This is a bit of a long post (1,500 words), but notes a few different observations about emotions within the body and how body awareness need not be scary, but can heighten our ability to be kind to ourselves. These are my lessons from Buddhism, from Anger Management and from my own internal shifts of Strength.
I’m not going to lie (which in itself, is a phrase that I could write a whole post about).
I’ve been dealing with a lot of strain the past few weeks; from a job that won’t give me reliable work (and ended up costing me money), volunteering organisations that just won’t get round to filling in the forms, extra training and volunteering requirements on other placements and not being allocated a supervisor at university (thus not being able to do a dissertation and graduate).
I read blogs which talk consistently about accepting your current state, being allowed to feel and respecting your own capacity. I’ve been reading these kinds of posts for a few years now; but the lessons take a while to become part of my daily practise.
Lessons from Buddhism
I co-run a meditation society at University and this week, Karunajala asked how I was and I said; “I haven’t been allocated a supervisor, thus currently have no dissertation.”
His first question was “How does that feel?”
I feel betrayed, hurt and angry.
Because that means all three of my choices were given the option, and turned me down.
“Okay, so it feels personal. Is it really though?”
Well, they’re over-subscribed and they can only take so many people, so I know it’s not intended personally, but it still hurts.
“Okay, good. What if you couldn’t feel that betrayal and hurt? Stop thinking and feel. What would it be like if you could not feel those emotions? Who would you be without them?”
Erm.. I’d still be me, just me who didn’t feel betrayed?
“Okay.. I mean what feelings and what is left of you if you couldn’t feel betrayed?”
And I stopped. And felt. Really felt.
“Ahh. You feel tired. So this is tiredness.”
- Emotions and the Physical Plane
The idea of the exercise wasn’t to stop feeling the emotions or to block out my experience. If anything, it added to the feelings; I noticed that I’m full of worry, of fear and of tiredness, beneath all those feelings of anger, betrayal and hurt.
However, I noticed that those emotions; they’re not in my head; they’re in my body.
I have a history of avoiding my body; of feeling uncomfortable and squeamish around it; but this was something I felt and was content to feel. I’m generally happy to feel my emotions (especially anger, which makes me feel powerful and sorrow which I spent so much time in as a child that it feels comforting) but this was a revelation to me.
This was a technique Hiro Boga used in the Sovereignty Kindergarten teleclass last year – and I remember I only tried it once, but got really strong feelings from it. The focus was different, but the technique was the same; the results of profound “Woah, I feel like this and I had no idea” are the same.
Since Tuesday when I first tried this in meditation, I’ve been trying to check in with it; with the “Vedana” or sensations; the emotions I feel within my body.
Lessons from Anger Management
On Wednesdays, I help out at an anger management group. I went on the course in May and have been helping out at them in the last two courses that have run. After going for myself, I noticed some difference, but not enough to really alter my deep-seated patterns. Now that I’m helping out, I can really notice other’s processes; not being caught up in my own.
One of the key things it’s helped me realise is that we all have a background state of stressors. When someone’s anger is triggered; the key issue isn’t that event, but a deeper lying view.
- The Shift
Nowadays, I’m noticing myself as a calmer person throughout the background stressors. When I saw the email saying I had been, effectively, rejected by all three of the supervisors I’d requested to do my dissertation with, I promptly burst into tears with the full emotions of anger, betrayal, despair and sadness/hurt. However, even while I cried, I dropped my shoulders, took a deep breath and sent off emails to my other options; people I hadn’t been able to put on the form (we could only put three choices down) and texted a friend who would be in my class that morning at University.
When she arrived at the computer room, she gave me a packet of chocolate and said “right, what can we do to sort this out and get you a nice, interesting dissertation.”
I called in re-enforcements in a situation where I would normally have stayed home and “called in sick” so that I could cry more.
In my day-to-day behaviours, I now mention a niggling annoyance within a day of it happening (if it’s going to be a continuous annoyance; like my housemate’s music being loud when she wakes up at 7am) instead of spending mornings getting more and more angry with her and being passive-aggressive about it all.
My emotions are the same; but my relationship to those emotions and to their triggers has shifted.
The Final Lesson: From my Inner Phoenix
It’s Sunday. I have three pieces of work due this week and have only finished one of them.
I spent the day drinking coffee and doing statistics… either for my statistics assignment or for my Philosophy of Statistics assignment. The latter is almost complete: I have one question left to answer and have already spent almost 10 hours on the other 15 (it’s only 1000 words…).
I had happy, upbeat music on, green tea and a mixture of healthy and unhealthy food… I was getting somewhere with the assignment and felt pretty happy with myself.
And then I saw a message in reply to an email I sent a week ago; a message that seemed neutral; but I suddenly found my hands shaking. At first I didn’t even compute that the message was the trigger. My hands had begun shaking and I felt a familiar emotion: anger.
Anger based in hurt and sense of utter panic. I felt the fear; my stomach was continuously flipping and I wanted to punch something.
I sat back, took some breaths and began singing to a happy song to keep my breathing even.
I tried to gently probe with my mind; to search my body for this emotion: I found it curling up in my stomach, stretching along my hands, seeping into my arms and up to coil around my tense shoulders. I recognised that I was in a state of panic, of even terror.
“I feel panic, I feel fear. I feel hurt and I feel anger.”
I re-read the message and felt the shift; felt the storm I’d begun to calm rise up again. “Ahar, so this is the trigger.”
I won’t go into the details, but I do not want to be in contact with anyone like this person. I do not like who they are or how they treat people. They owe me a substantial amount of money (I could buy food for two months with it…) and thus I have to stay in contact until that account is settled. While in contact with them, I’ve lost many nights of sleep in panic over them. I am afraid of them.
“I am afraid.”
The message stated that they can repay me but only at X time in Y place (a time I couldn’t make) and it brought me to terror.
“I’ll never get the money back, I can’t make that time, I’m going to starve.”
And then, I felt the surge of my inner phoenix; a part of me who has been learning from Anger Management and Buddhism, who has been slowly shifting the neurons in my brain to see things differently, who is slowly learning to stand up for me, to move to the front of the V.
“How dare they! They owe ME money. They OWE me. They shouted at me, swore at me, used my past again me! How dare they. No., I will not tolerate this!” and that part of me wrote back a short reply to the message:
“Can’t do that; any other times good? Obviously no point you being X and Y time when I won’t be there.”
The conversation went on with a little more drama about amounts and needing scanned in proof of the bill but it is set; now I’m leaving meditation early to meet them and get the payment. And I feel the fear of that meeting; but then I have this new sense of strength; there is a part of me who is capable of dealing with this fear.
Emotions are a key part of our lives; and I’ve found that asking “where do I feel this?” leads me to new understandings and new options. Because I felt my body, some part of me connected and knew to bring out another part of me to speak in spite of my fear and anger.
I’m quite new to this practise of feeling my emotions as sensations in my body and I’d love to hear if others have had any experiences with this or just how you experience emotions in general.
How do you connect with your emotions? Do you feel them in your body? Does it change or does anger always appear in a certain place/way?
– Rose –