After and since yesterday’s text, I reflected a lot on the idea of “Feeling our feelings” and its ins and outs. And also about the fact that I keep trying to write shorter texts because I feel like noone wants to read long ones, even if it makes me write just a side of things, when I HATE pretending that things are smpler than they are. This is my attempt to do it more "my way".
I love Emily McDowell’s post on it, that I find so helpful and on point. Feeling everything we feel is NOT as obvious and easy as it sounds and as the placated phrase we all see everywhere makes it look like. For so many reasons.
Our overconnected and crazy fast-paced world for one. We spend so much time being productive, doing instead of being, “keeping busy”… Our Western culture implies a lot that we are what we do, the network we have and what we look like. What that implies for us, is that it makes us tend to be very self-aware and self-conscious, always having to think about wether or not we are “doing life right”. Always asking ourselves the question “Am I doing enough?” too, which is really “Am I enough?”.
Our world is very good at making us feel very anxious.
The biggest fear I had yesterday was for the fellow writer who inspired my post to feel shame, like she did something wrong, that she "failed at feeling". I’m a therapist, and this happens to my patients all the time when I explain them something about the way we can sort our feelings in a way that is the most helpful and beneficial to us and our growth.
Some of them can get defensive. No matter how many years and how much dedication and energy I spent learning how to communicate in a non-shameful way. And boy, we’re talking about a lot of all of it here.
I believed very hard for a long time that if I was educated and trained enough about communication and emotions, I could find a way to always be listened to, understood, and would never hurt anyone ever again. (Spoiler alert : that doesn't exist)
Others are hurt, scared, or pain by the difficult conversations I’ve trained for through this perfectionist (and unhealthy) quest. At least, I can be grateful that this long, painful frustrating quest ended up teaching so many loving things.
For many reasons, I grew up terrified of being hurtful or a burden for people I loved and cared about. So each time people feel hurt or in pain around me, my first reflex will always be to think that I did something wrong.
Here, t would be under the form that my words weren’t well crafted enough to get to her in a non painful way, that they were not good enough.
And below that story, there’s an even more painful (so popular among us too) story : that I’m not a good person because of this. That I am defective in some way for not achieving this (impossible) task. I SHOULD be able to avoid this.
Behind my stories, how fearful I am to pain and hurt others, even if (especially since) I almost never do it intentionally, there’s also the story that unpleasant feelings are “wrong”, a problem. It's very hard sometimes for me to remember that it's from a place of love and from where I am, which there's nothing wrong with, even if it's imperfect.
I crafted those words, put a lot of thought into them, and love.
Rationally, I also know that people can only read what they want and are ready to read.
And that any talk about things that uncomfortable, will be uncomfortable, no matter how I put it.
That my responsibility lies not in how they react to them, but how I craft them.
If I put a lot of thought, time and love into them, it is enough, no matter what my mind has to say about it.
But of course, that’s not enough for my brain to stop coming up with stories. Because our brain is designed to make stories. Think about it : even the way we see ourselves is a lifelong story.
Crafting stories is even one of the things our brain does the best. The kind of stories we create depends on many factors, two big ones being what happened to us and what we learned about ourselves, others and the world through experiencing all of those events.
We don’t have control over the themes and the frequency of the stories. But we have some control over what we learn to do with the stories.
I was listening to my meditation of the day, from a pack designed to help me deepen my meditative practice. It includes a lot of silence, which is the hardest kind of meditation there is.
In silence and stillness, we are facing ourselves in our starkest nakedness. In this total non-stimulation, especially if we try to make it last, it’s very easy to notice how hard it is for us to “just” be. How many stories will come up.
My meditation teacher taught me a “trick” I find really helpful. We often get lost in our feelings or try to “sort out” what we feel. But this morning, he reminded me that any of both is technically a distraction from being present. That my only job in those hard and painful moments is first and foremost to get back to my body, the only place where I am present.
Instead of doing any thinking or get lost in feeling, I am training over and over through my morning meditations (among other techniques) to label them “thinking” or “feeling”, and come back to the easiest thing to connect to : my breath.
Without changing it, we can observe it from the inside.
Feeling there cold air coming through our nostrils, how our chest and belly gets up, then a little while later, our belly deflating and warmer air coming out through our nose or mouth (slowly breathing out of our mouth calms the nervous system down).
And then the thoughts (stories, to do lists or problems) or feelings (pleasant or unpleasant) come back. And again, we have to notice we’ve got away from my body again, and come back through labelling it.
We can count the breaths, ten by ten, to stay focused on being present because it’s too easy to be distracted of such task.
If that sounds ridiculously easy, I dare you to try it, to only focus on ten of your breaths, to see what I mean.
Sometimes, the labelling becomes a distraction itself, it gets confusing over wether it is feeling or thinking, so I learnt to label it “unpresence” and come back gently.
Sometimes, the distraction comes up as anxiety about the meditation itself, how we are doing it right or not. Or how harsh self-talk about how we should be “doing it better”, be less distracted after years of practicing it everyday, again, the old story of not being (good) enough. The ways of getting out of presence are endless.
Today, a sneakiest story pulled me away all day long. For the longest time, I hated buddhism and mindfulness stuff preaching the benefits of being present, in the moment. Frustratingly, I was dismissing it because it was never talking about how to solve or change anything to our situation, which felt so complacent and self-indulgent.
So many “spiritual” people around me were indeed praising how much it was helping them to be and feel their feelings, but were stuck in their patterns, often not even aware of them. Which didn’t help, and was leaving me, with a natural ability and tendency to spot patterns easily, and a constant pursuit bordering obsession of change, very frustrated.
I still remembered a friend who told me once that he was crying everyday, sometimes a few hours. He was quite proud about that, probably because he wasn’t used to let himself feel his feelings. So it was a very important step for him. I celebrated that with him. And then, when I was sure he was feeling understood and listened to, I overcame my fear of telling him something that felt equally important (I didn’t want to hurt him).
“You know, it’s not innocuous to cry everyday. Feelings have meaning, they give us important information. It could be helpful too to dig up what you are feeling sad about. Sadness is often about loss, grief, something meaningful that was and now isn’t or that we hoped for and will never be. Sometimes, it’s also a call for living a life more aligned with our purpose too.”
So today, I was thinking about this, and the practice of presence, how it doesn’t address the roots of things. But also, how we can’t do this in the midst of feeling with disconnecting from ourselves, which is never helpful more than on the moment and inevitably builds up more pain and resentment.
Two practices seem to have a more helpful effect on the long term for most of us.
Presence is for “hot” moments (wether they feel very hot and fiery or very cold like numbness), when we feel a lot.
Thinking about patterns and the sources of what we are feeling is best done coldly, when we journal, reflect more calmly or share our stories with someone we feel safe with.
When we can have a tendency to avoid thinking about something because the thinking seems painful to have. (And often is, only less on long term than avoiding this reflection overall)
A few months later, my friend warmly thanked me and proceeded to tell me that he chose to make more room for things that were very important to him and was feeling much less sad now. We celebrated that too.
I noticed, amazed, how we both went through totally different ways of living our feelings. That he grew up avoiding them and thinking about them a lot, and started to get back to himself through his body and accepting them unconditionally.
When I grew up living more into them, feeling a lot, thinking even more, and had a very hard time coming back to my body, avoiding that instead, and doing it last.
But that we both found way more solace, freedom and relief in the end, by embracing the combo of our two ways. It reminds me of one of my favourite therapy technique : acceptance (of our emotions, without changing or controlling them) and commitment (to our values and what matters to us).
We often naturally favour following one way over another in our exploration of life and being human, depending on what makes us more comfortable and feels the most natural. There’s nothing wrong with that, ever.
We are exactly where we are supposed to be and so are our tools.
But if therapy taught me one thing (as a therapist, or as a patient), is that transcendence and growth are never comfortable, and usually live exactly where we are the most afraid and reluctant to go.
I hope, my dear hummingbird, that you are not too afraid to explore those shadowy parts of yourself regularly. Because I’m here to promise you : your liberation and everything your heart craves the most lives in your paradoxical and most scary and painful inner places, no matter what's scary.