What if we learned that emotions are actually teachers, teachers with lessons in how to be whole? What if we allow our emotions to move through us and move others?
School isn’t typically a place for emotions – no public place is. If emotions are expressed, we assume something is wrong and we try to fix the situation (without ever really acknowledging the emotions or the person who expresses the emotions). Especially when the emotions being expressed are “unacceptable” and “child-like.” Or we just ignore the situation and the emotions and hope they go away.
But they don’t. They go somewhere else and express themselves in some other way. They will resurface later, often with extra force or in some “unrelated” context.
In some cases, learners act out and then are labelled with behavioural disorders or emotional illnesses. Even if educators think of their learners as more than physical and mental beings and want to honour their emotions, one-to-one attention is a luxury in the classroom. It is even a luxury in homes where adults don’t remember how to be present with themselves and, therefore, can’t be –really be– with their children.
But can we really wonder why teenagers dress in costume or do all sorts of things with and to their bodies? Can we really pretend not to understand why so many of our youth are so angry? Or so apathetic? Or so addicted to approval and/or non-approval?
Isn’t it really our own emotions, especially as we age, that we are uncomfortable expressing so we directly and indirectly invalidate the emotions of others – just as previous generations did?
As adults, some of us turn to meditation or other practices to learn to be present and are often told (or we misinterpret) that being present means not thinking and not feeling, rather than allowing thoughts, feelings and sensations to come and go as they please. We wonder why our thoughts and emotions seem to go even faster, darker and crazier, but by trying to be positive, present and/or perfect, we are inviting the other half… which is perfect because the other half is exactly what we need to accept that we are whole.
What if the next time you felt an emotion dancing or bubbling below the surface you let it out regardless of where you were? What if we gave others the same freedom? If we all showed ourselves as the ugly monster or the broken mess that we fear we are, the worst that can happen is that we’ll find we are right and can stop pretending. (If you are worried about protecting others, allow it when you are alone. Though, trying not to be angry is the cause of lashing out; anger itself is only an emotion.) And it’s not just the “negative” emotions we deny ourselves and others.
A couple of weeks ago, after a series of hip and heart openers, I was that person in the yoga studio who burst into tears. While everyone else was breathing in the love and light, I was sobbing and snotting all over my mat. I got my hand held and my feet rubbed. I got hugs after class without having to offer an explanation or apologies. Mostly, I experienced a deep acceptance within myself. In my weakness, I found strength and knew that I didn’t have to be either of those. And that was enough to walk out of class without self-judgement and with my head high and my heart open.
“Much of our suffering rests in the assumption that if we feel something for too long or too intensely, or at all, we will become it. We assume that if we really allow the feeling to be there, it will stick and end up defining us… Just because you feel a wave, it does not mean that the wave can define you… There is only the dance of waves now.” – Jeff Foster, The Deepest Acceptance: Radical Awakening in Ordinary Life.
We are not our emotions. But we also aren’t not our emotions.
And it’s not guaranteed that experiencing and expressing ourselves fully will mean we are not accepted (and therefore unlovable). How else will you ever really know that you are loved unconditionally?
Acceptance is a feeling that occurs through the acceptance of feelings.
What if happiness wasn’t the only acceptable emotion to express in our superficial society, in our conflict-ridden schools? What if all emotions were welcome – then would we be so depressed, so withdrawn, so angry, so anxious, so awkward, so shallow, so lonely? What if you had been taught that emotions are your teachers – that a lesson was waiting for you just beneath the confusion or pain? What if every time you cried you weren’t told to “grow up” or “suck it up” and instead were reassured that you are safe to explore and express your emotions? What if every time you gave yourself freedom to experience an emotion, you felt lighter, more liberated, connected and whole – where is the fear, shame or harm in that?