From birth onward we begin the enduring act of maturing and experientially processing interaction. At birth our emotions are open and vulnerable but most importantly we are present and living in the moment. A baby instinctively cries without delay when sensing hunger, dampness from a dirty bottom, or generalized pain and discomfort.
As we mature our emotions are woven into our personal filters that evolve from our internal and external exchanges that take place in our lives. This offers much in the way of an explanation as to how our filters develop and how our internal emotions are harnessed in an effort to welcome life or yoked to keep them at arms length. Early on, if we learn trust and consistency our fragile, developing egos are comforted and eased by knowing that our needs will be met. The silent message delivered is safety and trust. In the absence of such nurturance we may learn to distrust or expect disappointment. Hence our core emotion of fear becomes ever present and accounted for by expected let-downs or anticipated wrongs to be brought against us.
Our identified core feelings consist of: joy, pain, fear, loneliness, anger, guilt, and shame. It is ironic to think that the most basic of emotional elements are at the heart of what many of us choose to disregard and suppress in an attempt to “be happy.” And yet, not one of us could say that we are emotionally alive without the presence of such.
Years ago, as I began my own therapeutic and spiritual journey, I realized that the only emotion to which I could relate was anger. In fact, back then, had the therapist not brought the other emotions into the human equation, I would not have known they existed.
It is often stated that our lives are defined not so much by days, weeks, or years, but by the collective consciousness of our memories. Those memories are further defined by our filters which grew out of our emotions. How we emotionally developed over time defines who we were and who we became up until this moment. Whether we have been holding back the possibilities of our lives or beckoning them closer stems from how we learned to view life. Did we learn that the world was unsafe and therefore a place to be feared? Or did we learn that the uncertainty offered up in the world created an opportunity from which we could experience growth and excitement?
Our personal filters keep out what we are not willing or able to experience. Our filters may shield out the unsafe and uncomfortable but, is it more a question of our really being unsafe or that we’re afraid to find out? Are we really uncomfortable or are we scared to go beyond the known? And, if it is our previously learned experiences that taught us fear, why not allow ourselves to relearn how to experience joy and embrace life instead of keeping it at arms length hidden behind a wall of fear?
Remember these filters began developing before our conscious awareness could catch up and what we came to learn helped define who we were not who we still want to become. Ask yourself. Am I numb to my feelings and open to the gifts of my emotions or am I comfortable in my life as is without the potential for change and growth?
If we allow ourselves to feel our emotions then new experiences can become the harnessed potential to perceive and live life differently. Paying conscious attention to our feelings can be hard for people who have learned in childhood that their needs won’t be met, that their feelings don’t count, or worse yet, that they will be betrayed or ignored. Memories of past experiences can intrude into our current life and before we are even aware, we’ve tuned out any feelings so as to avoid new, potential pain—and in turn growth.
Our past responses to our emotions may have served as adaptive tools with which we survived intolerant situations but those adaptive measures now hold us ransom within ourselves. And, when we choose to become mindful of our emotions then we expand the horizons of potentiality and present ourselves the gifts of our emotional experience.
Years ago I remember a conversation I had with an airline pilot. Having flown on a regular basis for business purposes I wanted to talk with a pilot to calm my fears regarding flying. Having eyed an unsuspecting pilot, I approached him and commented that I had many “bad flights” due to turbulence and I inquired as to what I could do about it. At that moment he said that he seldom had a “bad flight” if ever at all. To that I questioned just how that could be given that he flies more often than I, and therefore, statistically speaking, would be subject to more “bad flights”. With a smile he replied that all flights, for him, are good. The fact that there exists rough air currents and turbulence was, to him, of little to no consequence. He was clearly not afraid to ride the air currents, embrace life and turn eagerly toward the unknown. I began to think that I too, could learn to confront and embrace my fears and enjoy a different kind of ride. With those words of wisdom he sauntered off. Mmm.
Today when I speak with clients about their feelings, they often describe them as being “bad”. I ask them—are their feelings bad or just unpleasant? It is then that I remind them of the gifts we receive when we are willing to experience our feelings and not shut them out.
From our joy we experience hope; from our pain we receive the gift of growth; our fear delivers the gift of wisdom; when we experience loneliness we learn to reach in and reach out; our anger delivers strength; when we are willing to embrace our guilt we learn values; and from our shame we learn humility.
In the words of Vernon Howard, “We must become acquainted with our emotional household: we must see our feelings as they actually are, not as we assume they are. This breaks their hypnotic and damaging hold on us.”