I went to a weekly yin yoga class, after four weeks of not going, because I knew I needed it. I usually find a free yoga class on YouTube but I felt I needed to get out and connect with the community. While in class, the teacher read “The Guest House” by Rumi. It was one I had not read before but it was appropriate for my own self care needs. Working on what I need not only takes practice but it takes time and focus. If I do not find the time to care for myself I end up feeling low in energy and in mood and disconnected from myself and others. If I do not show up for myself, I am not able to be present for others.
The poem was appropriate because of its message on being with whatever emotions rise up within us. Being overwhelmed by emotions is not uncommon. It is easy to embrace feelings that make us feel good like love, joy, and excitement. Those “good” feelings are easy to invite into our awareness and into our bodies because they make us feel light and uplifted.
The other “not so good” emotions are harder to stay with. They feel dark and heavy and can cause discomfort in the body. It is often difficult to sit with emotions like sadness, fear, and anger. There is a tendency, even in myself, to want to push those emotions away or run from them. There are a variety of reasons emotions cause such unease. One reason may be because we are taught to, clearly or inexplicitly, by family, friends, and society to ignore or hide our feelings. We are not supposed to cry in public so we stuff sadness deep down in our bodies. We should be strong and brave so fear gets cast aside to some dark corner. We are not supposed to get angry, especially if you are a girl, so that gets buried within. And there they all sit alone and forgotten. These abandoned emotions become stuck in the mind and body unable to be expressed therefore released. The problem then becomes never learning how to process and cope with those “unacceptable” emotions. We learn to fear them instead. And since nothing can stay buried forever these “scary” emotions will find a way to rise – most likely through some kind of stimulus.
The manifestation of anxiety can be a response to feeling these types of “scary” emotions. The knee jerk reaction to “I’m feeling something uncomfortable” can trigger anxiety. When anxiety is serving its purpose, which is to notify us of a danger or threat so we can act appropriately, will dissipate after it has completed its job. But when we have learned to fear our emotions and our brains perceive a false danger, anxiety can arise and spin out of control.
So what can we do to unlearn all this?
I think Rumi offered a great message. Practice welcoming and entertaining your emotions as they appear – all of your emotions. Every emotion that arises within you is an opportunity to get to know yourself better. Feel free to personify happiness, sadness, fear, anger, joy, and love. When happiness arrives, say hello to it. Ask it how it’s doing. Ask happiness if it needs anything. And do the same with sadness and the emotions that seem to instigate anxiety. Do it with anxiety! “Hey anxiety! What’s up?! I see you popped in unexpectedly can I get you anything? A blanket? Some tea? Have a seat over here. If you want to talk, we can but if not then I have things to do around here. You can leave whenever you’re ready and if I don’t get a goodbye that’s okay. I’ll see ya!”
Seem out there? Have I lost you? Even if this seems bananas I implore you to try it and see for yourself. Let your imagination run wild with this activity. I’m offering you the freedom to do so. Actually set up a place for the emotion. Make it a cup of tea. No one has to know what you are doing except you. I have done this and it has been enlightening. In my experience, the emotion usually left without my awareness. When I finally stopped and checked in with myself, the emotion was gone.
This exercise is a practice in compassion. It’s about being compassionate with yourself – all of you – including your emotions. When we choose to hold space for our emotions, instead of stuffing them away, we are sending a message to ourselves that we are safe. We are telling ourselves we do not have to fear our emotions.
This exercise also engages the creative mind. Your imagination is very powerful. It can either work for you or work against you. When you’re anxious, you imagine all kinds of horrible things don’t you? I know this firsthand. However, why not play with your imagination so it works for you. Train your mind to take care of you. So get to know the parts of you that seem scary. Face them…care for them…play with them…because once you do your emotions can rise and fall without fear.
You are more powerful than you realize.
The Guest House
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.
~ Jellaludin Rumi
(Translation by Coleman Barks)