Leaning into the fullness of life can be exhilarating AND devastating.
Life is filled with joy, heartache, loss, birth, death, passion and all the emotions in between. Often we push away the uncomfortable emotions that surface so we don’t have to deal with the consequences of life. Facing the wide of range of emotions takes effort and yet, it has the potential to open the door to rich experiences of growth. When we love, we can love deeply and absolutely savor the moments of bliss. Which also means, we will experience loss and the deep depths of grief and pain. The human experience is filled with emotion, we are emotional beings.
The journey of how we respond emotionally is as unique to each person as the life they have lived. Our culture seems to be “ok” with seeing people happy and celebrating their awesomeness. However, we often don’t know what to do with grief and the emotions of loss. How awkward is it for someone to share that they have just lost someone they love…..often we don’t know what to say or if we do say something, we say something to try and fix it. It’s uncomfortable to hear someone express their pain.
“The true meaning of being alive is not just to feel happy, but to experience the full range of human emotions” Edward L. Deci
What if we ourselves could begin to understand how we respond to our emotions? What if we could really lean into our joy and grief? What would happen? If we acknowledge our grief emotions, what is it we might be so afraid of learning? What if understanding our emotions could actually empower us? And maybe even allow us to not be so afraid of witnessing others pain and grief. We can honor joy and grief.
There is no right or wrong way to grieve.
The emotions of grief are like the ocean. Calm and on the surface one moment and then a tsunami of deep violent waves the next. We don’t always know why someone chooses their “actions of grief”. It can be very easy to point the finger and judge others in their process. Furthermore, it is hard enough to not judge our own process of grief! We need to give ourselves and each other a break.
We’ve never navigated this moment of our life before…such is life. IF we had a step by step guide, we could turn to this particular chapter of life and follow the directions. However, once again, I have yet to find this “LIFE DIRECTIONS” book. Which gives good reason to remind us to be gentle with ourselves. We are ALL doing this moment of life the best we can with the tools we have NOW.
Our personality, coping skills, child hood, culture, social conditioning and environment can all make a difference in how we respond to life. If we understand this, we can begin to understand ourselves. We can begin to acknowledge and observe who we are, why we behave certain ways and observe our own coping styles and emotions. Self-inquiry gives space to explore, digest and validate our emotions, understand our actions and then find the wisdom to make choices. All of which opens the door to begin the journey of creating new life potential, especially in life after loss.
If we begin with ourselves we may then offer the compassion, understanding and empathy we need and then, potentially see others in their journey and offer it to them as well.
But first, we must begin with leaning into ourselves.
Lean into our pain. Let it speak. Trust that as we step towards the lump in our throat or the heaviness within our heart, we will remain floating. We will swim through it. Even if we sink, we will find a way to reach out for the flotation device. We need to go through it…..to get to the other side.
Let the heartache of emotions tell the truth. Let the heart have a voice. The heart that knows we yearn to love and be loved. Which makes us all so very similar…our brokenness stems from the deep need to feel love. And when that heart is shattered by loss, we hurt, we bleed and we keep ourselves from further pain. Our human brain takes over and turns towards all of our coping skills we’ve previously learned in life. Not right or wrong coping skills, OUR coping skills and our emotions follow along!
When we understand our coping skills and our emotional reaction to life, we can then choose how to respond. This is why leaning into our pain can offer the chance to see something different.
“We can’t change what we haven’t realized yet” Byron Katie
How can we do this? How do we learn about our coping skills and how we respond to life? One of the ways is to look at ourselves from a distance or witness from outside our “perception” and see from another view.
For example, let’s take the character Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.
The visitation of the ghosts gave Ebenezer the chance to visit his past, present and future as an observer. He was witnessing and watching himself while not being able to interact or interject in the moment. Unattached, he was observing himself. Through this experience, he was able to acknowledge his past, understand his present actions and THEN, see how his current actions and their consequences would potentially create his future. Upon his waking, he brought the new found awareness into the present. He was open to new possibilities and chose to take this wisdom and step into creating new life through his choices.
As Scrooge began to feel, he started to heal. Although he did not choose the visitation of the ghosts, Scrooge did choose to lean into the pain and then…..lean into the joy. He witnessed his past and why he built up the armored heart and over time how this created his current state of affairs.
We can do the same thing…
Without spending a sleepless night wandering downtown with one of the four ghosts of A Christmas Carol! Although there are MANY ways to connect with our self-awareness, witness or watcher, here is one simple way you can start right now.
- Grab a journal and a pen.
- Set a timer for 5-10 minutes. By giving our brain a time frame it calms the fear center. It can be very uncomfortable to sit with emotions. We know that when the timer goes off, we can choose to step away from the discomfort.
- Take a breath, check in with your body to see where there may be any heaviness, discomfort or nervousness.
- Ask “what do you have to say, what is your story?”
- Write whatever comes up. Let this place have a voice and tell its story. No censorship or grammar….just words.
- When there are no words, put the pen down.
- Breathe again.
- At this point you can sit with what you’ve just experienced or close the journal and step away.
- Either way, you will need to come back and reread the journal prompt. This is where we can engage our watcher, witness or observer. Imagine yourself reading the words for the first time. Let the words offer a teaching. Witness the story with unbiased eyes.
- Next, write down what it is you have learned from these words. What do you witness and observe?
- By giving this place within your body a voice, our emotions are being “seen” and validated. NOW we have new information that possibly helps us understand our emotional landscape.
- Finally, use this information to choose how to respond and take the next steps. What do I need? What are we afraid of? What do I need to let go of? What would I like to add? How can I work with this new information?
Depending on what we discover about ourselves, we can use the information to step further into life. It can actually empower us to take action. The witness knowledge can help us to create new behaviors, find acceptance and allow tenderness towards ourselves all while witnessing our heartbreak and joy emotions. The witness viewpoint can offer a catalyst towards growth and insight on how to navigate our present reality. Who knows, we may even be able to offer some humor and lighthearted laughter towards ourselves. After all, laughter is good medicine.
“Through my own observations. I am convinced that an absolutely honest and direct inquiry into oneself will lead to understanding.” Bruce Lee
Life will continue to be full of the ups and downs, joys and heartaches, life and death, laughter and tears. The experience of life and the accompanying emotions can teach us how to adjust and continuously grow with life. Allow ourselves to live fully by observing the wide range of emotions that result from engaging in life. Finally, observe yourself and witness all you’ve been through, acknowledge your efforts and then use the information to take the next step. Trust that you can lean into the emotion, listen to its story, gather wisdom and choose your response.