Feelings and emotions are amazing aspects of life as a human being and they can take on qualities that are extremely blissful to experience as well as qualities that are extremely painful to experience. But what is it really that differentiates a pleasant feeling from an unpleasant one other than mind itself? In my practice and in my life I’ve come to see emotion as simply being the energy of raw aliveness. A constantly flowing, moving energy that comes from being fully engaged with ourselves and the world, being fully open and alive. We remain in a healthy state as long as this energy is allowed to flow freely. The times when I feel this energy flowing freely are the times when I’ve surrendered to my humanity and allowed the experiences of life to touch me deeply without resistance. I experience this free flowing energy as a constant exchange between me and the universe.
But why is it that so many of us have such a hard time feeling openly? In my experience I’ve come to see it as processes of grasping and resisting that freeze or solidify the normally free flowing fluid energy of feeling causing blockages and obstructions. We tend to grasp at emotional experiences we label as pleasant or positive and try to hold onto them not realizing the impermanence of the world we live in. We also tend to resist or push away emotional experiences we label as negative or unpleasant and avoid experiencing them because they feel threatening to us. Both of these patterns interrupt the flow of natural aliveness and create blockages. These blockages not only obstruct the free flow of energy but they get frozen in the unconscious mind from which they impact us in unhealthy ways including fueling destructive habitual patterns. Of course I think we all go through the process of dealing with our emotions in this way, its part of being human however what I’ve really come to understand is that the process of obstructing our emotional experience is one that we can change.
The ways that I have come to work with emotional obstructions are through processing them both contemplatively and experientially. In order to work with these obstructions however we need to get in touch with them and that’s usually easiest to do when they are triggered in some way. When an emotional pattern is activated I find that it can help to first have awareness of the fact that its activated because just the aspect of having that awareness presents the opportunity to work with it rather than react from it. Here one can contemplate the experience of the emotional pattern and try to unravel it to discover what is underlying the process. I have had to work with an emotional pattern of anxiety centered around my relationship partners which manifested as a fear of losing them and so contemplating it I would eventually get beyond just the experience of anxiety and see that underneath it was a fear of abandonment (a pattern from childhood) and going even further it was a fear of aloneness or being with myself (disconnection from the self) and ultimately a fear of loss of self (who am I really?). The point is our emotional patterns have many layers so it can help to begin to peel back the layers and work with what we find at each level. It can also help to do this sort of processing with a partner which could be a counselor, significant other or friend. Often it is other people who trigger our emotional patterns so if we have a person who is open and self-reflective enough we may have an opportunity to go into it with them. This has been the case for me with my anxiety because my last partner triggered it very powerfully so rather than react negatively toward her for “making” me feel this way I eventually decided to take advantage of her gift of shining a light on my stuck place and work on it with her help. I’ve found group work particularly effective with this as well as having the reflection of a group of people when you share a painful process can allow different aspects of it to be mirrored back, different people can pick up different voices for you.
The other way to work with these emotional patterns is experientially and I believe that in order to fully release them we need to get to this stage because if these patterns are essentially frozen feelings that we didn’t allow ourselves to experience we can only release them by fully opening up to them. For me this process has entailed doing the exact opposite of what we normally want to do with unpleasant emotions. Instead of running away or distracting ourselves, going into them when they come up and really allowing ourselves to fully and openly feel the emotion. We’re not doing this with the conceptual mind (not thinking about the emotion or experience) but rather from a purely experiential perspective. We’re just sitting with the feeling and giving it both permission and space to arise fully into our experience. When we resist an emotion we are not giving ourselves permission to feel it and when we distract ourselves from feeling we are not creating the space for the emotion to arise. This for me was initially terrifying but it became less so over time because I realized that the worst part of my anxiety was all the stories my mind had made up around it and actually just feeling the raw emotion wasn’t so bad and in fact it would arise and dissipate on its own if I would just let it be. Having a contemplative practice such as meditation really helps with this because it teaches us to sit with our mind and be in the present moment with it without judgment.
The amazing thing about doing this kind of work is that when you can really face, process and release emotional patterns it frees you in incredible ways to more fully experience life and be touched by your experience not to mention taking the power out of destructive habitual patterns that may be causing all kinds of problems. You can begin to welcome experience both good and bad and see it as part of this beautiful impermanent universe which we are all intimate parts of. You can truly flow with life again.