A couple of years ago, I went on a spiritual journey to my church’s headquarters. I took a class titled, ‘Healing and Wholeness’. Little did I know that this was the beginning of some very significant changes in my life.
My Healing and Wholeness Class taught me that to heal deeper life wounds, and to achieve greater wholeness, the path includes embracing all that comes my way in life. Acceptance is the key. I’ll never forget the instructor asking us what we would do if a baby in our home were crying – leave it to cry alone or pick it up and comfort it? And so it is with us. Giving ourselves the ability to feel our feelings without turning away from them, being with and turning toward ourselves in these difficult spaces, is a powerful practice! It allows us to integrate our experiences, leading to a greater wholeness vs. resisting/splitting off parts of ourselves and trying to leave them behind.
For me, this was shocking! I am a very positive individual, and trying to slow down for feelings of loss, grief, or difficult situations, was not the way I was brought up. Stay positive, smile, crying was weakness, were some of the messages I received. So through difficult times I would muddle, rush headlong for the safety of the other side, bury the difficulty. Guess where it went? Into my subconscious to hang out and perhaps even lift weights, getting stronger and coming to visit over time when I least expected it!
Dr. Daniel Siegel, clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, author, and Executive Director of the Mindsight Institute, offers some insight for dealing with our experiences in a way that will enhance our whole being. “Mindsight” is a term coined by Dr. Siegel to describe our human capacity to perceive the mind of the self and others. It is a powerful lens through which we can understand our inner lives with more clarity, integrate the brain, and enhance our relationships with others. Mindsight is a kind of focused attention that allows us to see the internal workings of our own minds. It helps us get ourselves off the autopilot of ingrained behaviors and habitual responses. It lets us “name and tame” the emotions we are experiencing, rather than being overwhelmed by them.
He advocates a simple two-step method for dealing with the difficult emotions of ourselves or others:
1) Connect – Take some time to really feel what it is you’re feeling without pushing it away, or to hold space and listen to another’s difficulty. Then provide empathy. “That’s hard.” “You’ve really been dealing with a lot.” It may be helpful to put your hand on your heart, or to give yourself or another a hug.
2) Name it to Tame it – Name the emotion. “I feel unhappy.” “I feel scared.” By naming the emotion, you can help calm the feelings and body sensations surrounding it. He also says to be careful about the way you name it. Mindsight is the difference between saying “I am sad” and “I feel sad.” Similar as those two statements may seem, they are profoundly different. “I am sad” is a kind of limited self-definition. “I feel sad” suggests the ability to recognize and acknowledge a feeling, without being consumed by it. The focusing skills that are part of mindsight make it possible to see what is inside and accept it. In the accepting we can let it go, and finally, transform it.
Mindfulness Based Practices such as this one echo what I learned back in my class. The very definition of mindfulness: Paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment and without judgement, encompasses this idea. We are present with our thoughts, feelings and body sensations without judging them, whether they feel good or bad. I have found that by sitting in my practice with whatever comes up, by using my mindfulness practices in good times as well as difficult, I have been able to lead a happier, more fulfilling life. My life now has more depth, dimension, color and vibrancy than ever before. I am allowing my life to be, and am feeling and experiencing it more fully.
I will leave you with the words from one of my favorite children’s books that so beautifully exemplifies the wholeness of being a human:
My Many Colored Days
by Dr. Seuss
Some days are yellow
Some are blue. On different days I’m different too.
You’d be surprised how many ways
I change on Different Colored Days.
On bright red days how good it feels to be a horse and kick my heels!
On other days I’m other things. On Bright Blue Days I flap my wings.
Some days, of course, feel sort of Brown. Then I feel slow and low, low down.
Then comes a Yellow Day. And Wheeeee, I am a busy, buzzy bee.
Gray Day…Everything is gray. I watch. But nothing moves today.
Then all of a sudden I’m a circus seal! On my Orange Days that’s how I feel.
Green days. Deep deep in the sea. Cool and quiet fish. That’s me.
On purple Days I’m sad. I groan. I drag my tail. I walk alone.
But when my days are Happy Pink, it’s great to jump and just not think.
Then come my Black Days. MAD. And loud. I howl. I growl at every cloud.
Then comes a Mixed-Up Day. And WHAM! I don’t know who or what I am.
But it all turns out all right, you see. And I go back to being…ME.