This weekend I was with a friend who became extremely ill. She considered taking a medicine that would most likely improve her symptoms, but then at the last minute decided against it. As a nurse she was afraid it might mask other symptoms that could indicate a more serious problem. If something serious was wrong, if she needed to go to the hospital, she wanted to know that. The only way to know it was to feel it, to feel the sickness.
I wondered how many times we do that with our emotional well-being as well, that we simply numb ourselves and then miss the bigger symptoms that tell us something in our life needs attention. Of course there are times when medication is warranted, but there are also times when we need to feel our emotions, to experience them, to listen to them.
For years I believed emotions were weaknesses. They were simply something that needed to be tamed, contained, or worse still, repressed. In our culture, the masculine qualities within each of us (rational, active qualities) tend to be celebrated while the feminine qualities in us (emotional, reflective qualities) tend to be discounted. I bought into this cultural perspective for the first half of my life. I was embarrassed if a tear rolled down my cheek during a movie and quickly hid the evidence. I felt shame if anything like depression crept up on me. I’m supposed to be stronger than that, I thought, I’m supposed to be better than that. My rational mind ruled. My emotional self stayed in the background, ignored and shamed for her unruly ways.
Then as a beginning counseling student, I met an experienced counselor who shifted my perspective. She said it was negligent to ignore our feelings, to push them down. She explained that emotions were indicators, little messages that something is not right, that something needs to be attended to in our life, nudges to pay attention. It was the first time I had seen emotions as useful, as helpful parts of who we are.
At the time my drug of choice was chronic busyness. If I just keep moving, keep going, keep jumping from one task to another, I won’t have to feel anything. I won’t have time to notice what’s hurting in me, the places where I am wounded, the places that are in need of healing. I can assure you that the biggest mistakes in my life were made during those times, during the times when my rational and emotional sides were out of balance. I needed them both to make decisions. I needed them both for healing. I need both the yin and the yang in my life.
What if we pay attention to our emotions? What if instead of resisting them, we sit with them and allow ourselves to feel them? What if we trust that we are strong enough to experience them, even the uncomfortable ones? What if we see them as indicators that something needs to change or be healed in us, or maybe something just needs to be felt or acknowledged? What if we stop rejecting them and instead believe they are valuable tools in our well-being, that they can help move us to our best self, to our best life?
It has been a long journey for me of learning to pay attention to my emotions, of not feeling shame for them, of using them for growth and healing, of being grateful for them, of accepting them and simply accepting that I am human.
Rumi once wrote, “I grow silent. Dear soul, you speak.” Now I sit with my emotions in silence. I allow them to speak to me. They have much to say. They tell what I need to change, what I need to accept, and what I need to let go of. They whisper my deepest fears and most passionate dreams in my ears. They help me to see the power of those things I have lost and allow me to feel the grief of that. They nudge me when it’s time to hold on and when it’s time to walk away. They remind me of who I am and who I was created to be. They move me to my truest self, to my highest path. They allow me to feel fully alive and fully awake in my own life.
I don't want to go back to sleep again. Our emotions help us to stay awake in our own lives. They are not weaknesses. They are strengths. They need to be heard. And so, it is our job to listen.