We all have the basic right to feel. What we feel defines our path in life and ultimately who we are.
Feelings come from our senses, which we use to interpret the world around us. Senses are a gateway between our inner and outer world and give us the necessary data input to our systems. This data allows us to give meaning to our experiences and determines what we feel.
We use sight to gaze upon a loved ones’ face, watch reality unfold before us and watch things that bring us joy, like our dog or child playing, sporting events, plays or concerts. We use smell to enhance taste or bring us stress relief with aromatherapy. Taste is useful when choosing what we eat and determining if food is fresh. Touch allows us to connect to others and enjoy hugs and holding hands, while also protecting us from the danger of a hot stove. We use hearing for communication, listening to our favorite song, and hearing those we love laugh. Even if we don’t have all the senses, we use what we do have to interpret the world around us.
This combination of what we sense and what we feel gives us the emotional quality of each experience. Thus, our emotions are our reactions to the sensory data that we are receiving through our daily lives. Senses bring information, feelings are our reactions to that information and emotions are how we organize those feelings. Emotions bring us important messages about life situations and people around us. Without our emotions, we are stunted and cannot grow or break free from destructive habits and addictions.
Emotions are our guide through life, showing us the way.
As human beings, we all experience emotions; they are a normal and much-needed part of life, so why are we not allowed to feel? Why are we encouraged to stuff down emotions and move away from such a natural thing? Why are emotions considered symptoms? Why is it considered weird or unnatural to feel? Why are emotions something that need to be hidden or suppressed?
Living life disconnected from myself
I lived a life where I stuffed down and ran from what I was feeling. I ignored important messages from my body and my soul, all so I could fit in and do what was expected of me.
I also ran from feeling to suppress unprocessed emotions from my childhood. I was taught to feel shame around what I was feeling, and that the opinions of others was all that mattered. I was shamed into believing that what I was feeling was wrong and learned to conform to what others wanted me to be, so I would be accepted. I so desperately wanted to feel loved and good enough, so I naturally learned to disconnect and ignore my intuition. I went through life doubting my power, what I was feeling and myself.
I used shopping, eating, smoking, drugs and alcohol to silence the screaming of my true emotions. I fell deeper and deeper into isolation and withdrew from those around me, never facing those true feelings. I felt guilty and ashamed for feeling and like I was a terrible person and undeserving of love. I put on many masks in daily life to fit in and to be who everyone else wanted me to be, never caring for my needs and tuning out what would make me happy. I listened to doctors prescribing more and more drugs to change the emotions I was feeling, to treat my “symptoms.”
When I discovered yoga on my journey back to health, I discovered a connection to my physical and spiritual being that I had long suppressed. I knew that in order to heal, I had to feel.
Confronting the past
Through movement and meditation, I was able to unlock buried emotions and memories that needed to be processed, instead of stifled. I was able to confront the pain of my past and walk through it, releasing its hold on me forever.
The ability to feel caused addictions to fall away and each layer of unprocessed emotions that were stripped off brought me to the core of my suffering. The root was compassionately brought into the light of awareness, where it could be transmuted and healed. It was in this light that I could see, feel, process and let go of a painful past. I finally found the peace I was so desperately seeking.
About five years ago, when I was facing liver failure, diabetes and death, I had a choice to run or face that fear. I knew that if I wanted to survive, I had to feel, no matter how intense the emotions were. Along with a balanced, healthy, gluten-free diet and exercise, feeling saved my life. I chose to feel and fight for life. I shed the toxic eighty pounds of weight gained from medication and emotional eating, releasing the suppressed emotions buried in those cells.
Emotions as a guide
I use emotions now as a guide and always move toward things that bring me joy.
Reading a book on a rainy day, spending time with my husband, playing with my dog, drinking a cup of tea and baking gluten free are very simple things that remind me that what I feel is important. How I feel lets me know where I am in life.
Am I happy or back on the path to suffering? Whatever I feel at any given moment is the answer.
If I’m doing something that ignites anger or fear, I stop and notice. I gently transition from outward to inward and learn from what I feel. I figure emotions—especially intense ones—are calling for my attention and if I ignore those messages, they will grow louder, more destructive and out of control. That will bring me to a place of intense suffering, just like I experienced in my past.
My twelve years on medications from a misdiagnosis of bipolar disorder taught me many lessons. One of them was that when we ignore what we feel, we are headed down a path of disconnection from the world and ourselves, leaving us lonely, melancholy, loveless and joyless. It took me facing death to realize that something had to change. At that point, I had to start asking some questions. I had to shed all of the things and people that stifled feeling and for the first time ever, courageously feel, no matter how unpleasant and uncomfortable.
What we feel is important
Those feelings can free us or imprison us, depending on whether we have the courage or not to face a range of feelings with honesty and compassion.
Breaking free from our past comes from confronting those intense emotions of the past with compassion. Only then can we heal and interpret our emotions in a useful and healthy way. Normal ups and downs and a balanced ebb and flow of emotions are a normal part of life. We can stuff them down or use them to guide us to a happier life.