Like most of you during this time of sheltering in place, I also have experienced a rollercoaster of emotions.
I wake up feeling hopeful and optimistic only to be overwhelmed with sadness or fear just minutes later.
When I came into recovery, I was flush with the full spectrum of the emotions I had escaped for years through taking pills and compulsively working.
These days remind me of my early recovery except for one large difference. I now have a toolkit full of valuable skills that I have acquired during my five years of recovery.
The Buddhists talk about life being filled with 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows. I first heard about this concept about 4 years ago, when I was immersing myself in the study of Buddhism.
It was the first time that I truly understood that our sorrows are a natural part of life and not something to be avoided.
We can experience, savor and appreciate the 10,000 joys, while not clinging to them too tightly because they will pass naturally..
We can experience the 10,000 sorrows by holding them with an attitude of kindness and curiosity.
It is so much clearer to me now, that what we resist persists and that we need to experience “The full human Catastrophe.”
When we numb our challenging emotions, we also lose access to our capacity to experience joy, excitement and hope.
Here are three practices to help you experience the full spectrum of your emotional landscape.
Self-compassion is a way of treating ourselves as we would a good friend. It is a powerful antidote to shame. Self–compassion has three elements. The first is mindfulness, which is the ability to be present to what is occurring in the moment. In order to open our hearts to ourselves, we need the courage to sit with our suffering. We need to validate it, name it and acknowledge how challenging it is. The second element of self-compassion is kindness rather than self-judgment. This is the capacity to extend to ourselves acts of self-care. This involves checking in and asking what we need in the moment and giving it to ourselves. Sometimes kindness is a loving gesture such as a massage or bubble bath and other times it can be a loving phrase such as, “ You are not alone,” or “I care about your suffering.” The last element of self-compassion is common humanity. This is the idea that we all suffer and that it is part of being human. When we suffer we often think that something has gone wrong or that we are failing in some way which can lead to self-isolation. When we remember that struggle is what makes us human and connects us to others, we feel less alone.
The RAIN practice has been popularized by the psychologist Tara Brach. This practice involves first Recognizing the emotions that we are experiencing in any given moment. We note the emotion in a non-judgmental and open way. The second step involves Allowing the emotions to be present. We are giving ourselves permission to feel our emotions. By allowing this we do not need to like our emotions but just let them be. We are saying a silent “yes” to whatever we find and making space for everything. In the third step we Investigate our experience with an attitude of kindness. We explore with curiosity as to how the emotion is being experienced in our body. We investigate with curious questions as to what we are needing in the moment, or what we are believing. Finally in Nurture, we call on the wisest, most compassionate part of our being to offer a loving message. We ask if in this moment, there are actions we could take to nurture or support ourselves.
3. Urge surfing.
Urge surfing is a practice that was popularized by Alan Marlatt. It was initially used to help people cope with their cravings but can also be used to navigate challenging emotions. Emotions only last about 90 seconds if we allow them to take their natural course. They can be likened to waves. They start out small and grow in intensity. When they are strongest the wave is cresting. It is at this point that many of us start adding our thoughts to our emotions. We fight against them with thoughts like, “this will never end,” and those thoughts then perpetuate the emotion. The power in being with our emotions is to surf the wave of the feelings. We observe the wave as it crests and then crashes and reduces in strength. The practice of urge surfing is to keep coming back to the sensations of the emotion in the body. As you note the sensations, they will naturally diminish in intensity and pass.
If you want support in coping with your challenging emotions I offer 1 on 1 coaching support. I also offer support to anyone interested in letting go of a habit that is no longer serving them.
I am also available for speaking engagements.