I don’t have too many memories from childhood, but this one is vivid. I was five years old. Nikki, our 2-year-old black German Shepherd made a harrowing scream/howl sound from the backyard. My mother rushed outside to find her collapsed on the patio. It gets a bit cloudy here, but I think the dog either died there or my mother called someone to come stay with my little brother and I while she rushed Nikki to the vet. In any case, our precious pet was suddenly and tragically gone.
When my dad came home from work that afternoon, I remember bravely telling him that I was a “big girl” because I did not cry. Wow. My first remembered instance of stuffing my feelings down.
I perfected my technique over the years, swallowing my feelings every time they were uncomfortable, ignoring both emotional and physical pain, pretending to feel how I thought I was supposed to feel, and distracting myself by staying busy. The outcome: it is often difficult for me not only to express, but to feel my own feelings. I’m working to unravel all of that. Why? Because I believe the adage that you have to feel to heal. And I believe that if we learn heal our relationship to our own and others’ feelings, we can take a huge step forward in embracing our connectedness.
Our culture supports the masking of unpleasant feelings, even encourages it, for both women and men. Painful emotions like fear, anger, grief or loneliness are considered “negative.” Women have been labeled as hysterical and men as weak for expressing emotions. No wonder we avoid it!
Sometimes we forget that everything is made up of shadow and light, and that we need both to be whole. We often don’t realize that shadow feelings can be remarkable teachers. But we only learn when we are brave enough to feel the shadowy feelings.
I get that we sometimes need to develop coping mechanisms so that dark feelings don’t swamp us. Believe me, I’ve lived it. But during this time of global uncertainty, tragedy and unprecedented change, I’ve decided to give myself permission to feel. All of it. The hope and the despair. Without judgement.
When I get stuck, I dance. That’s a lesson I’ve learned from Qoya. The combination of movement and music allow me to identify the feeling in my body and name it, and then the emotions flow. Another concept Qoya has taught me is the idea of holding space. This means being fully present to the feelings of others without judging, trying to fix them or even offering advice. It also works wonders to be present in this way with myself.
I’m finding that the more often I give myself permission to feel without censorship, the more I can feel. The more I can feel, the more present I can be with others. And the deeper we all can feel, the higher we all can rise.