3 Tools for Weathering the Storm
I was surprised when someone described me as “even”. My experience of my inner life is constant bouncing between big thoughts and big feelings. It feels more like a sin/cos graph than say a y= graph. I think this comes with the territory of living a full life, being awake. When we start to expand our awareness of how much joy and love and hope can exist in the world, we also expand our knowledge and compassion of the opposite. It’s hard to understand that until you live it. When many modern people think about living fully, they think only of more happiness. When things are good, happy and joyful, of course everyone wants to expand. We’re feeling good and safe and ready to take on the world. It is much harder to sit in the depths of sorrow and be able to say the same (I am willing to understand this sadness and have compassion for it because I know it means my capacity for full and immense joy has also grown). When I sit in my sadness, sometimes it feels overwhelming; I can’t possibly pull myself up underneath this weight. It’s in these moment that I remember my tools for weathering the storm.
Feet on the Ground Take any Alexander Technique class and the first thing you will do is mostly learn how to sit, stand, and lay down. That might seem strange, but think about how much of life is lived in this way. One of the biggest catalysts for change in my relationship with my body and the feeling of safety was understanding the support of the earth. Yoga teachers say this, but Alexander Technique made me feel it in a way unlike any other training. Moving through big feelings often feels like the floor is lava. There is nothing to help hold the body up. There is nothing to hold onto, noting to grasp, nothing solid. When I am in the throws of big emotions, I find my feet on the ground. Whatever part of me is connected to something solid, the ground, a chair, the wall, I lean into that support. The body and the mind are connected intricately. When the body feels supported, when the body finds something solid to hold it up, the mind starts to feel the same. Connect to the support of the earth. It is always there. It never goes away. Find the support and weather the storm.
Find Your Breath We hold our breath when we need to swallow big feelings. Watch someone who is crying uncontrollably. When this person tries to stifle a cry, they literally hold their breath and swallow. In hysterical crying, or being suddenly frightened, or experiencing large stressors the breath gets held, which translates into holding in the shoulders, hips, jaw, forehead. Emotions were made to move through us. Breathing lets them do just that. It doesn’t have to be a slow meditative breath; sometimes that breath gets confused with trying to stop feeling by finding neutral. More important is that you are exhaling and inhaling. Huge sighs of relief, fast rapid breath that accompanies crying. If the breath is moving, so is the feeling. Letting yourself breathe when you are feeling is incredibly scary. The breath means that thought and feeling are happening and rational mind is starting to put into verbal expression what the feelings are and why. Until we can speak on the feeling, release it to the universe, it holds on to us. It most likely will take many tries to find the right words, but that’s okay. You have infinite tries. I am not saying it is easy, but it is necessary. Breathe. Big breath in. And big breath out.
Feel Your Heart When I am overwhelmed with big feelings, when my mind runs rampant between moments past and things that haven’t happened yet, between feelings of simultaneous joy of having lived through moments of happiness but sadness that they will never happen again, between different scenarios that could maybe happen in the future, I put my hand on my heart. I feel it beat. Through it, I am brought back to the present moment. I can feel my heart beat. It exists only now. Anxiety lives in the future. Depression lives in the past. That heart beat reminds me that I am alive and feeling is a part of being alive. Immense beauty exists in the realization that whatever you’re thinking and feeling, it is part of the experience of alive. What a gift that my heart is filled with such a huge capacity to love that it broke! What a gift that my experience of joy is so great that my sorrow is deeper than before! Does it make the feelings less painful or less extreme? Definitely not. Gratitude though has transformative powers. It can take even the most painful experiences and turn them into moments of learning and evolving. Feel the heart beat and find gratitude for the experience of being alive.
Storms will come and they will go. Build your foundation strong. Give your roots time to grow deep in soil. Big breath in. Big breath out. Feel your heart beat. You can weather any storm.