“As you get more in touch with your feelings, you can learn to deal appropriately with things that upset you. You don’t have to be afraid of feelings. Feelings are only feelings. They are meant to be felt. They come and go. Face the fear of feeling bad. Uncomfortable feelings need not be feared. The best thing to do with uncomfortable feelings is to just watch them and then learn from them”
(From “The ‘I need to be right’ way of thinking” by Lynne Namka, Ed. D.)
I agree that feelings are a natural part of being human, and they are meant to be felt. As the article noted, when people repress their feelings, they are less happy in life. It also noted that learning to open up and embrace feelings is part of a maturing process – “Men who have an inability to connect on a deep level with others often cover this up with a sense of bravado and aloofness. The higher testosterone powered men in the study reported finding less pleasure in life and did not look forward to the future. Most often, this stance softens as the person grows older and learns to express feelings.” Perhaps it has also to do with the way society as a whole frowns on open displays of feelings many a times, which is unfortunate. As the article says, the best thing to do with uncomfortable feelings is to just watch them and then learn from them. Meditation can be an effective way to watch feelings without repressing or engaging with them. Journal writing is another safe way to express and observe feelings. Incidentally, the devotionals by Henri Nouwen I read recently also touch on the therapeutic effects of writing.
For example, Henri Nouwen’s devotional below is about writing as a means to get in touch with our feelings, which may also be good for others who might read what we wrote. Sometimes I have difficulty in expressing my feelings, and when I read something that resonates with me as it expresses closely to how I felt, I feel validated and understood. Such is the power of writing as an expression of feelings, which benefits both the writer and the readers.
Writing to Save the Day
“Writing can be a true spiritual discipline. Writing can help us to concentrate, to get in touch with the deeper stirrings of our hearts, to clarify our minds, to process confusing emotions, to reflect on our experiences, to give artistic expression to what we are living, and to store significant events in our memories. Writing can also be good for others who might read what we write.
Quite often a difficult, painful, or frustrating day can be “redeemed” by writing about it. By writing we can claim what we have lived and thus integrate it more fully into our journeys. Then writing can become lifesaving for us and sometimes for others too.”
By Henri Nouwen
What lies under anger
This educational and informative video animation on “what lies under anger” is a good summary of how bad or negative feelings can be released safely through sharing via writing or talking about them as well as through deep breathing or meditation. As the video noted, feelings are meant to be felt, talked about and released. And yes, writing can also help us open up to express anger, or confusion when things don’t make sense, or sadness when we feel hurt, or shame when we did something wrong, or fear so that it does not tighten our body. The video also noted that if we shove bad feelings, they can sneak back up on us and explode out in anger. Therefore, writing or talking about it can release the stuck feelings.
I agree that feelings want to be shared, especially with close friends, so as to find release and validation or acknowledgment. Taking slow, deep breaths helps too, as we watch our breaths and watch our feelings come and go. As the video concluded, we feel fantastic when we let our feelings go via these channels. This is a constant reminder for me too, as I sometimes come across bad news online or in newspaper, for example, that trigger some bad/negative feelings in me, and I need to remember to practise deep breathing or writing about the feelings where necessary or appropriate, in order to find a release of tension and depression.
Being in touch with our feelings, including feelings of hope and hopelessness
As the article above mentioned, learning to open up and embrace feelings is part of a maturing process. For example, for us to say there is no hope, it may be a sign of maturity, especially when we embrace hopelessness as part of our human existence. At a deeper level, we can say there is no hope because there is no hopelessness either. In order for hope to exist, there needs to be hopelessness too. So when we transcend or move beyond the duality of hope and hopelessness, we recognise that there is nothing to hold on to and there is nothing to fear. (Although at this point, I must chip in and say that, upon further reflection, it is ok even if we are fearful because it is only human to be fearful and it helps to acknowledge our fears.)
Hope and hopelessness are two sides of the same coin that produce a psychological “fight or flight” response. When we are not attached to either concept, we will not be affected by them. Similarly, we can say there is no life and there is no death. Both may be seen as illusory concepts of the mind or perceptions of our consciousness. At the deepest level, we can say there is nothing except love. At the end of everything, there is only love, and love is all that really matters. Love is all and is in all, including bad or negative feelings, which are only distortions of love, as Michael Brown mentioned. There is nothing that is not love because love is everywhere and in everything, and we only need to acknowledge the presence of love that is in us, around us, as us and with us, right here, right now.
The paradoxical truth is that in the very midst of hopelessness that we accept and embrace is hope, just as God is found in the very midst of our doubts and darkness. This is the reality of Jesus’ experience on the cross when he (and all of us) felt forsaken by God, who is in the very midst of his (and our) sufferings and pains.”