About a month ago, I decided I’d had enough.
After the break-up, I fell into a pattern of crying through the workday, crawling into my bed at 4 pm, and staying there until I “went to bed.” I had fallen into a situational depression complete with reeling thoughts (“Why am I unlovable?”) and no energy. My lethargy resulted from what my sister calls “My Divorce Diet;” I was rarely putting nutrients into my body because food tasted like shredded paper.
I was stuck. And I couldn’t shake it.
At least, I couldn’t shake it alone. So, to find relief, I made an appointment with a hoo-woo-woo-woo doctor at the local Center for Integrative Medicine. The herbalist patiently listened to my emotional and spiritual woes and promptly let me know that I was stuck in the Earth element, which meant I was unable to let go and move to the other side of my grief. She suggested that my stomach lining was dysfunctional and that I was probably anemic. She prescribed me an herbal treatment to calm my thoughts and encourage healing in my stomach. She suggested that I aim for 50g of protein in my breakfast.
I was hesitant, but I walked out the door with a “Present & Centered” tincture in hand.
It couldn’t hurt.
About an hour after I got home from my witch doctor appointment, I got a phone call from my Western doctor letting me know the blood work I had done a few days prior was in.
I was anemic. She told me to eat more red meat. My hoo-woo-woo-woo doctor had been spot-on without needing to draw a drop of blood.
I’m telling you this story not to have you feel sorry for me, nor to convince you to run to your nearest herbalist, but to demonstrate the scope of change possible when you address negative emotions from both within and without. What I’m saying is THERE IS HOPE.
Now, about a month after that first appointment, I’m healing. I’ve been genuinely happy many times and I am able to bring my attention to the people sitting in front of me. I feel centered, calm, at peace. I haven’t had a sad day since my appointment and I’m working to let go of hopes that life look different (“I wish he would just change and come back!”). Finally, I’m at a place where gratitude is my default.
I attribute this huge shift to time, herbal treatment, therapy, and my sustained attention to healthy practices. I’d like to share those healthy practices with you.
1. Notice physical dis-ease.
Feel that tightness in your chest? Notice your stomach having sharp pains? You inexplicably exhausted or weary? These are all manifestations of some latent negative emotion. Do a self-check regularly throughout the day. Are you able to take in full breaths or is there some tension that prevents you from doing so? Anytime you notice a tension, don’t dismiss it, but calmly let the negative emotion show itself in time.
2. Please do NOT feed the pain-bodies.
In The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle identifies autonomous “pain-bodies” as the source of all suffering. Pain-bodies are negative emotions such as sadness, irritation, and boredom that leech energy from our deep, at-peace self.
Pain-bodies form when a small piece of our deep, at-peace self decides to go rogue and develop an identity of its own. They make you think, “I’m sad,” or “I’m unwanted.” Then, the pain-bodies hang on our deep, at-peace self like those over-the-door hooks you use to hang up your bathroom robe.
Negative thoughts like those are NOT based in the truth of your deeply okay self.
Because you are not a sad person. You are your deep, at-peace self. You are not an unwanted person. You are part of the collective consciousness of all beings.
We are all made of the same substance that has taken an independent form for this short moment. When we die, our form will recede and we’ll all be in the big bucket of substance again, together.
No one is alone.
Negative emotions are parasitic pain-bodies that will shrivel and die if you choose not to feed them. And how do you starve those parasites? By shining awareness on them and seeing them as separate from your at-peace self.
3. Get tight with your fear.
At this point, you’ve pinpointed the physical point of tension in your body. And you’ve allowed your negative emotion to show itself in time.
Let’s say you realize the negative emotion is, “I’m angry that my best friend cancelled our plans for the 5th time in two weeks.”
Now, that’s a legitimate concern that will take open communication between you and your best friend to sort out. There is almost always some true justification behind negative feelings. However, I don’t want to talk about how justified you are in feeling hurt, but instead about how you can efficiently manage these emotions and, ultimately, stop hurting.
Whenever the world doesn’t go exactly like we planned it, we become upset. And that upset is based in fear.
So, I’m angry at my friend? After I breathe through the initial reaction my body has to the pain of her behavior (wanting to cry, considering unfriending her on Facebook, etc.), I can take a second and realize the flavor of the fear behind my pain.
“I’m afraid I don’t matter. That I’m unloved. That, really, I’m in this universe alone and, being the fool that I am, I believed I had people who loved me.”
That spiel is a record looping and looping for me. THAT is the flavor of almost every single one of my emotional struggles.
But, how can you turn the record off? How can you be sure that the fear isn’t TRUE?
4. Invite your demons to tea.
My ex- actually taught me how to do this next step. (Thank you, JB!).
Your fear is skulking around your mind, Gollum-style. Not Gangnam-style. But Gollum, like the creepy LOTR skeletal creature. Though, picturing your fear Gangnam-style might also work…
Your Gollum says, “You’re such an idiot for thinking you’re connected to anything in this world. You’re alone and you’ll die alone.”
That may seem extreme, but, if we’re honest, our fears are often pretty damn dramatic.
To your Gollum fear, say, “OH, is that so? I’m alone? Come on in. Tell me about that.”
And then sit. And wait.
Your Gollums won’t have anything to say. Because you aren’t alone. And the world shows you that truth all the time.
It may sound counter-intuitive to entertain your fears rather than squashing them in order to rid yourself of them, but as soon as you turn your full attention on your Gollums, they shrink. They crawl away.
5. Forgive yourself.
This is the hardest thing I do throughout my day. I wrote in my last post about allowing myself retreat. In the past few weeks, I’ve been zero’d in on having empathy for other people AND myself!
My best friend Mo put it best when she said, “We’re not just agents of action in this world. We’re beings, too.”
What she means is that I hurt like you hurt like he hurts like she hurts. We’re all beings trying to figure out how best to manage the inevitable pain and joy that comes with living.
And no one escapes the hurt and the lessons that life gives us. My uncle Johnny says, “Before you’re born, you’re given lessons you’ll have to learn. In your life, you can try going around your lessons, under them, over them. Eventually you’ll learn you just gotta go through ’em.”
To remind myself that I am a being that needs forgiveness and grace just like everything else, I carry a small blue stone around in my backpack.
We’re all doing our best.
If you have any comments or questions, please contact me here. It’s so reaffirming to hear from you all, so let me know if there’s anything you’re struggling with that you’d like me to write about.