In Part 1 we explored the wisdom of mindfully sensing into ones body to locate a connection with the Earths support when challenging emotions arise. I encouraged a daily practice and offered a few examples of grounding.
At a recent training I attended the presenter explained that the longest duration an emotion remains with us is 72 hours. While searching for this source I came across Verduyn & Lavrijsen's 2014 research on emotions that determined sadness (often resulting from events such as accidents or loss) can outlast all other emotions in duration at up to 120 hours, the intense emotion of hatred was second in length dropping to an average of 60 hours, and joy came in third with the potential for 35 hours of unabridged happiness.
While we're all inclined to embrace joy, when we find ourselves in the grips of an unwelcome emotion it can feel like an eternity. Yet, upon reflection, you may notice most emotions tend to move through you rather quickly before being replaced, after all, variation is the ground of experience*. In fact the same research listed the majority of emotions - fear, boredom, anger, greed, shame, jealousy, enthusiasm, and gratitude to name a few, as lasting on average under 30 minutes. This skewed perception of unbearable emotions being never ending exists in part because we tend to fight against our challenging emotions, judging them, and at times ourselves as wrong, unacceptable, and even bad, rather than welcoming these emotions as an opportunity for self-engagement and growth. The next time an unwelcome emotion arises see if you can view this as an opportunity to get curious.
Begin with dropping into your body and grounding. Next, acknowledge what you are feeling, giving room for the emotion to be without judgment, criticism, or resistance. This is very important because rejecting your thoughts, feelings, and sensations as wrong can lead to deep-rooted guilt and shame. In other words, denying or resisting your unwelcome emotions will only strengthen them, so do your best to simply observe and acknowledge.
Once you've acknowledged what emotion is present, scan your body and locate where this emotion resides. What do you notice in your jaw, throat, shoulders, belly, pelvis, legs, arms, hands, et cetera? Usually one area will call your attention more strongly than the others. If not, pick an area with a sensation you want to focus on, there is no right or wrong.
Observe any specific qualities to the sensation such as tightening, constriction, empty, numb, heavy, tingly, hot, or cold? Take your time and just notice, again without judgment, where your attention is called and what is present. It may feel a bit overwhelming at first to realize what sensations are present, but like emotions, the sensations will move through you with time. If your body wants to move allow it the space to move. If you still feel overwhelmed shift your focus back to grounding and contacting a sense of safety in your environment*.
After you've located and observed the sensation most present, notice what shape it takes in your body. Does the shape shift or stay the same? It may move or pendulate from one size and shape to another. This movement is a positive indication that it is not stuck, stay with it. * If you feel tense or constricted visualize your breath gently touching and permeating the sensation of tension. Now find the edges of the shape and see if you can soften around it, entering into that softness and giving it lots of space to simply be. Kindly put aside any stories about yourself as you allow what is present. *
What affect does contacting the sensation and allowing it room to be have on you? If you're experiencing discomfort, continue to bring awareness to the soft space around the sensation, and move if you feel a desire to move. If you experience resistance you can work the same way with the resistance then return to the emotion. How is it to acknowledge and allow the emotion and accompanying sensations without identifying or rejecting?
As you inhabit yourself more fully you may begin to see all of your emotions as something of value. As you face each emotion with compassion and understanding you will continue to gain greater freedom and peace.
Part 3 will help to decipher what messages your emotions are sending.
* Peter Wright, LMFT; Stanley Keleman
*If overwhelm continues there may be trauma present and it would be best to work with a somatically trained psychotherapist who specializes in trauma. If feelings such as sadness blend into moods such as depression or grief that persist for an uncomfortable period of time, consider seeking the support of a doctor, therapist, or other healing professional.
* inspired by Peter Levine
* inspired by John Welwood