Holding Emotions

Many years ago I heard a talk in which the presenter touched on the clearing of emotions. He referred to primal scream therapy, in which people are encouraged to fully express anger by yelling or screaming. He said that in studies over the years there were no consistent results. Some people seemed to find it healing and others did not, but apparently it wasn’t clear why.

I know from personal experience that there can be great healing in being with my emotions, giving them space to be, feeling them in the body, and letting them go. There are beautiful practices of forgiveness, acceptance, and witnessing that are found in different traditions that are based on this.

I have also been in some pretty stuck places where it seemed that I just couldn’t let go of the emotion. The emotion was all enveloping; like the heart of a thunderstorm, where you can’t see the light. There have been times when I could feel that part of me found safety in an emotion, or confirmation of a belief about myself or the world, at a deep level I was attached.

Emotions are energy which is meant to move, to flow. In the course of life they arise naturally in the body, in response to different life experiences. When we can allow them to move through us like Rumi’s guests, entering by the front door and exiting by the back, they are just the flow of life force in different flavors. But when we become attached, or resistant to them, we become identified with them, the flow stops and they move in.

It is said that to all things there is a season, and that is true with working the emotions too. There are times to chose to change the channel, and there are times to embrace them so that they can heal and transform. The key is in neutrality, where we can find the space and separation to have our emotions, rather than being them. Do we identify with them or have a relationship, where we can choose to let them go?

This is the answer to the question about people who have tried primal scream therapy. Those that identify with the anger, who need it to be strong, or “right”, or alive, will loose themselves in it and simply pull more anger into their lives. Those who can view it like a guest that is ready to leave, or a state of being that can change, like the weather in Colorado, can express it and release it.

The key is to be able to “hold” the emotion, to have it, but not be it, like a pain in your toe, or the feeling of hunger. With some emotions we may need to give them physical expression, with others we can just feel them in the body, keep breathing, relaxing into them, without judgment, or fear, or other forms of resistance, until they dissipate, transmuting into forms of life force that nurture and sustain us.

Some times we can do this on our own, especially with training and practice. Other times it is good to have a friend, partner, community, or professional to help hold space for us, so that we know we are safe and will come out the other side. The key is to have or find a place to stand outside the emotion, from which to do the holding. Then imagine it like an infant and embrace it with compassion and love. When we can do this it will transform and heal, transmuting into spaciousness for you to be more alive, more present, more joyful.

(© 8/2011)

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