Yesterday, I spent a meandering day with a friend I hadn’t seen in several years. It was a day full of personal and interesting conversation. We drove just outside of Dublin, winding through the narrow roads flanked by stone walls, the hillsides covered in the brilliant yellow of the gorse wildflower, the mystical Irish sea looming in the background. We caught up on our lives, our learnings and what moves us.
Inevitably, as we were discussing human behavior, shame, trauma, and the body, the conversation led to the current state of the world. And this stirs things up inside all of us, whether we wish to engage in it or not. When we dive into conversations like this, it’s quite natural to end up full of discomfort, nerves, and the darker shades of our emotions. The emotions we would prefer to control, relegate or not even feel. We don’t know what to do with them, and they can leave us feeling powerless.
I know that many people would simply choose to not pay attention to the news, because of this discomfort, and I absolutely understand this. But this dis-ease shows up in many ways in our lives.
We feel it when…
- we vehemently disagree with someone politically, culturally, morally or otherwise
- we see a parent treating a child roughly in public
- we read yet another story of abuse
- we encounter a homeless person on the street as we exit the upscale market
- we see someone wronged, mistreated or disrespected
- we get into the same argument over and over with a loved one
- we throw away yet another plastic straw from the plastic cup that held our smoothie
We feel it when it seems as though the bad in the world overpowers the good and there appear to be no consequences for wrongdoing by those in power.
Yes, we feel it. The mixture of emotions surges, swirls and storms around inside of us, and we don’t know where to put this energy, this power. It can feel big, so we shut that storm down, because it’s safer and what else could we do?
The ocean of our emotional life
The ocean is not predictable or tame-able, and neither is the ocean of our emotional life. We cannot guarantee a life of peace and bliss all the time. Nor should this be what we consistently strive for, because we’ll miss out. It is through the grit, conflict, and discomfort that we grow. We transform. We become stronger. Unending calm turns into boredom. And to constantly seek this all the time, means you have to shut down a part of yourself and shut off from many parts of the world.
So the question becomes, what is happening to us in those moments of storm and powerlessness, and how do we move from this insidious, weakening feeling to a clear sense of purpose and strength? What do we do with this strong emotional energy?
Let go of the need to right the wrong
Part of the powerlessness comes when we try face the situation and address it head on, but it often seems so much bigger than us. We don’t know how to directly go up against it, nor can we, when we have contracted and reduced ourselves trying to contain the fear, anger, guilt, shame, rage, agitation, aggressiveness we may feel. We don’t fluidly connect these powerful emotions to our actions. There’s a lag time. We learned in childhood to compress ourselves around them, as often we were too small to act. We felt something, but we didn’t know what to do to change things. Today, we continue these patterns, and deny ourselves this power, although we may wish to make an impact. to wake up the world. to right the wrongs.
We cannot right a wrong that has already happened. We cannot undo history. And maybe this isn’t even what is required of us. What if instead, we could dive into the ocean of our deepest, most thrashing emotions, swirl around in them without feeling overtaken, absorb them into our bodies and rediscover the strength we have been denying ourselves, every time we shut them down?
What would we be capable of then?
A small practice in life
My friend said she was starting to feel an old, familiar weakness overtake her as she slumped slightly in her chair. We had stopped in a lovely, empty, Irish pub on our rainy afternoon tour, and the subject of world events was waking up deep fear. We were not in a place where she could break out and wildly move what she felt inside herself. She asked me what she could do with this feeling right then and there. She intuitively knew she wanted more than just to change the subject.
I asked her what the weakness felt like. It was a tight, twisting cord from deep inside her pelvis that went up to her heart. She stayed with it as she described it. She didn’t deny or avoid it. She agreed to dive into the weakness. She made the sensation a bit stronger, squeezing everything a little bit tighter, and not half a minute later, it shifted. It softened. She took a deep breath and quite naturally extended her spine. The air around her felt lighter. She’d found a way out of something old.
We didn’t solve the state of the world, but she got her strength back, and the world will be affected. (At the end of this post, I’ve included a guided practice.)
This practice was small, simple, and contained. It’s not always like that. The energy we feel inside of us at times can feel intense and violent. We think we will explode, be too much, destroy. But the real destruction happens when we hold it inside ourselves. Because we have to use our own energy to swallow it down. Hold it in. Tame it.
We strengthen the powerlessness in this way.
Powerlessness is a physical state we have refined in our bodies. And through our bodies, we can also release the hold it has on us. We can explore what’s underneath the tension. We can be curious about the energy of our emotions. And we can choose to expand. Untended to, powerlessness leads to disease. Mental. Emotional. Physical. From there, we can do very little. So if you have the wish to transform the powerlessness, choose your place and your practice well.
Sometimes it’s as simple as putting your awareness on your body , breathing consistently and agreeing to feel what you feel. Sometimes, you’ll need the space, breath and wildness to unleash the power that’s underneath. Sometimes, you’ll need guidance for this. Rather than immediately needing to know what to do to right a wrong, strengthen your wish to hold your power and be curious about where it takes you.
We may indeed be unable to give a world leader a moral compass, but this doesn’t mean we can’t affect the world.
As you open up to deeper emotional experiences, and soak them into your body, you will find your way. Your way to move, bring your heart out, and have an impact. You will no longer be investing your energy in denying an aspect of yourself. You will be stronger.
How you bring this strength into the world is yet to be discovered.