One of the most prominent teachers in my life who taught me the importance of experiencing emotions, and the ability to move through them effortlessly, wasn't someone with decades of life experience or a 70-year-old person on top of a mountain. Instead, he is my four-year-old son. Do you want to view the entire spectrum of human emotion express itself while effortlessly within 10 minutes? Then spend some time with a child.
Everyone wants to be seen and heard.
I recognized early that my son would not respond to the same dismissal of feelings that adults do. The more I pushed for joy, the more he experienced anger. For example, he was scared of swimming, and instead of saying to him, it's safe, come on, don't be afraid, and pull him into the pool without his consent. I would respond calmly and repeat back to him. You're feeling scared. Or, sometimes I am scared to try new things too. And before you knew it, he was ready to get into the pool.
He felt unsafe, and his body was tense, eyes widen, frozen at the edge of the pool. And instead of strong-arming him into something he was frightened to do, I regulated with him. I was the anchor. I was a safe place to explore the feelings so his body could move through the experience unharmed.
So how does this relate to adults?
As we age, our abilities to naturally experience our emotions in the present moment become obscured. After working a 10-hour shift, for example, it might be more appealing to tune out a bit, be drawn in by Netflix than, say, journaling or sitting with our experiences.
Our emotions are the gateway into present moment awareness. So many of us live in our heads, which disconnects us from present moment awareness and our life force energy. We live in imaginary scenarios to run away from what emotion is presenting itself. We'd rather contemplate a hypothetical future or dwell on the discomforting past than sitting with what we're feeling.
Living in our imaginations can sometimes feel like we're constantly pushing a boulder up a hill. But many of us were not taught through modeling how to regulate ourselves properly. So our emotions control us.
What is being outside the present moment look like?
You are outside tending to your garden. You cannot stop thinking about how your partner reacted to you sharing your feelings this morning. You imagine scenarios of what you should have said instead. You feel angry and find yourself holding your breath and not focusing on what you came outside to do. You are spiraling and unable to process your feelings safely.
Being in the present moment may look like...
You are outside tending to your garden and cannot stop thinking of how your partner hurt your feelings that morning. You feel anger. You pause to breathe, acknowledge the constriction you feel in your body. The sensations feel like pins and needles, and unable to take a deep breath. You notice this and sit down, you take a deep breath in, and you inhale the scent of the dirt, grass, and a hint of the blooming lilacs. The smell brings you a moment of peace, and in your body, you may feel a bit of spaciousness. You then decide whether at that moment you'd like to take a few minutes to feel into the anger that was presenting itself, or you may find that you've settled a bit and would like to care for your garden.
I couldn't possibly distill this topic into just two scenarios; however, the point is to share that being in the present moment allows us to choose how we respond to the unavoidable circumstances we face in life -we are in the eye of the storm, not the proverbial storm.
Yes, it is natural for a child to experience the present moment, moving through the spectrum of human emotions with dexterity. And the truth is, as adults, many of us cannot do this. Of course, our aspirations change to meet our social conditioning, passions, and families. All that said, let's be honest, life can be hard sometimes.
And, understandably, we try entirely to block off parts of us that are not happy or avoid perspectives of ourselves that are too overwhelming. We are constantly battling ourselves.
But we don't have to be at war with ourselves. And though our parents may not have modeled to us safe ways to come back into our bodies, we can learn to do that for ourselves. One way you can slow down just a bit longer to let yourself settle into the discomfort is by,
Breathing. “Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh,
Sounds simple, but by breathing, we can create a little space. A long, slow, and deep inhalation can give us the time-out we need. And that's a great tool to learn. Start slow, and take some time being gentle with yourself. We all want to be seen and heard, and a great place is to start listening to ourselves.
If you are interested in working with your emotions, please get in touch with me to schedule a session.