What do you do when emotions run high?

open arms waterfallThis week I had something very emotionally challenging happen to me. I received some news that made my body react in horror, made my stomach feel punched, made my heart feel very, very heavy.  With the words of this news, it was like my old wounds reopened. I felt the scars come apart at the seams and the air sting the festering infection within. At the same time I found myself wanting to yell, scream, cry and hide my head in the sand. I wanted to distract. I wanted to disappear. Part of my past that I had so carefully and cleanly put behind me (notice I didn’t say “processed”) came roaring its way back to the forefront in a way that I could not avoid.

What’s worse, in order to keep a very important person in my life, someone I count on as my shoulder to cry on, my first tribal member, a soulmate, it required that I simply deal with the feelings. It required that I calm down my ego and act from my heart. It required that I move on from the years of hurt, from the wounds and confusion that came from never really laying that section of my life to bed. I realized in that moment that I hadn’t healed; rather, I had swept. I had swept up the pieces of me that were hurt, lifted up the rug and pushed them under, then walked away from that lonely, haunted house, wiping my hands of the mess. And all the sudden, as if in a time warp, I was right back there again, standing on that damned porch and looking at the lumps of crud under the rug.

I closed my eyes and groaned. The inner five-year-old in me whined, “But I don’t wanna deal with my feelings! I don’t wanna feel this way!” I stomped my feet and yelled some obscenities, growled at what seemed like the unfairness of it all, cursed the universe and the mess of my karma and then finally, finally, I sighed and took a look around. I realized then that I had one foot in my past, a time and place that didn’t actually exist anymore and which I had completely grown out of. My other foot was in the present, where I was more confident in who I am, committed to spiritual work and the all the discomfort that came along with it, and attracting lovely, healthy relationships and experiences into my life — a place far, far away from where my other foot was situated in the past.

So I did what I had to do. Spiritually, in order to heal, we often must experience painful emotions. When we don’t, when we sweep them under the rug, they will inevitably come up again. We are spirits in human bodies, spirits having a human experience, and part of the human experience is an emotional one. Emotions are physical – they change the chemistry of our cells and are stored in our body until we release them. So I realized that I could stomp and curse and blame and generally just stay pissed off, or I could put on my big girl-spiritual counselor-personal growth panties and allow myself to feel the discomfort of my emotions in present-time about a past-time situation. This meant that I had to pull myself from reveling in the past, from getting caught up in the nostalgia of a different place and time, and rather focus my attention on feeling my emotions in present-time.

I won’t lie. It’s uncomfortable. And part of me would rather match those ridiculously shallow girls in movies who create drama by projecting all of their discomfort onto others and creating drama.

But that’s not me. That’s not really how I roll. And life is too short to be angry at the people you love most in the world.

So I decided to let the emotional shit-storm happen, to mindfully swim my way through the emotions that come up and to allow them to move through my body, healing me. It’s like this: emotional storms are like thunderstorms. The world turns grey and the sky drops water and molecules – maybe from the past, maybe from close by – and makes everything damp and dark and cold. But the storm is necessary for the care and feeding of the earth. It is the rain, combined with the happiness of the sun, that allows for the seeds of our souls to grow. During the storm, we may want to hide away, to catch a plane, get out of town, or to disappear. But if we stick around, if we wait it out, eventually the clouds will part and the sun will shine through. And that period when the storm is over, when the clouds have parted and everything smells fresh and clean – well, that is the best part of all. The world has just been cleaned, been healed. You have been washed clean.

The next time you experience this type of emotional turbulence, notice — are you delaying the storm? Are you fervently sweeping the mess under a rug and denying yourself the cleansing waters that could wash you clean? Can you stay in the present, feel your way through the discomfort and emerge whole to yourself again on the other side? You can. You’re built for it. It’s part of the cycle of being human.

Note: If you’re not sure how to stay mindful in working through emotions, I’ll recommend reading Healing Through the Dark Emotions, by Miriam Greenspan. She has some great mindfulness-based exercises to help the storm pass by more quickly.

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