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Calm • Serenity

How to Process Your Emotions

An unexpected and troublesome feature of being human is that we feel so much more than we spontaneously realise we feel. There are emotions coursing through us — of anger or joy, resentment or fear — that lie just outside the sphere of ordinary consciousness, and which elude us as we rush through the challenges of our lives. 

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

These emotions lie low in part because they are often too shocking, sad or contrary to expectations for us to want to make sense of them. We might hate where we are supposed to love; or may feel sad where we are meant to be practical — and so, out of timidity and fear, we omit to register our authentic reality. Or else our feelings get ignored because they enter our minds too fast, and in too great a quantity for us to disentangle them in the limited time we devote to self-understanding.

And yet unless the full panoply of our emotions is regularly identified and adequately ‘felt’, we are likely to fall prey to a range of psychological ills: anxiety, paranoia, depression and worse. Mental unwellness is born out of an accumulation of unfelt feelings.

We must do ourselves the favour of regularly — ideally once a day — carving out periods in which to get more deeply acquainted with our true emotions. We must continually ask ourselves a simple-sounding but grand and deep question: What am I feeling now?

To draw out valuable answers, we should sit somewhere quiet, probably in bed, with the lights low, and a pad and pen handy. We should close our eyes and let the generosity and free-form nature of the question resonate. After a few moments of scanning the penumbra of the inner mind, we are liable to pick up a few intimations of something. It might be the rustle of a disturbingly well-camouflaged anxiety. With some of the stealth of a hunter in the undergrowth or a fisherman by the bank of a river, we can press ourselves to reflect further: what does it seem we are actually anxious about? It may require a good deal more reverie and inner enquiry before we very gradually feel a recognisable notion emerging, like a landscape subtly appearing at the slow break of a summer day. We may need to decode apparently minute moments of aggression, meanness, confusion or grief that have impacted on us without us properly noticing. Or we might, as we examine ourselves, detect traces of ancient traumas that seem to be still active in distant valleys: someone is crying, someone is very worried, a small person — who might be us — needs our help quite badly.

We should carry out a similar process with our bodies, where many more muted feelings lie buried. ‘What is my body feeling?’ we can ask, strangely but usefully. ‘What would it like to talk to me about?’ And to get more specific: ‘If my shoulders could speak right now, what might they say? And my chest, what would it say? And my arms, my hands, my legs, my feet?’

Our limbs might want to curl into a ball and long for reassurance, or else hit an opponent or elongate themselves defiantly and boldly. Or they might remember an old frustrated wish to be held on a comforting chest.

Through ten or twenty minutes of this kind of concentrated, but loose and exploratory wander through ourselves, we reduce the worry and sorrow of unfelt feelings. We become sad where we were previously melancholy, angry where we were irritable and compassionate where we were anxious — and the result is a newfound peace of mind and lightness of the soul. We seem to have so much time for everything — except for what can save us.

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