A big part of my learnings these past few years has been learning to feel. It sounds like something we should intuitively be able to do – the heart is an integral part of our body after all, isn’t it? – yet it isn’t. In fact, I may argue it’s one of the hardest things to relearn.
For many of us, it isn’t until we reach a certain age that we are conditioned to hide our feelings or ignore them. As children, it is natural to play, fall, cry from the pain until we are consoled and the wound has been patched up. I can remember so many instances from my childhood when I fell or got hurt, running instinctively to my mom or grandma to receive their care – disinfecting the wound, applying iodine, a bandaid, and whispering that it was okay.
I was reminded of this in India last December. One night a series of events led me to feeling a slew of emotions including frustration, powerlessness, and rejection. I excused myself from dinner to find refuge in the bathroom, where I started to cry. These overwhelming emotions I could barely identify came over me and I just let them pass through. A girl came into the bathroom – she must have been 8 or 9 – looked at me and asked me if I was okay. This being my first time in a long, long time crying in public, I wasn’t quite sure what to say. In a way I wasn’t “okay” in the conventional sense of being put together and having a wall built up around you. I was sick of projecting a sense of being “okay” in that way all the time. But at the same time I was “okay” – I knew that eventually the feelings would pass and I would be okay.
The girl asked me innocently, “Are you hurt?” What a great question, I thought. I knew she wondered if I was physically hurt, but for me what resonated was emotional pain. I assured her I was okay by nodding my head. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know how to explain these complex emotions to her. But I was grateful for her presence and concern, because she helped me step out of my habit of siloing myself away when I am not feeling 100%, and helped me realize that if I wanted consoling, I had to reach out and ask. Eventually I came back out of the bathroom, went back to my table, and got the consolation and comforting I needed.
What a beautiful process that so many of us (myself included) have forgotten though growing into adults, no? Children are so wise. They know when they are hurt; they are not ashamed about it; they ask for help. They slowly feel better, and all is well again. They go back out to play. There is so much we can learn from our world’s wise little teachers.
Can you take some time to yourself today – take some deep breaths, take a walk, chat with a friend, and see if any feelings surface? Or just keep an eye out (or a nerve out?) for the next time you feel some emotions surfacing, and not push them back down? Let them out. Let them see the light of day. There’s no need to understand them, or judge them. Just feel them. Give them time to be. It may seem foreign at first but you will become familiar with the process, and learn to befriend your feelings. And, slowly but surely, through constant reminder to allow your feelings to be – without identifying yourself with them or thinking you need to conquer them – you will live more freely and lightly.