There is no shame in feeling emotional pain. We all feel unbearable emotional pain in our human life at some point. Usually we suffer, avoid, suppress, instead of turning towards the core emotional pain of being human.
Regardless of whether or not we have had a difficult childhood, or challenging life circumstances to heal, there is an emotional contraction that we all experience when we come as souls into human bodies.
We arrive as unconditionally loving beings into a conditional world. As children we become conditioned into the allowed parameters of the emotional patterns within our family of origin.
As unbounded babies and open-hearted children we absorb the unspoken emotional energies of those that we live with. We learn quickly, what we are allowed to feel, and not to feel, who we are allowed to be, and not to be.
We conform to our surroundings so we can belong, yet there is an inherent quotient of emotional pain that we all need to bear for being human in a world that cannot always unconditionally love us in all the ways we need to express ourselves.
We grow up learning to love ourselves only to the level that feels comfortable to our family, society and culture. We reject everything inside that cannot be accepted by those around us. We can live our entire lives making the expression of our authenticity conditional on how accepted we are by other people.
An Emotional Birth
Giving birth to my daughter 18 years ago was the first time I was willing to face and feel any kind of pain with full attentive awareness. Prior to that I was living my "conditioned life". I was being the person I was raised to be - dependent on the opinions of others, true to my family patterns, and unknown to myself. I did not realize my choice to have a natural birth would invoke an emotional transformation that I could not have anticipated.
It is helpful to understand emotional pain through the metaphor of childbirth. Most of us would not even consider the truth that feeling our emotional pain could lead to deep joy, passion, and self-compassion. Breathing into, and feeling our most difficult feelings with the same strength and attention needed to give birth to a human baby, can invite a new emotional and psychological birth. It is possible to breathe through the labour of our emotional pain as it contracts, intensifies, peaks, and then releases. When we allow ourselves to feel emotional pain that is beyond our existing comfort zone, we expand into strengths of feeling and a level of passion for life that we did not know existed.
To deeply feel any emotional pain until the joy of "baby is born" on the other side brings us an "earned joy" rather than a "cultivated joy". Earned joy arrives when we go beyond our conditioned limits and allow ourselves to feel everything deeply with the sustained and passionate presence of an open heart. When we love ourselves in this unconditional way, we trust the process enough to feel beyond what we were "allowed" to feel growing up. We learn to love ourselves more than other people were able to in the past. A new creative world opens up.
Natural joy arrives - on the other side of feeling a suppressed emotion - in the body without mental effort. Most of us try to mentally cultivate joy by pursuing or creating pleasure. But as soon as the surface excitement of the party is over, the old rejected emotions seep back into our awareness. What we are truly seeking is embodied joy. We earn our embodied joy by becoming sensitively willing to bear any grief, anger, or fear that comes up in our life, and to love it until it dissipates.
"The art of life is to stay wide open and be vulnerable, yet at the same time to sit with the mystery and the awe and with the unbearable pain — to just be with it all." - Ram Dass
Eighteen years ago, I wanted a conscious, natural birth. I was determined to feel every part of the process. Twelve hours later, my baby girl was born without drugs or medical intervention. Ironically right after her birth, I had to be sedated to have emergency surgery, but when I awoke from surgery, I knew I had gone through an initiation. I felt distinctly different.
I stayed up all night in awe of my own power, surging with uncommon energy. After twelve hours of sustained presence to intense pain, I knew was a stronger person than I was before my daughter's birth. Through the difficulty of labour, I went beyond myself. And the more I was determined to feel, the more I was able to trust that a larger benevolent force was supporting me in my pain.
I look back on the gift of my birthing experience as a turning point in my life. Through labouring through intensely jagged pain for 12 hours to birth my daughter, I crossed the threshold into understanding my own strength for the first time. After birthing my daughter my authentic creativity really began. I began to draw, paint and write spontaneously. I changed my whole life to reflect my intuition. I found my courage and passion for living. After I tasted my own willingness to feel the hard stuff - I knew I was strong enough to live my life authentically.
We can trust that the Larger Forces of life are collaborating with our emotional healing - even as when feel intense, and at times, unbearable pain. As we labor to birth our authentic emotional truth into each moment, we leave our old emotional conditioning behind, and something stronger and more passionate births into our life.
When we are willing to feel what is uncomfortable, we change profoundly. The passion, freedom, and reverence for life on the other side of a difficult feeling quite different from the careful way that we normally live our lives.
We can focus our energy, attention, prayers and questions on each new layer of arising emotional pain, and ask that the Larger Life give us clues, guidance and support about how to feel, heal and release our discomfort. We can ask for the help to love ourselves enough to move into an authentic life on the other side of our conditioned emotional limits.
When we fear our own feelings we stay passive, controlled, and unable to take original action in our lives. We can remind ourselves that the strength of unconditional love is always stronger than emotional pain. We can choose to breathe deeply into the stuck, contracted, hurting places in our body. It is possible, with help from on High, to stay continually and unconditionally present to whatever feelings we are experiencing, without distracting or sedating away from them.
The Story of Our Emotional Body
Our emotional body is formed from birth to age seven before we have the rationality to explain it. As children we unquestionably soak up the emotional imbalances of the people in our midst, and left unexamined, we take them on as our own. When we feel big feelings in our current life, we have the opportunity to clear out energy blockages from the past. As spiritual teacher Michael Brown explains, "All our fear, anger and grief of today are the masked experiences of our own frightened child self calling us for help."
It is natural to let our emotions pass through us, but whatever was not accepted in the past needs attention in our non-judgmental presence to begin to flow spontaneously again. If we do not take the time to clear old emotional energies they accumulate throughout our life. As we mature, we can forget that we are unconditionally loveable. We can forget that we are bright with potential. We can shut down our light early, and go along with the silent despair of the status quo. Left unattended, our unfelt emotions can become accumulated in our bodies, layer upon layer, causing us to feel exhausted, heavy, and at times thick with depression.
Most of us tend to react to difficult feelings through the eyes and feelings of a child part of self and continue to re-bury our emotions. If we do not process and cleanse our challenging emotions when they arise to be cleared, as the years go on, we will feel physically stiff and sore, and well on our way to chronic illness. When we hold everything inside we go through the motions of life, numb, afraid, and irritated. Most of of us are not willing to admit how much we emotionally struggle inside. Most of are afraid to share how often we feel emotionally overwhelmed.
Facing Pain vs. Avoiding Pain
Many of us choose to avoid our feelings as much as we possibly can. We are entrained in our world to believe that difficult feelings are "wrong" and that we should do everything we can to distract or sedate ourselves away from them. We habitually stuff down uncomfortable emotions down whenever they rise up to be felt and moved through, and in this way, we stay emotionally young. We force anything that feels unacceptable into deep storage in our heart until life feels flat and predictable.
When we live in a flat-lined state we try to heal our emotionality through thinking and doing rather than feeling. We are not taught that to become more emotionally present means sometimes feeling intense discomfort in our bodies until the energy unblocks and we feel free and spontaneous again. Feeling each layer of stored emotion - burning off what we previously did not have the strength or presence to withstand - is the gradual process of cleansing our heart.
At key points in our life, we will feel called to feel and integrate everything we could not emotionally handle from our past, and the choice is ours. If we refuse to address the non-integrated energies from the past when they arise, we will dissociate from loving ourselves a little bit more. Every feeling we deny makes life feel progressively inauthentic and stops up the natural flow of our energy. Life ignites and triggers us to revisit the misunderstood experiences and unprocessed emotional energies that we could not digest from the past, so that we can re-open our heart to our spontaneity and authentic passion.
"Mastering the ability of lavishing ourselves with unconditional love is one of the greatest accomplishments we can achieve in this life."
At a certain point in our psychological maturity we can become willing to feel our current emotional condition without distracting or sedating away from it. The aim being to become unconditionally present to every moment of our life, from the mundane, to the difficult, to the beautiful, without closing our heart.
To employ such strength is the inner battle of the heroine's/hero's journey. Facing our most discomforting feelings can feel like a battle, or even a full-on war within. The parts of ourselves that wants to sedate away and control our feelings to fit into our comfort zone, wage war with the spontaneous heart that wants to feel, love and integrate everything that we are inside.
Where we once projected the reasons for our emotional pain out onto other people in our past, we can now take full responsibility for feeling scared, hurt, empty, lacking and unfulfilled. We can take responsibility for not loving ourselves unconditionally. At a certain point in our maturity, the story of what has happened in our past can be let go of, and the emotional cleansing work can begin in earnest. The opening of the heart to self-compassion and the re-parenting through compassionate presence can begin.
In the midst of our seemingly endless self-torture the question always arises, "Why would I want to feel all of these terrible feelings?" The answer is: when we allow ourselves to accept and feel what we habitually suppress, something new comes forward into our character. We discover what we are really made of. We discover a strength, a poise, or a gift that was hidden within our fearful conditioning. We know we are solidly able to love ourselves and our life starts to move again.
We discover that the strength that we have been hiding from is needed to fulfill our purpose for being here. By feeling our feelings, a change that we need to make comes clear. We see where we have been habitually closing down to love, and we open to admitting to and meeting our denied emotional needs. The joy, peace, love, and inspiration on the other side of our most challenging inner states is where our conditioning ends and our new authentic and spontaneous life begins. The more challenging and seemingly unbearable the feeling we have, the greater is the freedom that lies in waiting on the other side.
When we do not make our feelings wrong, or blame the story of our life, we simply allow ourselves to feel and allow the unexplainable aching neediness, wrenching grief, annihilating fear, mortifying shame, and intense anger move through us. We breathe and labour through our most difficult emotions without sedation - bare and vulnerable, wide open, emotionally naked - and as in natural childbirth, we will arrive glowing and triumphant on the other side.
Once each layer of suppressed pain is unraveled, accepted, and integrated, it is gone forever. Psychologist and spiritual teacher Chuck Spezzano writes:
"If we witness our suffering, at some point, it begins to unfold, sensation by sensation, and untangle itself. With emotional pain, if we freely give ourselves to pay attention to it, it begins to show us the issue surrounding and driving it."
"The root of the emotional charge is from the past. When we witness our suffering and don't turn away from it, it eventually takes us back to the roots where it began, and if we choose to watch it closely, even the roots will untangle."
We have everything within us to birth our emotional resilience. There is a poignant responsibility, strength, and elegance to allowing everything we feel to pass through our bodies and have its day in our awareness. For example, crying without reason helps put us back into the sensuality of our body and in touch with our intuitive and spontaneous nature.
When we hold everything inside with love, we evolve into bodies that feel alive, sensual, powerful and open at any age. We become less afraid of expressing our truth. It no longer matters what people think of us because we feel radiant on the inside. When we love ourselves unconditionally, we earn our joy and spontaneity. We feel radiant self-compassion. We make ourselves whole. This is unconditional love.