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Into The Deep Water

~the next step in our human journey

For the few weeks I have been feeling intense waves of fear, sadness and despair, as hurricanes, earthquakes and forest fires threaten the lives of people I know and love, as well as millions I do not know personally. These feelings are not just mine. They belong to me, and they also live in our collective space.

In a culture that is phobic about emotion, it’s not so easy to find a healthy relationship to these feelings. We spend a lot of time shutting down our feelings, fearing and avoiding them. We also encourage each other, in many different ways, to keep a safe distance from the raw intensity of our emotions. It’s a very natural strategy; every child on earth resorts to it as he or she is growing up. But we are not children anymore, and our global climate crisis is asking us to show up in a different way. Shutting ourselves down, confining ourselves to the world of our minds in order to carry on — this is how we live when we are not yet emotionally mature. This is how most of our leaders and politicians function; and the state of our world is a clear mirror of this. It shows us what happens when we are cut off from our heart, our intuition, our body, our deep empathy, our true aliveness. We could not have allowed our beautiful mother, the earth, to suffer so much damage if we were listening to our true feelings. We need the healthy and mature version of our grief, our anger, our fear, and our shame to move us forward right now, to claim our power to care for what is being destroyed right in front of us. Each one of these feelings, when it is experienced in an adult way, is full of energy and the power to take action.

The path to emotional maturity is a wild one. It’s not an academic path; it’s like learning how to swim. We have to get into the deep water. The nature of our emotions is very simple-they need to be felt. They are asking to be acknowledged, accepted, opened to, and fully experienced. Not from a far off place like the ‘witness’ that so many spiritual people escape to. And not from a collapsed and identified place either, where we simply merge with our feelings, and believe all the stories that come with them. No, our feelings are asking us to be much more grown up than this. They want to be held the way a loving mother or father holds a distressed child.

Some of us might know how to embody this way of being with our feelings a little bit. A lot of us don’t know anything about it. We have never considered moving into the deep water of our emotions-we’ve been in the shallow water our whole lives. Or maybe even on the dry land. The thought of being fully present to the wildness and turbulence of our emotions is terrifying. We’d rather work, or hang out online, or play video games, or drink, or eat, or take drugs, or watch TV. Work was my chosen addiction for most of my life. It’s a very popular one in the North American culture. I can still fall back into it, in a moment.

So how do we find our way back home here? How do we move away from the addictions to avoiding our feelings that are everywhere right now? Back into the beautiful deep water, back to sanity, back to being fully human and alive and in touch with our living ecosphere, our bodies, and each other? I believe that I have very good news here: we can’t do this alone, we need each other. In the same way that it’s dangerous to go out into deep water alone, without a buddy, we need people with us when we dive into our feelings. Feelings and emotions are actually meant to be shared. And when we share them, we find that it’s so much easier to be with them, to open to them, to ground them in our body. We also discover that we are not as separate as we thought we were. I am myself, and I am also one with you. I am separate and distinct and not separate from you, at the very same time. This living paradox emerges when I come out of the small cave where I hide, alone with my feelings.

It’s not so easy at first. This is a different order of sharing, not just a mutual commiseration. This is a sharing in which we support each other to enter the direct experience of our feelings and leave the stories behind. Most of us have never done this practice, and we have a lot of shame and fear about our emotional world. But we can learn, bit by bit, to come out of hiding, and into the light of a whole different way of living. Sharing doesn’t mean, “I am feeling this and it’s your fault.” It doesn’t mean, “I am feeling this and it will never go away. I’m going to drown in this emotion.” No feeling is permanent, and if we have trauma in our bodies, then we need to get a lot of help and support in order to learn how to feel, to lovingly and skillfully thaw the frozen places inside us.

Emotions are made of energy, and energy doesn’t disappear. It just changes its shape. Einstein showed us this. I can push my emotions down into the basement of my psyche for years. They just wait there, until I am ready to say “Oh, here you are. I see you, I feel you, I hear you.” Then the energy that has been locked up inside my feelings finally begins to flow.

Our emotions are actually never the problem. The fact that we disrespect them and try to get rid of them is the cause of our suffering. That’s what causes them to hang around for so long.

It might take us a long time until we are willing to move from the shallow water into the depths. To feel what is right here, what we may have been avoiding for a long time. We cannot force this process. We need to find safe places in which to learn how to open to our own experience, and slowly become less defended. Every single time that I find the courage and the willingness to share a feeling with you, I demonstrate a new possibility. I take one small step towards growing up, growing beyond the boundaries of my small and separate and very frightened self.

This human body truly is the entire cosmos
Each breath of mine is equally one of yours, my darling
This tender abiding in “my” life
Is the fierce glowing fire of inner earth

~Myogen Steve Stucky

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