Embracing Unconditional Love, Part 2
Last week we discussed Unconditional Love for Ourselves: Overcoming Guilt and Shame as the first step in embracing Unconditional Love and joining in the New Spiritual Awakening that is rippling through humanity.
We’ll talk more about unconditionally loving ourselves in the future, but if we’re struggling to love the current experience we are having or the emotions we are feeling, then the thought of loving ourselves may seem laughably ridiculous.
If negative emotions, such as anger, fear, sadness, or loneliness, are a regular part of our lives, it may feel impossible to love our present experience.
We may think we need to wait until the negative emotions have passed before we love our experience. It’s tempting to believe that once this unpleasant moment is over, then it will be easier to love the present moment.
But that belief is a trap that keeps us in a state of endlessly waiting for the “right” conditions before we can start loving our life. Does this sound familiar?
Negative emotions are a part of life, there’s no way to avoid this fact. No matter how much we embrace unconditional love, meditate, raise our vibration, or align our chakras, we’re still going to feel pain at some point. However, when we begin to embrace all our emotions, we’re often surprised to discover that the worst of the pain and discomfort from negative emotions is caused by our resistance to them.
Our culture conditions us to hide and repress negative emotions, particularly sadness, but also fear, loneliness, heartbreak, and others. We’re raised to buck up and smile when we’re in polite company, no matter what we’re feeling. We’re taught to act professional and get back to work, to not let our personal lives “interfere” with our professional lives, as if what we accomplish in life is more important than how we feel when we’re doing it.
As a result, we go through life cramming more and more repressed emotions into our bodies, until we have a breakdown and they come spewing out sideways, often in a violent torrent of uncontrollable rage or desperation.
This impulse to repress our emotions becomes so ingrained that as adults we usually don’t even realize we’re doing it.
But there is an alternative to repressing emotions: we can embrace them, bring them out in the open, examine them, and allow ourselves to fully experience them in our body and mind. When we do this, the emotions lose their sting. When we resist and repress emotions, they seem overwhelming and all-consuming. But, when we embrace and express emotions, they move through us in waves of brief(-ish) intensity, and then they’re gone.
So how do we embrace and express emotions? When an intense emotion arises, instead of trying to ignore it or distract ourselves with some other activity, we can simply focus our attention on the feeling, bringing our full, conscious awareness to it. Where in our body are we feeling it? In our stomach or shoulders, maybe the neck or back? Asking questions like these helps to bring our full attention to the experience of the emotion.
Once we’ve identified where in the body the feeling is expressed, then we can continue deeper. What is the texture of the feeling? Is it a sharp, acute sensation, or more of a dull ache? Does it sting, does it burn? Does it come in waves, or is it constant? We can try to give the feeling a specific, detailed name. Instead of simply sadness, is it grief, heartache, heartbreak, melancholy, hopelessness, dejection? Instead of anger, is it frustration, irritation, resentment, outrage, righteous fury? Get precise, get creative, identify the exact flavor of the emotion.
Next we can allow the emotion to express itself however it needs to. Allow ourselves to sob uncontrollably. Allow ourselves to scream in rage and frustration. Allow ourselves to wallow in the muck of hopelessness.
When we completely embrace, examine, and express our emotions, their intensity fades rapidly. What feels overwhelming at first quickly becomes manageable when we don’t repress or resist emotions.
If this sounds like a load of new-agey babble, you’re not alone in your skepticism. I was also unconvinced when I first learned of this practice. Embrace the feeling? How will that help? It already feels bad, why would I want to feel more of it?
But when I actually tried it, when I sincerely embraced and examined feelings of unbearable loneliness, the sensation quickly became bearable. This happened at the start of this year, during the peak of Covid lockdown, shortly after I moved to Humboldt County. I hardly knew anyone in the area, and it was nearly impossible to meet new friends during social distancing.
One Sunday evening, I found myself staring down the barrel of yet another night alone in my RV, and I felt the bone-deep ache of loneliness beginning to rear its head. I had nothing left to lose, nothing else to do, so out of desperation I settled into myself and embraced the feeling.
I dove headfirst into the loneliness and examined it, noticing how the feeling was focused on the front side of my body, a throbbing, dull ache for the feeling of another body pressed against my own. As I continued to dig deeper, the feeling swelled into an intense, absorbingly profound physio-emotional sensation, engulfing my being like an exploding sun…and then it broke. I emerged through the other side of the experience and the longing subsided. (You can read the full account here, or watch a video here.)
It may sound ridiculous, or like a bunch of touchy-feely woowoo nonsense, but opening ourselves completely to whatever experience we are having enables us to live the full, rich, rewarding lives we all so desperately crave.
Check out this video for a discussion of this topic, including testimony from a participant about using these techniques to manage physical pain following surgery! Unconditional Love for Our Experience: Expressing Negative Emotions
Tune in next week for Part 3 of this series – Unconditional Love for the World: Breaking the Cycle of Hate
If you would like to join in the conversation about Unconditional Love, we meet in person on Mondays at 6pm at the Abbey, and Thursdays at 5pm PST on Zoom. Contact us for more info!