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Feelings get a bad rap. They really do.
Here are some of my least favorite expressions:
“Man, you’re bent out of shape.”
They even wrote a song about it: “Big girls don’t cry.” (And girls aren’t the only target, because, as you know, it’s often said that “Real men don’t cry” either.)
And I ask you, why, when you’re so happy that your joy is actually leaking out of you in huge smiles or even little dances, are you labeled “child-like?” Aren’t grown-ups allowed to get that happy?
For a long time I even thought yoga was teaching me that feelings are bad. Or that feelings are somehow “other” than who I am or want to be.
I misunderstood that, just because we’re cautioned over and over again to wait for the waves of feeling to subside before we choose to act, our ancient yoga teachers are not saying that our feelings are not real or valid. They are just cautioning us that a time of great feeling (good or bad) is not always the best time to make big decisions.
St. Ignatius (whose teachings about living “your best life” are eerily similar to yoga’s) preaches the same thing, by the way. He calls it the discernment of spirits. He says that moments (especially long “moments,” because they can go on and on and on sometimes) when feelings are running high are not the right moment for discerning your next step. You need to wait for the waves or the dust or whatever your chosen metaphor is to settle before you can hope to have the clarity to make the decision or choice which will draw you closer to God.
What can be easy to miss is that, unlike the pop music and modern slang referenced above, neither yoga nor Ignatius is saying that having feelings is a sign of weakness or somehow makes you a lesser human being. On the contrary, the reason these wise, wise teachers spent so much time describing and explaining how to live with feelings is that they are real and powerful and a giant part of what makes us alive.
I have a yoga friend (who posts on Instagram under the name Mysorecalledlife), who just the other day wrote, “You are allowed to feel all the things. Even especially the messy, complicated, unwelcome, uncomfortable ones. ❤” This is a big, important truth. To not allow yourself to feel your feelings is damaging. It is soul killing. Therapists call it “bottling up” your emotions and, if you do it regularly, it can seriously impact your physical, mental and emotional health.
So what’s a “big girl” or a “real man” to do?
You gotta feel that stuff. You need to sit down and cry when you feel sad. Stomp your feet when you’re angry or frustrated or whatever. You need to lace up your sneakers and run as fast and far as possible when you’re feeling crazy. Or clean the heck out of your house. Or, as a friend does, pull out your chain saw and prune every tree and bush in sight. You need to curl up into a little ball when you’re frightened. You need to dance when you feel so happy that you can’t not dance. You need to unroll your yoga mat and move and breathe.
You need to do whatever it is that helps you feel what you’re feeling that doesn’t impact those around you.
Only when you’ve felt whatever you’re feeling will you be able to get back in touch with the you beneath (perhaps within) your feelings. Once you’re back in touch with him or her, then you can begin to discern whether your feelings require action. Whether you need to make a plan or do some research or talk to an expert. Sometimes when you reconnect with this deeper self you realize that you already know what you need to do.
When you give yourself the space – and as much time as you need – to feel, you are setting yourself up to make the wise, measured, mindful, thoughtful choices that you want to make. I suppose you could say that it’s only when you give yourself the time and space to feel that you’re able to act like a “big girl” or a “real man.” And, sometimes, that involves some tears.