21 September 2017, by Somesh Valentino Curti
“We do not discover the wisdom of our feelings because we do not let them complete their work;
we try to suppress them or discharge them in premature action,
not realizing that they are a process of creation which, like birth,
begins as a pain and turns into a child”
– Alan Watts
Our primary nature is to be open and free emotionally. A baby is just itself, completely vulnerable, full of trust and capable of love. It has no shame, fear or opinion about itself or others. It doesn’t know low self-esteem, depression or anxiety, because it can feel and express itself without any constriction. A baby is completely healthy psychologically and fully alive: Pure and innocent acceptance.
—-This is how we come into the world and how we can leave it, if we start opening up again to our true nature. But, what happens to us in the meanwhile is mostly a different story: Why do we so often feel afraid and angry? Why do we suffer from anxiety, shame or low self-esteem, or even develop more severe psychological problems?
First cause of suffering: covering up emotional pain
The answer to all these questions lies in the relationship we have with emotional pain. When we are children, or in a condition of psychological and/or physical vulnerability and get hurt emotionally or not loved enough, we cannot afford to keep our openness and feel emotional pain at the same time. It is unbearable. Therefore, nature makes us temporarily renounce to our openness and develop an emotional bandage around pain. The first layer of this bandage is mainly made of fear and anger. These emotions act like body-guards, creating an apparent sense of separation by isolating or suppressing pain.
Second cause of suffering: control strategies
Our modern Western society is, generally speaking, not really a supportive society when it comes to dealing with pain, anger and fear and finding our way back to our open natural self. In fact, it is mainly based on power and control as a way to avoid or neglect these feelings. In this context, we are directed to develop a second layer of bandage which is made of different control strategies. Basically, we start avoiding or manipulating external situations which might awaken our old pain. The two main positions that we then take are called the “Acceptor” and the “Rejector”:
> Acceptor: Pleases others and becomes needy in order not to be rejected and therefore feel pain. Examples: “I do whatever you want me to do”; “Please, stay with me”; “Don’t leave me”; “I need you”; “It’s my fault”
> Rejector: Pushes away others or isolate him or herself, in order to not feel hurt. Examples: “I do whatever I want!”; “Go away”; “Leave me alone”; “I don’t need you”; “It’s your fault”
How suffering develops
When one of these positions becomes our main one, we start to contract and shrink emotionally. We develop another layer of suffering made of different psychological symptoms like: Depressive or anxious feelings, addictive behaviors, low self-esteem, co-dependency or isolation, guilt and shame, psychosomatic problems etc.
We usually approach our symptoms in a negative way, applying the same defensive approach which caused them in the first place: We try to get rid of them. If we go this way, we get even deeper into a spiral of suffering, and psychological symptoms will become psychological disorders, like: Depression, anxiety, addictions, etc. It is like a bandage too long on a wound, it starts to produce an infection.
An example of a suffering spiral
Luigi is a client of mine, he is 24 years old and comes from Italy. He has felt alone many times when he was small because he felt neglected and devalued by his parents and sister. Nowadays, when his girlfriend, living far away from him, goes out with her friends or when she talks with another man in front of him, he starts to feel his original pain and gets angry at her as defense.
In the long run, this anger causes him not to be able to sleep when his girlfriend is going out. As a result, he has started to develop an addiction of smoking marihuana, in order to bear anger and pain and to deal with the sleeping problems. This has become a daily routine.
From symptoms to feelings
It is important to understand that the symptoms, like in the example of Luigi, are not against us, they function like an alarm; helping us to become aware that we are moving too far away from our true nature as openness. Instead of escaping them, the invitation is to experience and try to understand them deeply, because they have the code for accessing our feelings. You can ask yourself these questions about what you consider your symptoms, for example:
> What is this symptom about?
> Which present situations trigger it?
> Where does it come from?
> To which episodes of my childhood could this be related?
> What is it trying to tell me? Etc.
When you enquire, take time for it and combine it with an open breath. It is not about actively looking for answers, but more about posing the question and receiving the answers. With time, feelings and insights will come up spontaneously.
From the suffering spiral to the healing spiral
In approaching symptoms and the following feelings in this way, we basically stop a suffering spiral and open up to a healing spiral. It is crucial to include feelings and emotions in our experience, in fact, each time we reject them, in reality we reject ourselves as we are in that moment, therefore they try to find other ways to be heard. Basically, they don’t knock from outside to get in, but from inside to be acknowledged.
The way back to our natural self can imply practicing being present with our emotions and expressing them at an experiential level. The most direct and effective way is through using breath, sounds and movement . I personally guide people using a type of emotional- and body-oriented therapy that we call Emotional Release Therapy.
The principle of this therapy is that inside of each emotion and feeling, positive or negative, our life force is pulsating. If the emotion is allowed to be experienced and expressed, we become one with our life force. What a joy and happiness in feeling alive again! Our body becomes lighter and powerful, the breath opens and our mind is no more clouded but clear and worry-free.
Being open again
Once we start to accept our deep feelings in a continuative way, we experience an increasing and more stable sense of contentment and happiness. Rather than being busy controlling or manipulating what we feel, we start to understand deeply that what we call negative feelings are part of life and are worthy to be felt.
This is an important moment because we’ll start to realize, more or less consciously, that being open is our natural state. In openness and sharing we cannot not be happy! If we keep deepening our understanding of this, it will help us to experience authentic self-esteem, which, with time, evolves into a sort of “life-esteem”: A deep sense of trust and appreciation for how life is already sorting things out beautifully by itself.
“You are in a misunderstanding with clinging to feeling good and bad.
You overlook what you actually Love in the midst of any feeling good or bad…”
– Dolano, Zen Master
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