For after all, the best thing one can do when it’s raining is to let it rain. ~Henry Wadworth Longfellow
In our society we are taught that certain emotions are good and others are bad. Good emotions include joy, happiness, excitement, and peace. Bad emotions include anger, fear, anxiety, and grief. The good stuff is okay, we are taught, but those bad emotions– you just better find a way to get rid of them or learn to hide them so no one knows.
We are also taught that there are good and bad ways to express those emotions. It’s fine to laugh and exclaim with joy and excitement–just use your inside voice. It’s okay to cry (sometimes, if you are female) but it’s best to do that at home, alone, where no one else is made uncomfortable by your pain.
Well, with all respect to society, I disagree.
I don’t believe that any emotion is necessarily good or bad. Joy isn’t any better than anger, peace isn’t any better than grief. More comfortable perhaps, but not better. Emotions are just what has come up in reaction to our thoughts. When I just let my emotions be what they are without judgement, I find that they lose a lot of power.
Here’s an example. When I first got the idea to write this blog, my little Inner Lizard immediately started moaning about how I wasn’t a good enough writer to do a blog and I would be a failure because no one would want to read anything I had to say about grief and trauma and on and on. Now, I could judge my feelings of self-doubt and fears of failure as bad and mentally beat the crap out of myself for experiencing doubt and fears. I could yell at myself saying, “You are supposed to be happy! There’s no doubt and fear in happiness, quit crying and be happy!” That doesn’t seem particularly fun for me. Alternatively, I could observe those thoughts, acknowledge the feeling that accompanies the thoughts without judgement, and write this blog anyway. If I judge the doubt and fear as something bad or something I am not supposed to feel, then they become more powerful and much more difficult to move through and past. If I observe them without judging them as good or bad, I can see them, experience them, and move on from them.
Well, that’s all fine and good, but how do I do that?
There are many different ideas and techniques for learning to observe and release our attachment to emotions. I’ve tried and practiced dozens. It’s taken me a long time (and many years of depression) to learn to not get caught up in judging my emotions — and I still find it happening at times. It’s gotten easier to catch myself though. It takes practice. Fortunately, I’ve found great mentors and books and techniques to help me along the way. You can find some of my favorites here and here and here. They can explain their ideas much better than I.
Play around with it. Practice the ones that work for you. Set aside the ones that don’t. Create your own techniques. Let me know how it goes.