In completion of this last moon cycle, I have been thinking a lot about difficult feelings. Pain. Loss. Grief. Regret. Anger. Feelings that we so often want to avoid. Feelings that we have been trained to hide, suppress, or project onto others (more about this in another post.) Feelings that we have experienced as dangerous — that may have brought punishment, persecution, or harm towards us when we expressed them.
In her groundbreaking book “Healing Sex”, Staci Haines describes working with triggers (an experience of an overwhelming feeling, evoked through a present day stimulus that reminds us of a past harm or trauma) as our path towards healing. She states, “triggers act as signposts to what is in need of healing. They guide you on the road to freedom.”
Feelings, once recognized, are the landing posts on the maps to our hidden, wounded hearts. They give us a place to lean in, to get even more present, and to become curious — what is this feeling, this place, this experience? What led me to arrive here? What path of thought or action have I been traveling that I did not even recognize, nor remember starting? Is this the path I want to be on? What healing is needed on this path, so I can choose another if I want and am ready to leave it?
The trouble is, we often do everything we can to avoid our feelings, or find ourselves drowning in their waves.
Feelings can be subtle like a gentle lapping of water that comes and goes over our heart and our being, or they can be wild, raw, and overwhelming like a tidal wave that crashes and pulls us in well past our ability to gain our bearings. If we have a way to be with and allow these experiences to flow through us, we can develop an essential trust in our own selves to find our way back home.
At some point over the last few years, I began a practice of swimming in the ocean. Having been quite scared of the power of the ocean’s tides since I was knocked over by a wave as a child, I tended to watch the waters from a respectful if unnecessary distance. Once I began swimming in the ocean again, I discovered an incredible joy and freedom I hadn’t known existed. At one point, seeking a safe way to brave the waters of the bay area, I of course began by researching all the things that could go wrong. My fear was definitely leading the way! This brought me to riptides.
Riptides are incredibly strong currents that cut through and against waves, carrying everything within their flow back out to the sea. From what I hear, surfers love them! However, I found them terrifying and immediately decided to learn what to do to survive a riptide. I discovered, that the way to survive was not to fight it, not to swim against it, not to try to control it in any way, but to simply let it carry you out and then when possible, to swim to the left or right until you got out of its currents and were able to swim back to shore. This began to sound a lot like how we can learn to be with and ride out our feelings, without drowning.
The way to release ourselves from the overwhelming currents of our emotions is to let go, and feel. To float in their currents. To allow ourselves to be held through them. To know that they will end. To trust we will find our way back home, again.
In holding ourselves through our feelings, it is essential to develop some connection you can rely on, to hold you. So much of the core traumas most of us have is the experience of having a feeling, and being left alone in it. Abandoned to the waves. How can we survive the riptide if no one has ever taught us how? If we were shamed or punished for being swept away in its currents before we even knew they were there? Or if everyone turned away from us the moment we began to get pulled out to sea?
Whatever your belief system, I want to invite you to practice this. Find a spot in your home or out in nature where you feel really good, that feels like a nice spot you can relax in. I invite you to notice your breath in this place, see if you can trace the sensations of your breath moving into and away from your body. I want to invite you to meditate, journal, talk a mindful walk in nature, or draw as a way to explore the following prompt:
As you settle into this place where you can feel relaxed, I want you to imagine a part of yourself or this world that wants only your highest good as their sole intent. The highest good for your full soul or being’s development and expression. The highest good for the totality of who you are, which is truly beyond what any of us can imagine. This being can be a sense of your highest self, a spiritual or mythological figure, an animal being, a plant being, or a place in nature. It may even be simply a light, a sound, or an inner knowing.
I want to invite you to imagine that part of yourself or the world, and once you feel connected, to ask — if they would agree to be with you in exploring your feelings. If yes, spend some time getting to know them. What is like being in their presence? What do they look like, smell like? What do you feel inside when they are around? You may write about them, draw them, do a dance or a movement about them, or simply sit in their presence. Just be with them. You can try this visualization as many times as needed, till you find a connection.
When you’ve gotten to know them, ask them if they would be willing to help you learn to stay through these currents of feelings. If they would be willing to hold you, especially when it feels like no one else can. If they would be willing to be with you through everything you feel, so that you are never alone. You may write about this, draw about it, do a dance or movement, or simply just be with this experience. Really let yourself connect.
When you are ready, taking all the time you need, just allow yourself to come back to the place where you are sitting or walking meditatively, and begin to notice the world around you. Notice the colors and shapes. Notice the quality of the air and the textures. Notice your breath as it moves in and out. And just rest here, till you feel complete.
I offer this guided exploration to you as a way to begin to connect with something or someone that can hold you through all the currents of your feelings. The next time you want to explore being with your feelings, call on this presence. Ask them to hold you. Practice breathing and staying present. The moment you start to check out, fight against it, or get overwhelmed — remember and strengthen your connection with this being. They are there to hold you. Practice this so that when big emotions come, you may begin to automatically call upon them to help you.
So many of us suffer from being left alone in our feelings, it makes sense that we often do everything possible to avoid feeling, or get trapped in the depths of them. We need support on this path. We need something or someone who can just be with us, as we learn to be more and more deeply with our own selves.
This week I have been practicing imagining my breath as the tides of the ocean. They steady me, when the waves of grief or anger come crashing over my shores, threatening to spill everywhere. They rock me, when quiet pain or loneliness laps at my heart, aching. They deepen me, when happiness or pleasure warms my body, and I want to grasp on and not let go. They are the constant holders, the loyal companions for our bodies on this journey, this life, this path.
if– meditation, by nayyirah waheed
can calm itself
so can you.
In learning to turn towards and ride the currents of our feelings, we can find the places within that need healing, thus freeing ourselves from these patterns we so often get stuck in. There is so much more to explore here, but for now — may this offering serve you, wherever you are on your path, to feel a little less alone, and a little more connected. May we all learn to float, and swim back home.