“Perhaps if tearful little boys were comforted instead of shamed there wouldn’t be so many angry men struggling to express and empathize with emotions.” ~ Lelia Scholl
Many of us have been taught that feelings such as anger, sadness and fear are “negative” or “bad”. The truth is, they are just feelings; they are an experience of energetic movement in the body; hence, e-motion—energy in motion. When we layer these feelings with the aforementioned limiting labels we deny our humanity and our capacity to be fully alive.
Children demonstrate whole-heartedly, and often dramatically, how to feel fully. From anger, to sadness, to laughter, they quickly move through their emotions without inhibitions. They kick, scream, wail while pounding the floor, all followed by triumphant beams of delight, giddiness and often stillness.
This is a true sign of health. Feeling their feelings allows them to return to a state of presence while playing with cars, or blocks, or crayons. They are not stuck in emotions and thus stuck in the past. They are not detracted from what they really want to do because they give ample room to how they really need to be. Feeling deeply, moving through what’s true in their bodies, gives them the freedom to return their attention to what brings them joy.
Grief and Joy“But a mermaid has no tears, and therefore she suffers so much more.” ~ Hans Christian Anderson, The Little MermaidClick To Tweet
There is a story of a woman in Africa who seemed to always radiate immense joy. Whenever people walked by her the warmth of her countenance would light up their day. Someone finally walked up to her one day and asked why she always looked so happy. She answered, “It’s because I grieve a lot.”
Grief and joy are two sides of the same coin. We must entertain both if we are to feel fully alive.
Indigenous communities around the world would tell you of the importance of grieving as an ongoing practice. Regular grieving rituals and ceremonies are part of certain tribal communities. Drumming, dance, fire, shaking, wailing all support the movement of anger, fear and sadness in the body. Like rain falling from the sky, tears are fed to the ground so that the earth can better feed its inhabitants.
This is one of the cycles of life the West gives little attention to.
This is necessary “ongoing maintenance” of the body, a body-mind-spirit system that endures a great deal of hardship and stress throughout its lifespan. Grieving allows the build-up of energy in our system to have its movement. It needs a place to go. If we don’t, this energy gets stuck, which causes a host of physical problems over time. For instance, in Traditional Chinese Medicine tumours are associated with excessive dampness in the system—tears are getting stuck. I know from working with clients in my somatic counselling practice that when people are better able to be with difficult feelings, tightness or tension subsides. It is when we hold on that life force energy is truncated. This trapped energy then becomes toxic over time and “leaks” out in different ways, such as through passive-aggressiveness, sarcasm and rage.
Children are our wise teachers here. They do not fear / suppress their emotions as we do, just like they do not fear saying “No!” as so many adults do. (If they don’t like their food, they unreservedly spit it out!) They give themselves to their feelings just as they uninhibitedly point out the mole on our face or the unkempt nature of our hair. They have not yet learned that feeling / expressing is bad or wrong. This gives them a great deal of freedom and joy that most adults have lost.
This loss of freedom and joy is, in itself, worth grieving.
Wild and Free“You were wild once. Don’t let them tame you.” ~ Isadora DuncanClick To Tweet
We often think of freedom as being able to do what we want, when we want. But freedom is actually more the inner state that arises from being fully expressed in the moment. This includes not only feeling our feelings but also expressing our imagination and creativity. A child is “wild and free”, whether through her wailing or in fantasizing travels across the cosmos in a rocket ship. There are no limits for a dreaming, feeling wild child. This wildness is her freedom.
We forget that we are born wild. We arrive in this world naked, screaming, wet, raw. We don’t arrive all neatly packaged, quiet and contained. We are beautifully messy as we drop into our mother’s arms for the first time, like Mother Nature Herself. Over time, however, we are domesticated through a litany of “right” and “wrong”, “good” and “bad”, “should” and “shouldn’t” until we compartmentalize so much of ourselves that we forget who we are. We deny our humanity. We learn to judge certain parts of ourselves. Tears are for “sissies”. Anger is “inappropriate”. Fear is “weak”. We shame ourselves. We learn to judge our inner world and this judgment then projects onto the outer world.
What we learn to control within we unwittingly seek to control in children, teens and adults. Controlling our tears for years can impel us to control (make wrong) the tears in others. What we deny and lack empathy for in ourselves we are likely to cast from the internal experience of others. Lacking empathy for our longstanding pains, for instance, may motivate a more punitive approach to “dealing with” resistant (hurting) children at home and school. Inner sensitivity precedes outer sensitivity. We struggle to attune to another’s inner struggles because we have yet to embrace our own.
Resisting and judging our anger can lead us to react to—judge, placate, circumvent, suppress—the anger we feel in others. How we dance around (avoid) our inner fire of anger is, for instance, often externalized in how we avoid the fires of conflict at home and work. What we avoid within we avoid without. The fear we suppress inside may keep us from starting our creative project or telling the truth—from doing what feels scary. We can’t be with our fear so we can’t do the things that require us to face our fear.
Life shrinks according to how much we shrink inside. Our choices are limited by how much we cannot be with internally. Indeed, in so many ways, we split from our wild, untamed nature and the possibilities of life.
This does not mean that our wild nature should have full, unchecked reign in its movement; that it should not be contained in some way. Wisdom and care is needed in how to best express oneself and support others to express such that safety and authenticity are tended to. This is why tribal communities use ritual and ceremony, often held by elders. There is containment steeped in tradition which serves to invite grieving into its fullest expression (just like how safe boundaries—containment—for children can invite greater exploration). Balance is needed between creating a fire pit that contains expression and not putting the rocks too close such that the wildfires of feeling are squashed. Attuned discernment is needed, and this discernment—sensing how close to place the rocks—is more easily accessed if we cultivate a relationship with our own emotional body.
Without inner attunement and ongoing maintenance and grieving we compensate by doing our very best to be positive; and we do so at the cost of being real. Real does not mean being nice when being angry is needed. Real does not mean being strong when vulnerability is longed for in the body. In a world desperately afraid to feel, being real with one’s self, let alone others, is certainly courageous.
It’s fine to try to be positive, but you may find it much easier to be uplifting and happy if you first bring needed attention to those real, living qualities within that you continuously suppress and judge. Positivity will feel less like swimming upstream if you first swim in the waters of anger, sadness, shame, fear, and disgust. These emotions await your loving attention. Like a child who requires comfort when sad, these feelings also need your warm arm to wrap around them, to hold them, to be curious about them and find out what they need. Turning towards and befriending these very human feelings is a first step in reclaiming your wholeness. In doing so, you will find it easier to see, engage and fan the flames of wholeness in others.
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Check out Vince’s book: Let the Fire Burn ~ Nurturing the Creative Spirit of Children, A Children’s Book for Adults