no escape.
It doesn’t mean our emotions are always telling the truth, by the way. And realizing that has been a crucial piece of the puzzle for me. It just means that we must listen to them. We must feel them. Because they’re all GOOD. They’re all positive. They’re all coming from our bodies as messengers pointing the way to a better place.
Or don’t feel them.
But the problem with not feeling even ONE of them, is that it bottlenecks ALL the emotions, and the beauty of life becomes dim, the way we hold our bodies subtly shifts and devolves, our vision blurs, and our hope fades.
Love is always calling us home.
Home is truth.
And the truth will set you free.