Dr. David Forbes

the value of difficult emotions (part 2)

The healing of our most painful experiences often needs to happen in small parts.

Part 1 of this article talked about understanding, and potentially using, our difficult emotions. This discussion is about the consequences of unresolved emotions and the transformative process of inner alchemy that brings us closer to wholeness and health.

We previously mentioned how holding onto feelings for too long can have harmful consequences. Much like spoiled milk creates havoc on our stomachs, expired feelings can also damage us. When we hold onto feelings for too long, we are simply re-circulating stale energy inside us, which eventually becomes a parasite that drains us of life force. It’s as if the original “nutrients” from “fresh” emotions have been extracted, and is now just dead weight holding us down. We will be left tired, confused, and uninspired. Instead, we are called to feel, accept, and eventually release these emotions.

It’s also important not to conflate letting go of stale emotions with suppressing or ignoring emotions. Letting go in a healthy way requires consciously committing to the process, feeling the whole experience with patience and endurance, rather than escaping or numbing or pretending the feelings aren’t there at all.

This takes practice. A tiny bit of growth each day. I once heard that when we create a new habit, we should do it until not doing it feels strange. The accumulation of daily behavior will start to outweigh our forgetful mind. Eventually, we’re left with a healthier routine that feels like second nature.

This practice can be beautifully guided by our bodies. We can use the natural connection between our body and mind by noticing which parts of our body get activated when we tap into a particular feeling. The picture below can be used as a guide. Since each of us is unique, the combination of feelings and emotions we experience may show up in different ways for each of us.

National Academy of the Sciences

the process

Step 1: Where do I feel pain, activation, or stuckness in my body?

Once we identify these parts, they become our access points into our inner world.

Step 2: Ask the access point to come to life by breathing into it slowly and expansively

From this quiet, spacious center, we address this specific part of our body (our access point) and ask it what it needs. Let it speak. Listen closely and curiously. Be fascinated by what comes up.

For example: “I notice that the top of my shoulders and neck are tense when I feel anxious. I breathe into these points in my shoulder and neck and notice tingly sensations. I also notice my thoughts when this happens, and realize that these feelings are attached to an ongoing story of me feeling embarrassed, or unsafe, or feeling not in control. I do not judge this part of myself. I will learn more about it by listening to what this part of me needs.”

Step 3: keep breathing. Take deep, calculated, rhythmic breaths. Feel each breath deepening from the diaphragm into the lowest part of the belly, and finally extending out into the limbs.

Deep, calculated breaths.

Step 4: Detach the thoughts and story from the feeling

As you continue to breathe into your access points, allow the energy to move within and through these openings. Feel your mental grip slowly get looser, and eventually release. Witness the thoughts and stories come and go, like a flickering light. Watch them eventually dissolve.

Step 5: Transform the energy of the heavy feeling or emotion into activated potential for healing.

This step is where inner alchemy happens.

The task is this: learn the unique way you harness the momentum of your overactive mind, emotions, or nervous system. This means that if your brain feels overactive and running at a blistering pace, instead of trying to stop it, you find a way to channel that energy – much like a small switch in direction on a train track. The train doesn’t stop, but its direction gets completely altered, instantly.

Use this newly harnessed energy to dissolve any leftover stuckness inside your body. Notice the old, self-sabotaging story start to dissolve, and use the energy of its transformation to re-create the story attached to the original feeling.

As the story changes, our bodies will respond, and our minds will begin to believe in a new possibility. This new possibility, repeated enough times, becomes our new reality.

Step 6: Practice compassion

We find the part of us that holds our compassion. It may be a small, forgotten part that we haven’t paid attention to in a while. Or it may be the part that’s been tucked away after years of trauma or shattered expectations. Or it may be the part that is easy to access when we think about our pet, a loved one, or our favorite way to relax.

Step 7: Be Patient and Consistent

As we commit to this practice as often as we can remember, we will start to re-discover the authentic corners of who we are. We can then share this experience by offering others the same space we gifted ourselves.

REMEMBER. We will NOT ACHIEVE PERFECT HEALING. We will forget, mess up, and feel like we’re going backwards at times. This is okay. This means we are human, like every person on this planet. Rest, be kind, and continue to do the work when you are ready again.

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