When I worked in Corporate America I used to take pride in the fact that I separated my personal life, and my feelings, from my work. It felt unprofessional to share anything too personal. My work and my personal life were like oil and vinegar, they did not mix. There was a ‘place for everything and everything in its place.'
That all changed when I turned 40. The cosmic time clock paid me a call. It was no longer enough to make great money and bask in my achievements. How I spent my time and energy started to make a huge difference. Many times I closed my office door, crying and wondering, “How did I come to this place of emptiness, loss, and frustration?” My dreams and my reality were so out of alignment. My contribution and legacy became a matter of great import.
One area of my life that came under close scrutiny were some of the beliefs I had adopted from the corporate culture of the law firm where I managed technology. This habit of separation from my feelings, what mattered most, and being true to my values could no longer be denied.
The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart. Helen Keller
I attended retreats and workshops, read hundreds of books, tried an infinite number of alternative therapies – even spending $15k one summer since I was intent on ‘being healed.' I dove into intense personal development mode. Feelings that had been repressed and locked down for so long started to surface. I opened up Pandora's box and had to deal with the floodgate of feelings, emotions, history, and stories that I had avidly avoided for so long.
It was not pretty and there was no instant relief. It took an investment of energy, a willingness to feel and a long-term commitment to an awareness practice for things to change. And they did.
The High Cost of Repressing Your Feelings
It can be frightening, even overwhelming, to feel things that have been buried for so long. You might be afraid of losing control, feeling the pain, or the sense of loss or failure. Your childhood conditioning is sure to kick in too. If you were taught, “Men don't cry” “Showing your feelings is a sign of weakness” or any other disempowering belief, it can be extremely difficult to open to emotions.
It's not unusual to dismiss your feelings when they become too difficult to experience. You might decide to get busy – exercise more, drink or eat a bit more. Or, you can pretend it didn't happen. This response has serious consequences. When you avoid feeling your emotions they just get repressed, suppressed or buried. These feelings stay nestled in your muscles, ligaments, stomach, in short, throughout your body.
Emotions repressed over the long term can cause serious illness including cancer, arthritis, chronic fatigue, and many other major health problems. They affect all your relationships, and they especially affect your ability to grow spiritually and shift your level of consciousness.
It takes a lot of energy to bury emotions and keep them buried. There isn’t much energy left over for other activities when your energy is being used to keep stuffing your emotions back down either.
SENSITIZE yourself. The more you feel, the more you’ll notice and RESPOND to the many opportunities in the present. Thomas Leonard
How to Free Your Feelings
Embracing your feelings and freeing your emotions can be one of the most difficult invitations on the adventure of awakening. In order to open to it gracefully, you'll probably need to dive into your ‘bag of tricks' to navigate the uncharted waters. Here are some tools that you can use to open to your feelings and your flow:
- Try the Cosmic Breath: When your emotions are running high and you are having difficulty reducing the intensity, the first thing to try in your first aid kit is a breathing exercise. If you are in the thick of it, and there are other people around that are exacerbating the situation, leave the room and find a quiet spot where you can be alone for 5 minutes. Stand, feet hip-width apart, soften your knees and let your shoulders drop. Imagine that you have 5 lb sandbags on each shoulder and the space between the top of your shoulder and the bottom of your ear increases. Feel the alignment of your spine supporting your body and imagine a golden hook at the top of your head. Feel yourself dangling easily from it. Bring your attention to your feet and feel them firmly and deeply rooted into the center of the earth. Feel how you are supported above and below as your breath moves through you slowly and deeply. Allow your breath to lengthen. Breathe, relax and expand… Allow yourself to expand into infinity. Breathe in to a count of four and take in nourishment from the center of the earth. Exhale through your head, allowing this nourishment to flower through the top of your head and shower all of life around you. Inhale through the top of your head to the count of four and take in the sacred nourishment from above. Exhale through your feet, allowing this nourishment to enrich the earth. Inhale simultaneously from above and below and exhale through your heart allowing the energy to saturate and nourish everything, everyone, everywhere. Feel yourself as the source and center point of everything, receiving and giving in infinite waves. 5 minutes of this simple practice will have you zinging with aliveness!
- Reframe the Emotion: This is a coaching tool and creates an instant shift in how you feel. Change the context of the story which gave rise to a specific feeling or emotion. For example, you could take your feeling of anger and shift the perspective to passion. Maybe you're so angry about something that occurred because you feel so passionately about it. How can you bring that passion into being? Tapping into the passion, which is the possibility, is a much more empowering perspective than focusing on the anger, which is the problem. Reframing to a positive focus will open up your creative flow and channel the energy into a powerful force.
- Start a writing practice. You can start a writing a journal to begin to articulate and clarify what you feel. There is immense power in naming what you feel and acknowledging your experience. It's an essential step in being able to move on. Make sure that you also include a daily gratitude list in your journal writing, either at the beginning or end of your writing session. It will do wonders for your focus. You can also do creative writing like poetry, prose or haiku. These writing forms are tailor-made for emotional expression as they tap into the deepest aspects of your being. Another personal favorite is a writing circle. You can gather with a group of friends, in person or on the phone, and take turns leading, writing and sharing your writing. It's a powerful experience to read your writing in a trusted circle – to see and be seen, to hear and be heard – and receive the support of a loving and creative community.
- Share your story. In order to move past the ‘story' of what happened, it's very helpful to share it. I learned this exercise at Landmark. Partner up with a friend. Take 10-15 minutes to write in great detail the story of what happened. Make sure you share all the gritty details – the deep hurt, anger, sadness, wounding – share it ALL. Now take turns reading your ‘story' to one another. Make sure to read the story at least three times. You'll find that after the final reading it will start losing its charge and it will sound like a story, and not ‘your story.'
- Get Professional Support: Depending on where you are on the adventure of reclaiming your emotions, you might want to consider seeking the assistance of a counselor, therapist, or a coach. They can help you gain perspective and understanding, which may be difficult to attain on your own.
So much of life is about what you feel rather than what you think. Emotions remain buried until you bring them up, feel them and release them. Emotions are rocket fuel! Free your feelings and you'll have the energy for the really important things in your world, like bringing your vision to Life!