“Kathy,” she said to me, “You think your emotions make you weak.”
“Yeah,” that seemed self evident.
“You’re wrong,” she said. “Learning to live into your emotional experience, be in it and learn from it will make you stronger and more powerful.”
I was highly skeptical. She, by the way, was/is Sarita Chawla, a beautiful, elegant, graceful, powerful woman I met at ALIA in 2008 who offered to coach me. I was skeptical but prepared to be proven wrong. She nudged me, coaxed me and provoked me. She made me angry and frustrated. She helped me discover the voice of my internal judge and find strategies to disempower its impact. She guided my journey from one of walking through my experience to one of living into it, learning to enquire into my emotional response to see, sense and understand what is there for me to learn.
She was right. I am stronger, more compassionate and more powerful. It’s been quite the journey, of course. I am usually more serene, centered, present and calm. Joy, delight and love are usually the emotions that dominant my day-to-day experience.
But not everyday is like that. I also have shadow days. I can’t help but think that everyone does. That we all have days – or parts of days – where we go to deep, dark places. The days when we are overwhelmed, when the internal judge is speaking nonsense to us about who we are or aren’t and we tending to believe it, when we are off our center, discombobulated, sad, feeling pulled in many directions or just want to let the tears flow – or perhaps we can’t stop them from flowing.
In 2009, a friend and I spent a day on the land at Gold Lake, Colorado. Our dear friends Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea helped in the preparation for that day. One of the things they suggested was that the sites we chose be far enough away from each other that we couldn’t see or hear each other – in the event that we wanted to cry out or wail. At the time, there were so many other experiences that were alive for me, wailing was not one of them.
Recently, I went for a run in my neighbourhood in Bedford which took me down to the park on the water. I needed the physicality of the run and the touch into nature, taking the time to sit on the grass, meditate and reflect while looking out over the water. The sadness that was in me, triggered interestingly enough by the offer of a gift that I do not yet know if I will accept, was so intense that tears did flow and I had the feeling that I wanted to wail. The intensity of emotion alive in me. The vibrancy of experience. Convention kept the wail in. I wasn’t sure how other park users would respond if I gave way to such a depth of sadness and grief in a place one wouldn’t expect to encounter it. Not the tears though, I let them flow.
I’ve witnessed a lot of people cry. One-on-one. In small and large groups. Through processes where people are able to access their own emotional experience. There aren’t many who can let the tears flow without apologizing for them. One of my dreams is that we can live in a world where we no longer feel the need to apologize for our tears – such a beautiful expression of release. I no longer apologize for mine – even when they show up in a large group experience. I no longer try to diminish my experience but want to honour it and my passage through it.
Of course, I don’t want to be stuck in my experience either. I want to understand the story that is alive in me that leads to the tears or the anger or the frustration or whatever else it is that is showing up. When I understand the story I can release it, shift it or rewrite it – and I often do. It is part of hosting myself to deeper places in my life and growing my capacity to host deeper space for others. It is part of my journey to open heartedness.
More and more, I am understanding my experience in relation to me, to own it in relation to my journey, to not project it onto others – or blame others – who may have triggered something in me. The people around me are a beautiful reflection of where I am in the journey – the ones who trigger things and the ones who simply mirror back the beauty of the journey and the beauty of me as I show up – usually, often, in the depth of who I have been able to access since I began the journey of understanding that my emotions are my ally and that by acknowledging them, living into them and learning from them I grow my capacity to host deep space, to host another human being, to host myself. I am deeply grateful for the wide array of friends who reflect back to me the depth of my journey.
I am not afraid anymore. I know vulnerability is not weakness and that strength grows when we are willing to know what is rising up in us, willing to meet ourselves in the many ways we show up, allowing ourselves to be in our power, strength and beauty, also without apology but always with compassion, humility, delight and joy.
And it is okay for some days to be shadow days. It is part of the journey. We all have them. They do not make us weak. They show us the path to strength and beauty. I no longer feel the need to wail in this moment, but who knows what the next will show up. I am exactly where I need to be.
Not every day is full of light. Not every day is a shadow day either. But facing the shadow brings light to even the darkness of those days and by becoming aware of the story that is alive in me, I can shift the shape of the story, of the day and of my life – which I have been doing story by story, day by day.