The biggest fear that we have is that we are afraid to feel our own feelings
Have you ever said yes instead of no because saying no could provoke a reaction from the other person that you did not want to see? Have you ever avoided dealing with people or tricky situations in your life because they could make you uncomfortable? We all have felt this way at some point in our lives. But, by avoiding our negative feelings, we are actually avoiding half of our life. What I mean by this, is that by avoiding the feelings we don’t want to feel, we allow our fear to dictate the choices we make, the people we surround ourselves with, and the jobs we take.
Whether we realize it or not, we end up spending a large amount of our energy avoiding the parts of our life that don’t feel good to us. If we are afraid of feeling anxious, any circumstance that evokes anxiety will make us say, “I don’t want to do this. I want to avoid it.” Then, that whole part of life gets shut down. You can no longer engage it because anxiety is running the show. Anxiety is running you—whatever the social situation is.
What if it didn’t have to be like this? What if we could be okay with the good and bad feelings? What if we could say, “You know what I’m going to make friends with my anxiety. I’m not going to suppress it, I’m just going to notice when it’s there and I am going to welcome it because it’s like a learning experience.”? If we can learn to do this, then we can engage the situations that we would normally avoid.
I find it helpful to think of the world and the “whole” of ourselves as the sky and our thoughts and experiences as clouds. The sky is never affected by what clouds come through. The sky is always fine. All our thoughts, feelings, and experiences are like the clouds: they can come and pass- and we can just witness them. This lets us say, “I am okay with whatever feeling shows up. I’m not going to worry about the next feeling that arises.”
The goal isn’t to feel a certain positive feeling all the time. If we are comfortable with all our feelings-there is a deep peace that can come from being comfortable with oneself completely even if you are feeling angry, sad, or fearful. If you are just running after temporary things that will give you an emotional high/feel good, then you are still avoiding part of your life.
So what should happiness look like?
If we simply respect feelings and allow ourselves to feel them- we can feel that peace. We can be with the deep part of us is OK no matter what we are feeling. These ideas are the key principals in meditation—noticing the emotions that come up, listening to them, and then letting them go. With these skills you can be in a situation that’s triggering your anxiety or fear and feel okay. For instance, if I am getting angry or anxious, I can ask myself to just be with that emotion, instead of leaving the situation. I can just allow myself to be with it and maybe it will shift on its own.
Instead of practicing meditation to confront our fears, we say, “I'm not going to do this because I don't want to tell this person no. I won’t do this because I don't want to feel vulnerable or uncomfortable. I don't want anyone to get angry with me because I might feel like no one likes me. I might feel ashamed or not good enough.”
Real happiness and contentment in life is not just keeping the feeling of happiness around all the time, it is being okay with all the feelings. This isn’t always easy. Hard things come and they will knock us over and sometimes we will not be able to handle it. Those moments just give us an opportunity to be honest with ourselves about where we are in the process. We don’t have to pretend to hold it all together when we can’t.
The best part is we get to just keep practicing this whole lives. If anxiety shows up- we can acknowledge that it is there (maybe showing in a twitch or our sweaty palms) and use that as a sign to take a deeper look into our feelings. Are there situations that we are avoiding because we don’t want to feel the anxiety? What choices am I making to avoid feeling the anxiety? Am I letting my anxiety limit me? The ancient poet, Rumi, once said, “This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they are a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight. The dark thought, the shame, the malice—meet them at the door laughing and invite them in. Be grateful for whatever comes because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.”
Rumi is talking about our emotions and our experiences. Allow every emotion in and engage them. If we can do this- we will be deeply contented while still maintaining our range of emotion. We will naturally feel sad and happy and angry and content but each of those feelings will find a place of their own. We will not resist them or fight them. We won’t let them take us away. We will just be the awareness and the space in which they are happening, the space in which they are arising and passing. It can be our life-long work to keep this perspective. That way we have the best shot at feeling content no matter what problem comes our way.