What I think people are trying to say when they utter those words is, “I shouldn’t get so upset. I should be more serene, all the time, no matter what is happening. I should be able to shut down my feelings.”
Am I right?
What I hear when I hear people say it is, “I’m afraid to feel my emotions.” And, “I feel bad about the way I’m feeling right now. Something about what I’m feeling is wrong.”
It sounds like an enlightened thing to say, but there’s a lot of fear and self-judgment implied in those six little words. And I can promise you one thing – fear and self-judgment are a great way to get and stay upset.
Something that comes up again and again in my work with clients is that it’s OK to feel how you feel. Emotions are powerful, and sometimes scary, bewildering, overwhelming. I get that. This past weekend, my four-year-old son spent numerous hours of his birthday on the pot with an incredibly painful poopy and seeing him suffer, having to decide what to do while also answering 100 questions from his big sister about what was going on was very upsetting! (He finally had the biggest poop ever at 2 am, said “I feel better!,” took a nice relaxing bath and promptly fell asleep.)
But emotions get scarier, more bewildering, and more powerful when you keep them hidden. It’s like the monster in your closet when you were a kid. When the light is off, you’re sure you see teeth, eyes, and claws. You flick the light on, and it’s clearly a shirt and a pair of shoes.
To me, being “Zen” is the equivalent of turning the light on in your mental and emotional closet and seeing what’s there for what it really is. That is an overarching principle behind my coaching practice—let’s just see what’s there to be seen. No matter what it is, we can handle it.
I recently interviewed Sierra Bender one of my first teachers for 28 Days Lighter Super Summit (a virtual conference I hosted in honor of the recent release of the book I co-wrote and am so proud of, The 28 Days Lighter Diet). She said something that really sums up what I’m trying to get across to you today:
Here’s what “Zen” – as in the word people bandy about when they’re feeling stressed and wishing they weren’t – means to me:
- Allowing yourself to feel what you feel. No judging. No pushing away. No stuffing down.
- Accepting how you feel just as it is, without wanting to change it.
- Trusting that your feelings have wisdom in them. This is big. They are not here just to yank you around or ruin your mood. They are here to enlighten.
- Discerning what exactly is making you upset, and not just chalking your mood up to circumstance or fate. What is it reminding you of? What is it asking you to do differently?
- Releasing the feelings, as in, not clinging, or re-hashing, or letting it define your day.
I realize that’s a lot of steps. =)
If that feels like too much for the moment, start here:
Whatever gets you churned up, or has you wishing you were more Zen, remind yourself, “It’s OK to feel how I feel.” And watch how just that level of acceptance allows the emotions to shift and dissipate. It works so much better than wishing you were feeling nothing. I PROMISE!
I’ll leave you with a quote from Krishnamurti:
“If you begin to understand what you are without trying to change it, then what you are undergoes a transformation.”
And if you’re still reading and you’re not believing me or not believing that you can do anything I’ve talked about for yourself, reach out. Let’s talk. Let’s see. =)