Whenever you notice that some form of negativity has arisen within you, look on it not as a failure, but as a helpful signal that is telling you: “Wake up. Get out of your mind. Be present.” -Eckhart Tolle-
In the last article, I argued that exercise was best done out of doors. Besides getting the workout, we get the extra benefits of feeling energized and grounded by nature. Apart from our physical well-being, I feel like there is another reason for working out. We know that exercise helps us to feel better emotionally— the release of endorphins, serotonin and the like. And, when you think about it, emotions are so important for our well-being! The communication of positive emotions makes us feel wonderful, whether we are on the giving or the receiving end. But at times our emotions can feel overwhelming and we don’t know how to manage them. Exercise is a healthy, positive way to deal with that enervating surfeit. But it isn’t always enough.
Uncomfortable in Our Bodies
Sometimes we don’t even realize it, but I think that we are often uncomfortable in our bodies. This discomfort can stem from thoughts, emotions or our subconscious mind. I wonder if a lot of our self-sabotage isn’t about burning up this uncomfortable energy. The release that we feel after having burned it up becomes the pleasure factor that can turn it into an addiction. Take some of the destructive behaviors we have—addictions to alcohol, sex, drugs, gambling and the like. Alcohol and drugs quash our energy or else give us the verve to physically use it up. The physical release after sex is obvious. Gambling, I presume, gives us an adrenaline rush which also releases energy. Sometimes when I get anxious, I wonder if my brain isn’t trying to manipulate me into a panic attack where it can get a rush of adrenaline. My junkie brain! I think that overeating is another way to deal with our energy surplus. Our body needs to use energy for digestion. The proof of that is in the crash we get after having a big meal.
Touching the Heart of the Matter
I think that the practices of mindfulness, prayer and meditation are all tools that help make us more conscious as to the state of our psyches. As we practice, we become aware of the uncomfortable feelings we carry. We don’t try to get rid of them at all cost, we give them space, noticing that they’re there, noticing our resistance around them. We practice feeling and seeing our emotions, as would a curious bystander, from a distance, without getting caught up in the turmoil that emotions can ignite in our minds.
Reverend Diane Berke, my spiritual teacher at Seminary, used to refer to this type of practice as a form of “stretching”; allowing space for everything that we feel, so as to honor all of who we are in that moment. Seeking clarity, facing up to the less than attractive aspects of our beings so we can cultivate tolerance and compassion, especially towards ourselves. Reconnecting to our inner, deeper selves to better understand and connect with others.
There are many teachers and many different trainings that can help us to cultivate mindfulness and clarity. Your feelings will guide you to the right ones for you.
Honoring all aspects of who we are
In pursuing an inner life, we are acknowledging and nurturing the dimensions of our being—the emotional and the spiritual— that are often ignored in a society that mainly values the physical and mental realms.
And I must admit, emotions can be tricky. Sometimes we disconnect from our feelings because they can be very painful. We turn to distractions to ignore the pain, or we numb it with various substances. We flee instead of facing what we don’t like to acknowledge. I think we do this because we can be very hard on ourselves. When we don’t like what we find at the root of our feelings, we tend to identify with this frame of mind, which is not at all helpful. Even though I may find fear when I go deep, that doesn’t mean that I am a fearful person. Fear is a state, a part of our collective experience. I recognize it, allowing it to exist. And then it usually moves on.
As for our spiritual dimensions, countless have rejected organized religion, often for legitimate reasons. There is a lot of suspicion around spirituality. I completely understand this point of view. But I think that there is a deep need for the divine in each of us, perhaps because of our connection to the past. In most cultures, our ancestors practiced some form of spirituality that gave meaning and comfort to their lives. I find prayer and rituals to be very healing—they take me to a place where I can put my trust in the Universe, feel connected to others and give my soul a rest when it is weary.
In short, we need to acknowledge our emotions to better connect to our authentic selves and to operate from a place of compassion. And we need to develop our spiritual side to expand this compassion outwards and connect to all beings, all life on this planet.
Here is a prayer you can use or adapt as a part of your spiritual practice:
Prayer for compassion:
Dear (spirit of the divine)/(force of creation)/(God)…,
I know that there is a voice within me that is trying to be heard.
Please help me listen even though it might be painful.
My feelings will point me to what I need to hear, to see.
Please help me make space in my heart for all that I find.
And please help me release what no longer serves me,
What doesn’t serve love.
I am growing, day by day, I am forever learning.
I want to be open to joy, by way of compassion for myself.
Compassion that I wish to share with others.
Please help me to connect to my authentic self.
Please help me connect to love.