“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.
Thanks for writing from your heart and about shadow days, Kathy.
You’re right. We ALL have them… and I’ll reread this blog when I forget that:-)
Thanks Sherri. I do feel we all have them – which is why I was inspired to write about my experience – and also because people normally experience the joyful, calm me. But this is all part of the journey and finding the way through the shadow days generates greater capacity to know it for what it is, leave it behind and step more often and more fully into the days full of light.
Dear friend…your voice just continues to shine in this writing! Keeps me posting too…love it!
Thank you Chris.
Hé Kathy, this reminds me of a day – many, many years ago when I did a training on Emotional Bodywork (a lot of emotions there to explore!!!) – when I had been crying at home and I needed to go out to do some shopping, and caught myself thinking “I can’t go out like that, what will people think!?!” – meaning eyes red from the crying. Then I stopped and thought: “What will they think? only that I have been crying!” – there seemed no more reason to hide my eyes, because I realised that we, humans, all cry now and then. This was then a big step for me; in the meantime it has become natural to show emotions when they are there.
But the more you express your emotions – of course without hurting others – the more the charge will disappear and stillness inside becomes more natural.
Thanks for writing!
Thanks Ria. In reading your note I am reminded how far removed we are living into life in Society. Thinking of this with my mother’s death and separated out or compartmentalized we are from so many of the impactful events in life – including our emotional experiences. It’s okay if we have them – so long as we do it in private where we don’t make anyone else uncomfortable and/or we don’t touch them in their tender hearted places. Much more write on this topic I think.
Thanks for taking the time to articulate and share with such honesty these core operating principles for how we can choose to run with and from our emotions, our old stories and open to the new ones. Big bouncy blessings to you!
Monica, thank you for your kind words. I’m reflecting a lot on the stories we live into and noticing how powerfully they can contribute to stuckness. Noticing the stuck points, enquiring into them can illuminate what and where to shift into new story. It is powerful as we attune to it and there is something fundamentally important in this time to tuning in – to our individual stories and also to the collective stories.
Going back in my inbox, I had not yet read this posting. As usual, your words reach me at auspicious times. I am reminded lately in all areas of my life of the importance of allowing others to see me for all of who I am, the tears and vulnerabilty are part of being fully human, and invites the other to be the same.
I will save this writing of yours and return to it.
In The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran writes that “our joy is our sorrow unmasked”. We are light and shadow, joy and sorrow, strong and vulnerable… Both, not either.
The joy of paradox – it is both. When we know we are more powerful and stronger. It is quite the journey for sure. Thank you Anne.
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