Giving our selves safe, open and accepting space for feeling all of our feelings.
Safe for Feelings
The thing to do with feelings is to make it safe to feel all of them!
Walking through the arcade area at the San Francisco Airport some years ago on my way to the restrooms, I was listening to a loudly screaming little person. So was everyone else I passed, most of them indignantly shaking their heads. Almost all wore expressions of outrage that such emotional excess/noise was being allowed by some presumably incompetent parent.
As I rounded the corner to the restrooms, after walking almost half the length of that part of the terminal hearing the powerful little lungs sending out rage, I came to the source her self. A little being in overalls, probably about two years old, lay roaring and kicking on the carpet near the wall behind an escalator. Three or four feet away, amid bags and suitcases, holding the little person's jacket, stood a serene looking woman in her mid-late thirties. Leaning nonchalantly on the chest high wall, she watched the screaming little one, her expression tender.
As I passed near them, the racket stopped – as abruptly as if a switch had been flipped. The little one lifted her head, looked up at the mom who asked, in a gentle voice, "Are you finished now, honey?" The little one's face broke into a huge grin as she shyly but energetically nodded her head. All the while, a steady stream of glaring head-shakers passed by unnoticed by either of the two.
I was captivated: awed by what I had witnessed, amazed at the love and comfort both with self and intense emotion that seemed involved in mothering that way. How different that child's world was (and would be) from what I and almost everyone in my world had known. I found my self wishing we'd all been given such open, accepting space for being our selves; for feeling our feelings as they were happening inside of us; for knowing that expressing our strongest emotions could be safe and acceptable; for discovering that feelings, felt, do resolve.
Leaving the restroom stall, I passed the mother diapering her child on the fold-down baby station. The two of them were laughing and being silly together. I stopped to share with the woman how moved I was by her calm patience as she stood letting her child's temper tantrum run itself out; how astonishing it had been to watch her do that while so many people walked by "Harrumphing" with the judgment of our culture. The woman smiled, shrugged her shoulders and said, "What else is there to do?"
Over the years, this experience has become my favorite teaching story about feelings: about how they really are, about how we might be with them, about what we might do with them if we are to heal our selves into wholeness. It's a story that sets in relief the false messages our culture has given us about emotions and how our beings have been damaged/stunted by those messages.
Feelings are a natural part of being human, of living in a body. They come in response to our inner and outer experiences of the present moment, in response to memories of past experiences evoked by the present moment or in response to our anticipation of moments yet to come.
We don't need to know why we're feeling what we're feeling in order to have the emotion. (We don't even have to know what we're feeling in order to feel it.) There's no way a feeling can itself be wrong or bad (although we may feel badly). A feeling just is.
And, it's always a lie when anyone (including your own critical self) tells you "You can't possibly be feeling (fill-in-the-blank) about that!" or "You have no reason to be feeling that way," or "You shouldn't feel so (fill-in-the-blank)."
Feelings of any sort don't go on forever. When we can give our selves safe, protected space and our own permission to be in the middle of whatever we're feeling, it does run its course. Often, this takes longer than we (and others around us) may think it should.
As we practice engaging with each emotion, with its energy in our consciousness and in our body, as we find ways to release its intensity (by crying, yelling, stomping, banging, rocking, drawing, writing, etc.) and ways to comfort our selves in the midst of the storm, each particular experience of grief, sadness, rage, terror does come to an end. Sometimes it comes to an end because we're exhausted. Other times, it comes to an end because we've exhausted that emotion for the moment, having felt our way through it.
Each time we can break the cultural taboos against taking our emotions seriously by choosing to respect our right to have them or by allowing our selves to feel them for as long as we feel them, we are reclaiming more of our natural wholeness.
Remember to be kind and compassionate with your self as you practice making space to feel your feelings.