"Unsticking" from emotional muck
Seeing this beautiful picture of love brings a smile. It is hard to stay stuck in muck in its presence. How can we unstick our stuckness when needed?
It is relatively easy to get stuck in an emotional vortex. Many
at this moment are experiencing deep emotions in the current state of affairs. From this deep, dark place, it can seem impossible to pull ourselves out to feel differently and to see other possibilities. It can happen when we loose a job, have a bad boss, have pain that is preventing us from doing what we love, or are in a horrible argument with someone. Life happens and suddenly things aren't going the way we expected.
The other day I had a particularly “bad day.” I felt emotionally upset and bleak. As I approached doing my daily meditation, I noticed I felt a strong internal resistance to doing the practice. It was as though my brain/body/emotional self wanted to stay in its sorry state. I had a little internal tug of war with my emotional self saying “no, I don’t want to get out of my feeling-sorry-for-myself.” And my rational brain said “you have to do your qi gong.” This may be where the Ancients understood the import of having a “practice.” A routine that you just do no matter what. In my case, I intentionally forced myself go through the steps of my daily Qi Gong, I went for a walk, and then I did acupuncture clinic and helped some others find peace. And , voila, I discovered that my mood lifted.
With our every thought and experience, the brain releases chemical signals (Amen, 2013. p 110). These chemicals course through our body and create how we feel and behave. Every time we have a mad, or scared thought, the brain releases chemicals that can make us feel bad in our body and mind. And with every good, happy and hopeful thought, our brain releases positive good feeling chemicals like oxytocin and serotonin. Laughing, being with friends, meditative practices, smiling, exercising, random acts of kindness, and gratitude release a panoply of good-feeling hormones. Even though the Ancients may not have understand the science behind such practices, they observed the positive impact of them on our way of being. Indeed, science can now peek into brains via fMRIs and see how meditation actually changes the brain (Amen, 2015).
But how do we turn off the tap of negative emotions and turn on the good ones? When we are feeling these things so deeply, so fearfully, Thich Nhat Hahn advises us to be gentle with ourselves. To really notice what we are feeling mindfully. Acknowledge it is there. This is the beginning. From here we can then move forward (Hahn, 2014).
I often marvel at individuals I know who have been through difficulty. I often wonder how does Dalai Lama manage to maintain his radiant shine from within when he has had to escape his own home land and witness the suffering of his people. He still stands strong for the Tibetan people’s rights and yet exudes loving kindness with optimism and a smile. How, I have wondered can he and others do this when I am challenged? Are they born differently than me? Or, is this a matter of cultivating a choice in how to be? Joy comes from within, not from without.
It is choice. And it is practice. Although ways of being, feeling, thinking, can become ingrained, we can also change them through daily practices. There are brain studies that show that the brain changes in positive ways even if a person puts a pencil their mouth to simulate a smile. I've even done this when I really, really, just DON'T feel like putting on a happy face!
When we are able to learn how to transform and choose our way of being then we can transform our suffering too. Current research finds that when we have positive attitudes can help attenuate pain (Amen, 2015). There is even emerging scientific evidence even our ways of thinking impact all the associated flood of hormones in our body and can impact whether particular DNA is turned on or not (Schwartz, 2016).
The Practice: What to do? Acknowledge your feelings with gentleness and mindfulness (Hahn, 2014). Then create your own personalized set of daily practices to do every day, rain or shine (Jeffers, 2007). My list of daily includes: Qi Gong or meditation, walk ½-1 hour, 1 random act of kindness, do something creative (calligraphy, writing, drawing), write down three gratitudes each day, connect with my family, be in nature. This sounds like a lot of things to do. But my intent is to find many small moments throughout the day, even if it is only for 1-3 minutes of something here and there. Then these many moments add up. I can find a moment and I have done something positive. And when things in life or in me are a little bit unsettled, I still do them. It is what I do. And, they have saved me numerous times.
I wish you moments of peace and love.
Amen, D. (2015). Change Your Brain, Change Your Life (Revised and Expanded): The Breakthrough Program for Conquering Anxiety, Depression, Obsessiveness, Lack of Focus, Anger, and Memory Problems: Harmony, NY. Feldman, C., & Kornfield, J. (Eds.). (1991). Stories of the Spirit, Stories of the Heart: Parables of the Spiritual Path from Around the World (1St Edition edition). San Francisco: Harpercollins. Jeffers, S. (2007). Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway®: Dynamic techniques for turning Fear, Indecision and Anger into Power, Action and Love. Jeffers Press. Hanh, T. N. (2014). No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering. Berkeley, California: Parallax Press.
Swartz, J. R., Hariri, A. R., & Williamson, D. E. (2016). An epigenetic mechanism links socioeconomic status to changes in depression-related brain function in high-risk adolescents. Molecular psychiatry.
Tozzi, P. (2014). Does fascia hold memories? Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 18(2), 259–265. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbmt.2013.11.010