Category Archives: Emotion

AFOG — Another F*&%ing Opportunity for Growth

One day, a little over ten years ago when I was feeling suicidal, I was explaining to my sister and her husband my rationalization for it being perfectly okay for me to commit suicide. I was sharing how I had realized that if I killed myself, everyone would move on and be fine. People die every day, I said. People move past these things all the time, I explained. I was so deep in my own misery that I then went on to say one of the most cruel and hurtful things I ever remember speaking out loud. You see, my brother-in-law’s little brother had recently died in a car accident. He was a teenager or at the most in his early 20s when he died. In my utter narcissistic despair and obliviousness, I proceeded to point out to my brother-in-law that obviously he had moved on from the death of his brother, and that that was the proof of my undeniable logic. A deafening silence followed. My sister glanced at her husband. Then she locked her eyes on mine, and I’ll never forgot what she said to me: “Yes, people move on. But nothing is ever the same again. Their lives are changed forever.”

Those words and the energy behind them pierced through the veil of my despair to shake me awake. Needless to say, I didn’t commit suicide. But more than that, never again did I trivialize the depth and breadth of what we experience as human beings in this life, including the deepest grief, despair, and pain. The experience of loss, for instance, is not trivial simply because all of us must endure and move through it at some point in our lives. In fact, the experience can be utterly transformational in the most horrendous and most beautiful ways. Indeed, we will never be the same again.

Recently I ran across an article written by Mark Sandlin called, 10 Clichés Christians Should Stop Saying. Some of these clichés are said by more than just Christians and are generally used in an attempt to comfort ourselves or others going through a challenging experience:

Everything happens for a reason.

God (the Universe) never gives us any more than we can handle.

We could debate (endlessly) whether or not these statements are even true. But more important is how these statements are often used as a subtle way of trivializing our own or another’s experience. I cannot tell you how often people start to share with me the depth of their pain only to stop themselves with a “but” followed by a version of one of these statements. Another common sentence to follow the “but” is, “I’m seeing this as an opportunity for growth.”

It is fantastic to see that everything happens for a reason, or that we can handle whatever is in front of us, or that every situation is an opportunity for growth and evolution. But when we start to use these ideas as subtle ways of avoiding and trivializing our own pain, then we are bypassing the very path we must travel to grow, transform, and heal in the most profound ways.

What is needed for true transformation and healing is the capacity to hold and feel fully both sides of this coin — both the horrendousness and beauty, the pain and the transformative power, the grief and the love. A friend of mine once shared that she calls these situations AFOGs — another f*%&ing opportunity for growth. I love this because the f-bomb acknowledges the pain of the situation, and “opportunity for growth” speaks to the transformative potential. I find that all too often, we want to leave out the f-bomb. We want to avoid the pain at all costs. But when we do this, we are denying an aspect of life itself. As Vera de Chalambert says:

“We must not send suffering into exile — the fear, the heartbreak, the anger, the helplessness all are appropriate, all are welcome. We can’t dismember ourselves to feel better. Difficult feelings need to be given space so they can come to rest. They need contact. We can’t cut off the stream of life and expect to heal.” ~From Kali Takes America: I’m with Her

The capacity to be fully present with both the pain and the inherent transformative power in these situations is often not easy. It takes an ability to differentiate and dis-identify from powerful energies which can be so overwhelming and all-consuming that we literally think they are us. For me, this is a journey. It is a continual discovery that pain and transformative power are often inseparable. It is a journey I embrace because, in that moment when my sister looked me in the eyes, I decided to live.
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Turning Towards

A healthy human being is characterized by a wider and wider capacity to experience [with presence] emotion and blends of emotion.” ~Dr. Keith Witt, Integral Psychologist

This assertion from Dr. Witt may sound simple, but I believe it to be extremely profound in its implications. In fact, I think it is key to understanding truly transformational healing and how it occurs. Dr. Witt and Jeff Salzman discuss this topic in Jeff’s Daily Evolver podcast episode entitled, “Transforming Trauma Into Power.” (I highly recommend listening to it in its entirety.)

What does it mean to have a wider and wider capacity to experience and be present with emotion? What is so challenging about it? And why is this capacity so essential for transformational healing?

Having the capacity to be present with our emotions means we have cultivated the ability to turn towards our unwanted feelings, pain, and other undesired material, as opposed to turning away through denial, distraction, or dissociation. One of the reasons this is so difficult is it goes against our most basic survival and instinctual drives, such as our ability to dissociate when experiencing a traumatic event. If we have used a response such as dissociation in the past and it worked to get us through a traumatic situation, our system will remember this success and use dissociation over and over again whenever it perceives danger (real or not). And this response will happen automatically and often unconsciously. That is, most of us are not even aware when we are dissociating.

Another reason it is difficult for us to turn towards our pain is we are often taught that certain emotions are bad and others are good. When we judge our emotions (and therefore ourselves) in this way, we tend to suppress those emotions which we have labeled as wrong. We do this in a variety of ways. We might dissociate (as already discussed above), go into denial, or use distraction (food, TV, drugs, alcohol, shopping, etc.). We might also shame ourselves in an attempt to control our feelings.

Why is it important to build the capacity to turn towards our pain? When we suppress our emotions or are otherwise unable to be present with our painful experiences, symptoms will eventually arise such as anxiety, panic attacks, depression, psychosis, physical & immune system ailments, and in cases of extreme trauma, PTSD symptoms. The way to truly heal is to turn toward our pain and be present with the associated emotions and sensations. If we are able to meet our pain with compassionate understanding and radical acceptance, the energy of the held trauma naturally begins to metabolize, integrate, and heal.

One way to be present with our painful experiences is through what is called resourcing. This is a way of holding a resourced or healthy, powerful feeling in the body simultaneously with a challenging feeling in the body. Holding the two together in this way allows for integration and healing. Dr. Witt describes a simple practice in the podcast (at around the 36-minute mark) which you can try today that utilizes this principle.

I love what Jeff Salzman said when he describes this process for himself: “Whenever I find myself in a depression or anxiety or an anger vortex, I say, ‘This is good news! Here I have this ball of energy, and I have the opportunity to actually turn towards it and move into it.'” It is that willingness and that capacity to “turn towards” that results in growth and healing. It’s not just that you metabolize the experience and now it’s no longer a “block” or no longer causing symptoms. It’s that you actually heal with a big “H,” meaning you grow and you evolve. And that, I believe, is an important part of what life is all about.

Blessings,
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Reflections on Gratitude

Sunlight through treeYou probably know by now the power of gratitude. Everything seems lovely when you are enveloped in gratitude. You may even keep a gratitude journal or have engaged in other practices to help you feel gratitude every day. If you’ve committed to any of these practices and you’re like many people, you’re probably noticing significant improvement in your overall sense of well-being. After all, consistently feeling and experiencing gratitude is life changing!

You can imagine my surprise when I recently approached the big “G,” and instead of increasing feelings of gratitude and well-being, I felt as if I was on some sort of mad, desperate hunt for something to be grateful for. In fact, it even felt as if I didn’t have much of a concept of gratitude at all. As I began to look for things to be grateful for, my mind flipped through all the events of the day, one after the other, comparing and contrasting and categorizing, deciding if this or that thing was something I could (or should) be grateful for that day.

Well, you can probably tell already that I didn’t end up actually experiencing or feeling much gratitude this way! In fact, the whole exercise felt fake to me, like I was pretending to be grateful, hoping that the whole “fake it till you make it” thing would work out eventually. I figured if I thought about being grateful enough, it would actually start to happen. But to be honest, it never really did, at least not consistently, and definitely not easily. Surely being grateful doesn’t have to be so much work!

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Fortunately, a moment of grace in the midst of my struggle finally arrived. I realized I was missing an essential side of the equation: receiving. I came to realize that gratitude and appreciation are the natural expression/outpouring of receiving and allowing in the beauty, the goodness, the inspiration, the truth, the love, and the gifts of whatever or whoever is in my presence in this moment. Gratitude is not something I can force but is rather a natural and automatic expression/response that occurs when I allow myself to receive.

And so, in order to more easily feel the fullness of gratitude in my life, rather than looking for things to be grateful for and attempting to force the feeling, I look at what is in front of me now (no matter what it is) and make it my strong intention to open to receive the gifts — the beauty, the love, the teaching — being offered. I do not need to know what the gifts are when I open to receive. I simply ask to receive those gifts with all earnestness and trust, knowing they are there to receive. I pray in this way using words such as these:

May I receive and feel fully the gifts being offered in this moment.

May I receive and feel fully the beauty, the goodness, and the love this person is offering me now.

As I begin to receive the gifts being offered, gratitude and appreciation well up and pour through me naturally and without effort. The more I open to receive, the more gratitude expresses and moves through me, for it is a natural, reciprocal flow of energy. In this way, I never need to seek or look for what is “worthy” of my gratitude, for there is beauty in all things and in all beings, no matter the circumstance. It is only a question of receiving and allowing it in.

yin and yang

Energetically speaking, gratitude is a gift — an outpouring — a yang aspect of the flow of Love / Life / Energy. This is illustrated clearly in the expression, “to give thanks.” And, there is always a yin aspect to Energy, creating a balanced flow of the whole system (the toroidal flow of energy, the in and out, the yin and the yang). In this case, the yin aspect of the flow is the receiving and allowing in of the gifts — the beauty, the goodness, the truth — being offered in this moment. I find I cannot be truly grateful for anything if I do not recognize, receive, and truly feel the beauty in front of or within me in this moment.

It is in this recognition that I have shifted my focus to opening to receive the gifts in front of me, even if my mind is at a loss as to what gifts are present in that moment. I simply open to receive, knowing beauty surrounds me even if I cannot yet feel it. In only a few seconds, I often find myself overflowing with gratitude and appreciation.

With genuine gratitude,
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The Gift Within Your Health Crisis

flashlightWhen you are in crisis, the very idea that a gift lies within the experience can seem absurd or even offensive. What is the gift in receiving a life-threatening or debilitating diagnosis? How can there be a gift within being suicidally depressed or the experience of uncontrollable panic attacks? When you are the one in crisis, I have personally found that to be the most difficult time to see the gift. Of course, it is much easier to see the gift as an outsider. In fact, you will no doubt have at least a few people trying to comfort you with age-old clichés such as, “Well, you’re learning something, aren’t you?” or “Every cloud has a silver lining,” or “Don’t forget, everything happens for a reason.” In the midst of a healing crisis, not only can these tired clichés utterly fail to comfort us, often they enrage us because we feel completely unseen in the immensity of our pain by those whose profess to love us.

When it comes to facing a health crisis, whether mental or physical, it is very easy to dwell in fear, despair, and desperation. When you come to the point where your quality of life is seriously affected, or your life itself is threatened, you are in crisis. You will be challenged on all levels. There is no denying the difficulty of this challenge nor the painful feelings and experiences that often arise within it. But I have found that within the crisis also lies a gift, if you but choose to see it and focus your attention on it. This gift has many facets, and many of those facets will be unique to you. Here I wish to highlight some of those aspects of the gift that seem to be common for many of us.

Ironically, one aspect of the gift that lies within the crisis is the opportunity it gives you to notice its existence. No one can turn your eyes toward the gift but you, and that is part of the gift itself. When you make the choice to open to the possibility of there being a gift within the crisis, you are shown and experience unequivocally your own courage and your own power. You realize that it is within your power, and yours alone, to see and embrace the gift which lies there for you. You also experience, without a doubt, the enormous eye abstractcourage it takes to wrench your attention away from the despair and pain in order to look toward the gift, even if for only a moment. Within this profound realization, your power is given back to you (or rather, you see that it was yours all along). You realize you can choose where you focus your energy and attention, and ultimately, this means you have the power to directly affect your experience as you move through and meet your health crisis.

But there is even more to this gift, as if that were not enough. Another aspect of this gift is your own healing. When I say healing, I am not speaking of recovery from disease or injury as we normally conceive of it (although that is always a possibility as well). Rather, the profound healing I am speaking of could better be described as evolution. I just heard an interview with Jean Houston today in which she shared that the new paradigm of healing is not about fixing or curing, but rather about becoming. The gift within the crisis gives you the opportunity to allow your own unfolding into the next stage of your evolution — your becoming. More precisely, the opportunity is not actually in whether or not you will evolve (for that is inevitable), but rather to what degree and to what level you accept, allow, and embrace the flow of the evolutionary process itself. This includes the degree to which you are able to accept and love yourself — all aspects of yourself — as you move through the crisis and your own unfolding.

What will the experience of this healing and transformation be like for you? It will be unique to you. No one’s gift is the same, for we all unfold uniquely, even if we may all be heading in the same direction. It will depend upon where you are in your evolutionary process when you come upon your health crisis. It will depend upon countless other factors which make up the whole of who you are and the particular process you must go through. It will even depend upon your perception of the evolutionary process itself as you move through it. To what degree are you perceiving the process (your health crisis) as a gift and to what degree are you resisting it? This will be a factor in determining your experience of it. How much are you able to let go of the tendency to compare your own healing journey with another’s journey? This will also affect your healing experience. There are countless other factors as well.

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In the end, whether or not you experience this gift within the crisis as a gift or as a curse is a matter of perspective and choice. I believe we evolve through these experiences regardless of if we see the gift in them or not, although how easily, quickly, and consciously we experience that healing is largely up to us. None of what I’ve said here is meant to minimize or deny the challenge and pain in these situations. In fact, part of loving all aspects of ourselves through these times is in acknowledging the enormity of the pain we feel and then choosing to meet those parts of ourselves that hurt with unconditional love (rather than turn away with denial, avoidance, or condemnation). When we come upon these times, we have a choice in where we focus our energy and attention. Ultimately, we get to choose whether or not we see the gift because it exists as a possibility within our own hearts. The gift exists as an opportunity to experience, consciously and openly, our own evolution and healing.

In love & light,
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The Dreaded Question: What’s Your Passion?

Flaming heartFor as long as I can remember, I have been searching for my true passion. It seems all the self-help gurus start off by asking, “What is your passion? What turns you on and lights you up?” This is the point where my eyes glaze over, I slink down in my chair, and I have had to admit: “I don’t know.” There are certainly things I like doing. There are causes I care about. I am fascinated by certain topics and areas of research and contemplation. But is being involved in these things my true purpose and passion? Is this what I am here to do in this life? This is where I have gotten lost.

In these last few weeks, something around this search for my passion has begun to clarify for me. My perspective on what passion actually is has begun to morph. I had been thinking about my passion as something I would do. After all, when people speak about their passions, they are usually talking about something they do. For instance, they say things like, “Music is my passion,” or “Art is my passion,” or “Science is my passion.” When the self-help gurus attempt to draw out our passions, they ask things like, “What brings you joy? What are you doing when you feel joyful and alive? What makes you feel happy and passionate?” So, naturally, I’ve been thinking all this time that my passion and purpose would be wrapped up in something that I’d be doing.

Lately, though, I’ve been wondering if my passion might have less to do with what I’m doing and more to do with what I’m feeling, being, and then ultimately expressing into the world. And so I started to ask myself this:

What feeling or state of being do I most want to experience and wish with all my heart that others could also experience? If I could somehow gift myself and others any kind of experience/feeling/state of being, what would it be?

Would it be to feel loved? Safe? Valued? Inspired? Empowered? Connected? Cherished? Alive? Vibrant? Clear? At Ease? Awed? Joyful? Compassionate? Light? Open? Restful? Grateful? Follow your heartThis is a whole different kind of question, and I’ve had to really get quiet and listen to my heart. Amazingly, what has come to the surface is something I cannot exactly put into words, yet it feels uniquely me. It is a specific feeling state that I have felt come forward inside of me… in fact, it feels like it is simply the real me coming forward. And what I’ve come to see is that THIS IS MY PASSIONI have been looking for my passion in the wrong place! All along, I had been thinking that there was something out there for me to do — some grand purpose — and that when I found it, I would know it and finally proclaim, “This is my passion! This is my purpose!” Instead, I have found my passion is an experience/feeling and not something inherent in something I will be doing. Rather, whatever I choose to do will simply be a vehicle for me to express my passion into the world. Of course, then I immediately understood something else all those gurus have been saying: It doesn’t really matter what you do. It only matters how you are being (and feeling) when you do it.

Have you ever noticed how inspired you can feel in the presence of someone who is passionate? I’ve had the experience of getting totally jazzed about some product a person is selling merely because that person seems so incredibly passionate about it. I admit I have bought some very strange items only to wonder later why in the world I bought them! What I am seeing now is that I was resonating with that person’s passion, not with what they were selling. We are vibrational beings, after all! I started to feel inspired, or joyful, or hopeful, or whatever qualities that person was being and expressing, because I was resonating, in my own way, with those qualities that they were embodying. Then, because of my confusion about the nature of passion, I mistakenly thought it was the product they were selling that was causing them to feel good (and so I bought the item as well, thinking it would cause me to feel something I desired). But it was not the product that was inspiring me. It was that person BEING their passion.

Sun rays in blue sky

So for me, the question then became… okay, then how do I choose what to do? I still need a vehicle through which I can express my passion. If it doesn’t matter what I do, then how do I choose what to do? Here are some questions I came up with to help guide me in this process:

What might I choose to do where, when I do it, it feels easy for me to connect with, embody, and experience the quality of my passion? What could I imagine doing where it seems like it would be easy for me to feel and express that quality?

Do I have skills, talents, or gifts through which I could easily imagine conveying or expressing this quality (my passion) to others and to the world?

How can I, in ALL that I do, both embody (“be”) my passion and convey or express it to others?

This process is helping me form a vision and choose the vehicles through which I want to express my passion. Instead of trying to find things to do that would (supposedly) ignite my passion, I am instead practicing on a daily basis remembering and embodying the qualities — the feeling states flower 8— of my passion. I keep asking myself again and again, “What feeling do I most want to experience and wish with all my heart others could experience?” This is my passion! I let it fill me to the brim! Clearly, my passion isn’t just about me feeling good. I want to share it. I have found that the desire to share it — to express it — is inherent in the passion itself. And, what I’ve come to see now is that the way to share it is to BE it. When my whole being vibrates with my passion, others will begin to resonate (in their own unique way) with those qualities. This is how I can share my passion with others. Perhaps that’s at least partly why Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” And so now it seems my life (and my challenge) is about bringing that passion into all that I do — for myself, and for all those whose lives I touch.

What’s your passion?

In love & in gratitude,
Penny

Real Emotion vs. Suffering – Part 1

modern artWhen we were young, many of us learned to believe that certain energies are bad or wrong to feel or experience. These fundamental, natural energies could be called “emotions,” if you define emotion as simply energy in motion. For instance, if we expressed naturally arising energies such as what we call joy, exuberance, or love, and our parents held beliefs that those energies are wrong to express in excess or even wrong to feel at all, they will have attempted to squelch the expression of those energies in us. Likewise, if we expressed energies such as what we call anger or sadness, perhaps our parents believed those energies are harmful and so attempted to squelch their expression as well. When we bought into this — that is, when we ourselves began to believe those energies are wrong to feel — we then began to resist or repress those energies whenever they arose in us. The resistance/repression of those energies then becomes an automatic, unconscious reaction whenever they arise in us. And so now, as adults, we are in a situation where we believe (unconsciously at this point) that these energies arising in us should not be there, which puts us in conflict with the reality that they are there. Our resistance to these naturally arising energies (the clash between our beliefs and reality) is experienced by us as suffering. (If you haven’t read it already, please see What Is Suffering? before moving on so you’ll have a context for how I am describing suffering here.)

freeimages.co.uk medical imagesOften, this kind of suffering takes the form of experiences we might call anxiety, anger/rage, depression/despair, fear, jealousy, restlessness, or any other multitude of unpleasant (or downright awful) experiences. The confusion here is that we often label these experiences as “emotions.” But these forms of suffering are NOT true emotions. Actually, quite the opposite is the case. These states are instead the inner experience of the repression of natural emotion.

Why does this distinction matter? Well, if you have been around the block at all in the self-help world, I’m sure you’ve heard by now how important it is on your Healing journey to “feel your emotions.” (In fact, I talk about this in What Is Healing? as a critical part of the Healing process.) But, the problem is if you think that the rage you keep feeling repeatedly, or the anxiety, or the jealousy, or whatever else, are the emotions everyone is telling you you’re supposed to be feeling, you might be wondering when the healing is going to start happening because you still feel like crap even though you keep feeling all these “emotions” again and again! After all, you are feeling these things… over and over and over and over again… so shouldn’t you be healing by now? Even your psychologist might be encouraging you to keep going down these same rabbit holes, but nothing really seems to be changing in the long run.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe issue here is that you are not actually feeling the energy (the emotion) that you have repressed. Rather, what you are experiencing (repeatedly) is simply what it feels like when you repress that energy. In other words, the rage, or the jealousy, or the anxiety, or whatever, is not the emotion itself, but is rather what it feels like to resist that emotion. This suffering is the inner experience (how it feels to you inside) of the belief that you should not be experiencing an energy that is nonetheless present.

The natural energy (the true emotion), when actually experienced and allowed to move, feels nothing at all like these forms of suffering. In fact, when I feel authentic emotion, it is hard for me to even label it because it is so different than what I’ve been experiencing for so many years! A dandelion 3real emotion, when felt fully, rises in me like a wave, crests, and then naturally dissipates. It is simply an energy wave that moves through me. And, in my experience, on a deep level, it feels good to feel it, no matter what “flavor” the emotion takes.

It is actually very easy to distinguish between states of suffering and the movement of real emotion. States of suffering such as I described above (rage, jealousy, anxiety, etc.) will come in repeating patterns. They will arise over and over and over again, with no real resolution, no matter how much they are “felt.” They will probably escalate over time as well, because more and more emotion is being repressed and building up, thus more and more suffering is present in that repression. In contrast, a real emotion is a one-time deal. It will move through like a wave, and it will do so rather quickly (usually within a couple minutes, although not always). That doesn’t mean a similar emotion won’t arise again, but it won’t feel like it’s the same thing happening over and over again.

The states of suffering we experience and the underlying energy (emotion) being repressed are often related. For instance, the resistance of naturally arising fear might be experienced as repeating cycles of anxiety or terror. The repression of naturally arising grief/sadness might be experienced as chronic depression or despair. The resistance of naturally arising adepresssionnger might be experienced as chronic irritation or rage. The repression of naturally arising envy or inspiration might be experienced as overwhelming jealousy.

Because these states of suffering become repeating patterns that often escalate over time, they will often be labeled as mental disorders such as anxiety disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, paranoia, etc. Eventually, they will begin to manifest physically, and are then diagnosed as “diseases” such as digestive disorders, autoimmune disorders, chronic fatigue, nervous system diseases, cancer, high blood pressure/heart disease, etc.

Perhaps by now you can see that these states of suffering (i.e., the resistance to the emotion) effectively distract us from experiencing the underlying emotion, for we become focused on the unpleasant feelings and “diseases” and on trying to rid ourselves of those feelings, symptoms, or illnesses. Because we believe (usually unconsciously) hypnotizedthat the underlying energies are wrong to feel, the experience of our resistance to them (the anxiety, rage, physical illnesses, etc.) is designed to distract us away from the experiencing of the original emotion. Essentially, we become hypnotized by our own resistance (the suffering). Thus, we enter into the cycle of suffering. (See What Is Suffering?)

The rubber meets the road in your Healing process when you finally turn toward the aspect of you that is suffering and meet it standing in your True Nature. The rage, the anxiety, the jealousy, the illnesses… when these experiences are met with Love rather than animosity, the emotion that is being resisted and repressed will finally be allowed to flow as it was meant to flow. I have found this to be the crux of true Healing.

turtleIn Part 2 of this post (Real Emotion vs. Suffering – Part 2), I’ll be discussing another way in which suffering arises in a form that we often confuse with true emotion. That aspect of suffering takes the form of protective mechanisms that we create in order to protect us from feeling the soul-wrenching pain of some of our most deeply held (and profoundly false) beliefs. Doesn’t that sound fun? Stay tuned!  🙂

In love,
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