Depending on what culture and family we are raised in, we will have had different emotions marketed differently to us. Happiness, success, generosity and humour may have been given out in colourful, glossy brochures, brought out and shared around and generally celebrated. But anger, rage, bitterness or grief may have been scribbled on a used bit of paper, screwed up and thrown at people or hidden away like a guilty secret, never to be spoken of.
From an early age we learn to be proud of, and show-off, some emotions, but to feel shame or worry about others. Unfortunately, because we are so young it makes it really hard to question what we are learning. We just take it all on board like little sponges.
By the time we are old enough to be autonomous and out in the world on our own many of us have a set repertoire of emotions we accept, those we aim for, some we reject and some we hide. This can limit our whole experience of the world. How happy and excited do you let yourself get? Or how angry, bitter, jealous, excited, aspirational? This section is about learning to accept all of our emotions, which may help us to experience more range in our lives.
Rumi, a wonderful 13thCentury Sufi poet wrote this poem about accepting our feelings:
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 
None of us can truly know ourselves without being able to tolerate fluctuations in mood and the sometimes painful awareness of our darker feelings and impulses. This gives us a true picture of who we are; flawed, human, not always on top of the world. And from this acceptance we give ourselves permission to be human, to fail, to dislike people, to be irritated, to be joyful. Acceptance and permission are two sides of the same coin.
And as Rumi said, there is often a message in our feelings. Why are we feeling that way? What side of our personality is trying to express itself and what is it trying to say?
For this section we will focus on creating a feeling of space and welcome. Then, when you do feel an emotion you would normally resist or suppress, you will have a tool to help you let it be, let it express itself and let it go or evolve naturally.
Accepting All Feelings
In the universe, there is room for everything. Nothing can actually start to exist without the space for it to come into. And there is matter and its opposite; anti-matter. In Chinese philosophy there is yin and yang, in everyone’s vision there is dark and light, and in time there is night and day. There are a lot of connected opposites floating about. But we have a tendency to judge one thing as “bad” and its opposite as “good” – instead of both of them as both good and bad.
We may take a sensible judgment like “anger is not useful in this situation” and then make it into a rule: “anger is not useful in all situations”, ignoring the fact that it can be a force for good. So we do not make room for everything within us; we make space for only the emotions we are comfortable with. The rest get pent up, become physical tension or pain or affect us in other ways because they cannot express themselves or help us in the way they are meant to. So for the exercise below we will be practicing creating an open space for any feeling that wants to come into and through us.
Exercise: Spacious Welcome
- Sitting or standing where you are, I would like you to be aware of the inside of your torso. Sense its state, and whether there is any tension or pain. Just breathe and accept those sensations.
- Now imagine a sense of having a spacious room in your whole torso, full of light. It has a lovely breeze blowing through open windows, filling the room with fresh air. Keep that sense of spaciousness and try to have a feeling of accepting the way you feel right now; body and mind. Just let everything you feel be there, with a sense of welcoming and space.
- If you have an urge to struggle or resist, just keep breathing and accept that urge – let it be there. Do not try to fight it but have the sense of saying “welcome” to it and continue breathing and visualizing. If any emotions come up, let them be there also, without trying to change them – just accepting them.
It can take a lot of courage to feel an emotion we think of as negative (and even some positive ones) without trying to change it. I recommend you stay with it for a while, letting it be, so that you can really get to know it and see it in its entirety.
This is something we need to practice day-to-day and will most likely be a work in progress.
I want to stress again that accepting a feeling does not mean accepting a situation that is wrong or a boundary that is crossed. On the other extreme, it also does not mean feeling entitled to act out or vent our emotions recklessly onto others.
It means accepting the feeling enough that we can understand it and let it fully develop and express itself. Only acceptance gives an emotion the space it needs to communicate what it has to say, and we often find that when we have understood and possibly expressed it fully, it is completely resolved and leaves us feeling clearer and lighter.
I hope you enjoy feeling your feelings!
- A Network for Grateful Living 2018