For much of my life I have received advice like:
“Let your anger go. It only hurts you.”
“Forgive those who hurt you.”
I am not saying this advice is wrong exactly, but it can be dangerous for me when I’m trying to grow personally and spiritually. The danger is that advice like this gives no hint of what these negative emotions might be there to tell me.
Anger and pain speak to me when a boundary has been crossed. Jealousy is an unfulfilled desire, roaring for my attention. These feelings have messages and if I use my willpower and spiritual practices to let them go without introspection, I can miss what my heart is trying to tell me.
What would happen if I chose to feel all the feels, rather than release them in meditation prematurely? What might I learn about myself?
I spent ten years wondering whether my first marriage was a mistake. In year three, when he first crossed my personal boundary around infidelity, my anger raged louder than I’d ever experienced. And yet, I found a way to forgive. I began to build a toolbox of emotional avoidance techniques. Sometimes I would exercise the feelings away. Sometimes I would socialize them away. Sometimes I would Netflix them away. And sometimes I would meditate them away. It took a very long time to learn to surrender and allow the feelings to wash over me, so that I might hear the messages beneath their storm.
I get feelings of immense longing when I see progressive leaders doing amazing things. It’s not quite jealousy because that might be too presumptuous, but still, it says something. I get pangs of jealousy when I read incredible literature that I wish I wrote. Guess what, these feelings have a message for me and it’s very clear if I’m ready to listen.
We can choose to feel all those feelings as they arise, lean into them bravely, and allow them to move through us. Once the feeling has passed, like a crashing wave on the ocean, look inside and you may find a useful message from your own heart underneath. It’s nearly impossible to find the message during the storm, but it is equally difficult to find it if we turn the ship and sail to some other shore.
The advice that I now embrace is my own:
Let the feelings of your heart rise and fall. Let them wash through you. Take care of yourself and others during the storm, so all remain safe. When the quiet returns, Listen with all your heart for the messages left behind.