Letting fear float up and out:

I had an emotional breakthrough the other day during my morning meditation. It made me cry. This is a good thing, but it surprised me.

I’ve been practicing lots of yoga, meditation and healthy habits since I returned from my visit with Terri in Denver. Learning more about the transformative mind, body and spiritual journey she made through her third round of stage 4 cancer which landed her in ICU at the brink of death last summer, to her current healthy, happy and cancer free state now has inspired me.

I know I am lucky to have this strong body and good life. I want to live long and well. Those of you who have known me for many years, through big life changes, illness, focused passion on health/fitness/marathon training, working my way through stress, grief and falling in love, know that I understand the basics of living a healthy lifestyle and practicing gratitude. Let’s just say this isn’t my first rodeo.

But still, my emotional breakthrough the other day surprised me. I think all this hot yoga and meditation is opening me up in a new way. I cried as I slipped away from thinking and into feeling and breathing because I realized that I often block emotions which are too intense, as a defense mechanism, and a way to protect my heart. I think this habit of blocking can affect my health and my spirit, over time.

I realized that when I’m in the middle of experiencing strong emotions I’ll only go to a certain level with them, and then I’ll shift back to safety. I think I’ve always been this way to a certain extent. I pull back, rather than move towards the uncomfortableness of the emotion. This can happen with any of my strong emotions: fear, love, joy, shame or anger. I get to a certain place with it, and then I run. away and retreat. And it takes a few times of running away before I release and finally let myself fall into the deeper feelings of connection with the emotion.

I think this is why I often want to drink more wine or eat more food than I need to when working through strong emotions. I want to ease the transition. I want to get away from pain or the fear faster. I want to erase the fear of falling. It doesn’t really work like I pretend it will, since for me, wine can quickly turn into sad juice and too much food gives me heartburn. When I expand this out to my life, I think this is why I stay stuck in things that I struggle to move through. I shift away from the pull of intensity as a way to mitigate fear. This brings its own kind of heartburn though.

I know that fear is just another emotion. It’s there for a reason. It’s not bad. It’s just one feeling in a bag of 30 or so feelings that pop up regularly. It’s not better or worse than all the emotions that live in my bag, like joy, anger, sadness, empathy, overwhelm, embarrassment, peacefulness, calmness, grief, shame, or happiness. I need the whole bag of emotions.

We all have bags of feelings we carry around. That’s just how we are. But if we only open the bag to release just a few of the “safer” emotions and keep the other ones stuffed down at the bottom away from the air, I think they get icky and rotten and can poison all the other emotions.

Even if joy and love and tenderness are allowed to hang out at the top of the bag and see the light when the bag is open, they risk being poisoned by fear, if it’s always hiding at the bottom of the bag.

So instead of smothering emotions, if we open the bag, acknowledge the feelings, let them float up and out and move through them with honesty and tenderness, they can leave the bag and air out a bit in the light. I think this is necessary. They will float back into the bag eventually, and that’s okay.

The tears started flowing the other day I realized I need to open that bag as often as possible and learn to deal with all my emotions in healthy ways. If I keep my bag closed within myself, I suffer more.

I want to live more openly. I want to lean in to vulnerability and intimacy without numbing myself or stopping myself, or allowing fear to stay at the bottom of the bag, slowly seeping into my joy.

Do you open your bag all the way? How often do you let fear make it all the way to the top and look it in the eye with honestly and appreciation, and then let it float away? How do you respect and balance fear and joy?