Because of the situation with Covid-19, there has been a general feeling that people are existing rather than living, and that collective resilience is down. The persistent state of survival/stress that we’ve all been experiencing has caused a variety of emotions. People are feeling worn-out.
Now this is difficult enough as it is, but what we also tend to do as humans when we’re in a situation which gives us a sense of discomfort, is to try and get away from that discomfort. That process of fighting or getting rid of an unwanted feeling is in itself energy sapping.
Feelings of sadness, anger, shame, being tired and annoyed are not actually bad, but we forget this and have a tendency to: pursue ‘good’ emotions like happiness, judge ourselves for having emotions (‘I shouldn’t be feeling like this’) and generally try to get-rid of ‘bad’ emotions.
So, we look for tactics to get rid of the feelings, we suppress emotions, avoid them and struggle with them. And this takes up an awful lot of energy, a bit like constantly trying to push a beachball under water, only for it to keep popping back up again.
Generally, as humans we are not very good at accepting our emotions simply for what they are. No emotion is ‘good’ or ‘bad’. They simply give us information about a situation and can actually be helpful in telling us what’s going on. Issues generally arise when we use our energy to avoid emotions rather than investing our time on living a full life.
This is where acceptance comes in.
Just to be clear – a common misconception is that acceptance is about tolerating, resignation or gritting your teeth. In her book ‘Radical Acceptance’, Tara Brach states:
‘Radical Acceptance is the willingness to experience ourselves and our life as it is…’
And this is key. It’s about dropping the struggle, to stop fighting with yourself and allowing things to be as they are. It is a deliberate act or choice.
Understanding this is one thing, but putting it into practice is another! The following exercise is really good if you are prone to disliking your feelings and end-up wanting to push them away. Or if you fight with different life experiences saying things like ‘It shouldn’t be like this!’, then the following is a useful exercise which puts acceptance into practice:
Notice It: Notice where the feeling is, where it’s most intense eg in your head, pit of your stomach etc. Notice whether it feels hot or cold, or whether there are different sensations eg clenched fists, tight jaw.
Name it: Give the emotion a name. Be as specific as you can. If you’re angry, is it seething hot anger, intense frustration or mild irritation?
Allow it: We are not trying to get rid of nor diminish our feeling here. The object of the exercise is to allow it, stop the struggle and understand that no matter how big the feeling gets; it can’t get bigger than you. So here, you breathe around the emotion. You imagine making space in the part of the body you identified, and you imagine your breath having the space to flow around the emotion. If there are any points of tension, or other sensations eg clenched fists, tight jaw etc, you can consciously relax these. At this point you can even say to yourself ‘I don’t like this feeling; it feels unpleasant but I am making a space for it and allowing myself to have this emotion. It is not bigger than me. It will be okay.’ So, then all you need to do is sit with this until you feel you have made some space within yourself.
To finish the process, you can then shift your focus outward again by noticing some key external elements eg the room you are sitting in.
The whole idea is, that we don’t let fighting with our feelings stop us from engaging fully with life. As Russ Harris says ‘Embrace your demons and follow your heart.’
I hope that makes some sense.