“How can we eliminate the deepest source of all unsatisfactory experience? Only by cultivating certain qualities within our mindstream. Unless we possess high spiritual qualifications, there is no doubt that events life throws upon us will give rise to frustration, emotional turmoil, and other distorted states of consciousness. These imperfect states of mind in turn give rise to imperfect activities, and the seeds of suffering are ever planted in a steady flow. On the other hand, when the mind can dwell in wisdom that knows the ultimate mode of being, one is able to destroy the deepest root of distortion, negative karma, and sorrow.” – From The Path To Enlightenment by His Holiness the Dalai Lama
What are these spiritual qualifications that His Holiness the Dalai Lama refers to? This article will focus on emotional healing as this is the starting point for revealing these spiritual qualifications. So let’s take a close look at what it means to heal emotionally.
What is emotional healing? It is a painful process that leads to peace, happiness and self-knowledge. Self-knowledge leads to liberation. It is painful, because only painful emotions need to be healed. True happiness does not need releasing! But true happiness remains un-experienced as long as there is an escape from pain. It is the healing of buried pain that allows happiness and joy to start to make a true entrance into our lives. This is because only through self-acceptance can we really move forward in our lives.
The word pain is used here to cover the whole gamut of emotions, negative thinking and blockages, including sadness, grief, loneliness, hurt, fear, anger, guilt, judgment, betrayal, hatred, jealousy, envy and so on.
Emotional pain can be described as frozen feelings, stored in our body and memory, that lead to suffering. The suffering we experience may or may not be openly acknowledged to ourselves or not. When we suffer due to some negative emotion, if this is not acknowledged, the emotion gets lodged in us and remains there and thus the ‘see3ds of suffering’ are planted. Suffering is self-generated. No pain can be given to us from the outside. It is not the event but the thoughts we project onto ourselves and others about the event that create suffering.
At some level we obviously enjoy our suffering. It’s obvious because otherwise we wouldn’t be this way. After all, don’t most of us consider ourselves to be knowledgeable, clever, in control and aware? But despite all these attributes people constantly find themselves facing the same patterns, the same scenarios and the same problems time and time again. It’s like we lock ourselves into the prison of our own suffering, throw away the key and then complain when we ‘can’t’ open the door; yet the key is in our own pocket all along. You might say that this is a rather harsh view, and it perhaps seems so on the surface. The point is that it’s not about eradicating suffering, for this is part of life, but of acknowledging it for what it is. Calling a spade a spade. And not lawnmower.
In order to understand why individuals are responsible for their own suffering let’s enquire more deeply into the subject.
The majority of us have emotions stemming from our past, mostly with their origins in childhood. Given the society we live in, these emotions are difficult for us to express. We learn from a young age to keep them hidden inside us, since everyone else is doing the same. We watch others: our parents, siblings, other family members, friends as well as people in general. We notice that they suppress their emotions and try to always appear in control. Seeing our closest loved ones withholding their emotions from us – as well as thereby withholding their expressions of love – may even lead to deep issues of co-dependency. These patterns do not shift easily as one get older, rather become more and more entrenched. Wisdom is not an automatic given of ageing! Or maybe as a child we did show our emotions but got hurt in the process, so we decided at a subconscious level to hide our feelings, for fear of being hurt again. This is all very understandable and an aspect of the human condition as it is at present. But this is not the road to joy and peace. For pain can’t be eradicated by the suppression of it. And happiness can’t be attained through pretense (the mind projecting a self-image of ‘I am happy.’)
John Pierrakos, MD, one of the first psychiatrists to bridge medicine with spirituality, said, “Negative emotion will emerge in devious ways when it is denied recognition.” Thus, if we wish to live a true, fulfilled life, suppression is not an option. Moreover, John Pierrakos also said, “If we close off negative feelings, we stop our creative process.” Thus the suppression of emotions leads to dull lives, lacking in vitality and free expression; and moreover, keeps us starved of real love, given and received.
Over time, we come to believe our cover-ups and to buy into our own story of self-control believing we’re ‘fine’. Our emotional life becomes more and more hidden. Sometimes, when we do feel real feeling – maybe when we watch a film that moves us, or feel touched by someone’s act of kindness or due to a painful experience in our lives – we may allow real emotion to surface for a short while, but we are mostly still unable to fully express it. The foot is quickly back on the break pedal. Our habitual suppression kicks in automatically. We have trained ourselves well! And thus, as we go through life, with all the stresses and demands upon us, we may sometimes feel anguished and confused, but we are inept at expressing what really lies within us. As we lose connection with our own feeling center, we may even be unaware of what our true feelings are, since denial becomes the new reality during this suppression process. But denial is a painful game we play with ourselves, and if we are honest with ourselves, we can sense this dichotomy in us, a fragmentation, an inner conflict. We may have a niggling sense that we haven’t turned out to be the quite the person we thought we would be, or that life has somehow been harder than expected or that the quality of happiness we hoped for ourselves hasn’t manifested.
Eckhart Tolle, in the Power of Now, says: “The best indicator of your level of consciousness is how you deal with life’s challenges when they come. Through those challenges, an already unconscious person tends to become more deeply unconscious. You can use a challenge to awaken you, or you can allow it to pull you into even deeper sleep. The dream of ordinary unconsciousness then turns into a nightmare.”
This nightmare is one that most of us believe to be normal life. But real life is not this. If we open our eyes we will see the vast dichotomy between the quality of our inner experience and what we think or prefer to believe is our experience. This game that we constantly play with ourselves – a game that takes a serious toll eventually – is called ego. The ego – or personality – has a lot invested in our delusional patterns and keeping us this way.
If we can allow ourselves to become aware of this inner confusion and sense of dissatisfaction, then we have a chance to heal. If we remain unconscious to the world of emotions, life will continue on an unconscious path, a veritable battle to keep at bay what needs to come to the fore in order for us to become more whole. If we are truly honest with ourselves, we know that in our daily lives there are many instances of conflict or some negative emotion. But due to our inability to assimilate such emotions, we shy away from admitting this. The disease of the human condition to deny what is so and believe what we want to believe, lies at the heart of our own self-generated suffering. But the energy expended in keeping emotions at an arm’s length may as well be used to deal with these emotions because one day we’ll make that choice anyway. Finally we may say ‘enough is enough, I need to change’. In the end, whether now, in ten years, at the point of death, or beyond, our heart will feel the call to finally soften. But why wait? Why accumulate more ‘stuff’? Why deny? There is much healing to be done on this planet. It creaks heavily with the pain and suffering that its people are holding on to everyday.
If, individually, we are willing to allow our perspective to shift with regard to our beliefs about ourselves and take a step back from our fears, then we are half-way there. What we then have is a transformational opportunity that the release of emotions presents. In fact without it, growth – emotional, mental and spiritual – is impossible. When there’s an elephant in the middle of the room, there’s an elephant in the middle of the room!
It is often the case that emotional work requires a catalyst because it is not easy to look at ourselves in an honest way in the normal course of events due to the walls we place around ourselves, especially as we go on hiding ourselves from ourselves. But finally, there comes a point when the game’s up. So at a certain point in our life, a trigger may present itself that will take us out of our comfort zone. The trigger may be many and varied – loss of some kind, bereavement, mounting stress, illness, redundancy, addictive patterns becoming worse, a sudden change in our lives, or simply a weariness or low-lying depression. The pain that we feel at these times is a message from our heart asking us to shift our thinking and beliefs. We ignore this message to our detriment. The breeze of truth is knocking on the door. This truly is a blessing!
But better than waiting for such a catalyst we can also feed our own natural curiosity and with intent can become more conscious.
So what is ‘the process’ for emotional healing?
It is quite simply to feel the pain. To sink into it. For women, it’s a bit like labour pains when they tell you to just let the pain come. This is the key in the pocket. Also, the pain is felt in the body, our faithful mirror, and we can now look at where exactly it is in the body. Perhaps it is in the chest area, or maybe the belly. Our body can show us much more about ourselves if we listen to it and it doesn’t lie. For example, cancer patients who have ridden themselves of cancer have, in the process of healing, usually had to look within themselves at the negative emotions they have been holding onto, and release them.
It is often beneficial if the origin of the painful memories can be remembered but this is not essential. Even if you can’t remember the exact circumstances or conditions at the time of the pain being created inside you, the emotion itself is still stored and this can be felt. Energy never disappears, especially where there is much emotional charge.
Where does the anguish or anger come from? What are the beliefs you hold about yourself concerning this situation? Usually at the base of pain is a closely-guarded belief about ourselves, something we do not care to admit to easily. A feeling of unworthiness, not being good enough or some negative self-belief. Stating this belief in one sentence is often a good way of pin-pointing it. When we find the limiting belief, we will usually feel deep emotion arise, and the tears need to be allowed as they arise. Fear not! Tears and suffering are finite.
Whatever the circumstances, we ultimately created our own pain alone, and we must deal with it alone. Whether someone else is present when we go through this is our choice – and it can certainly be very beneficial eg a therapist, holistic practitioner or trusted friend – but no one can feel the pain for us and or take responsibility for it, other than us. This work is done alone ultimately. However there are many tools and techniques that can help us with this work, eg Hypnotherapy, Counselling, Core Energetics, EFT, Spiritual Healing and much more.
For men, it is often harder to allow themselves to admit to and feel deep pain, and to weep. But this is a huge release. Feeling the pain is necessary if healing is to occur, regardless of whether you’re a man or woman. Ultimately the gender divide is immaterial. It is time for men to allow balance between the male and female energies within them. Just because you’re a man, it doesn’t mean you’re not sensitive. Sensitivity is the birthright of both genders. Have you seen how sensitive babies are, both girls and boys? It’s just adults who have formed walls around their heart. Now the heart is gasping for air.
Healing ourselves is an allowing of whatever memories and thoughts arise without resistance. It’s the resistance to what is arising that turns pain into suffering. Resisting anything in life causes some level of suffering. We’ve heard the expression, ‘what you resist persists.’ So there is simply no deeper way to heal than to allow pain to surface whenever it shows up. But be careful not to resist the resistance! Even this must be allowed.
When we are real with ourselves, there is a great release and freeing up that takes place. This is because we are no longer the same person anymore. We are still who we always were, but now, without the burden of that pain. J Krishnamurti said, “Pain itself destroys pain. Suffering itself frees man from suffering.” This is because in feeling our pain purely, without resistance, it is released and is no more pain, but rather freedom. It’s the freedom of being liberated into the full-feeling, authentic human beings that we really are.
The act of self-healing is an act of self-love. And love truly is the transformative power. Self-love is the starting point. How can we love another when we have little idea how to love ourselves? How can we love ourselves when we deny ourselves due to feelings of shame, insecurity or guilt? Loving oneself is like nurturing a brand new baby. It’s a nice analogy. As a loving parent would you want your baby to suppress its needs and suffer silently or would you want your baby to express its needs and have these met? Uncannily, we may see that it is the nakedness of love that really terrifies us. Love terrifies us much more than fear. We are not used to love in its tenderness. But there is ultimately no other option. We are here to learn the lesson of love.
The understanding and empathy that come from being more gentle with ourselves enables us to be gentler towards others. In learning to love ourselves, we learn what it means to forgive ourselves. Forgiveness is deeply healing. It allows a softening in the place where we were stuck and hardened.
Once we do such release work, the sensation or experience we may feel is that a fog has lifted from in front of our eyes, yet only now do we know this fog was ever there. A sense of surprise that the problem was a problem in the first place. Our eyes see as if for the first time. We lighten up. Phew! A heavy weight lifts. We begin to let go of our addiction to pain and suffering, for it is that: an addiction. It is what we are used to. We may finally see that shocking events only exist to shock us into awakening to the truth of life. And what is the truth exactly? It is that all our emotions and pain are not real. If they were we could not shed them, or heal them. For what is real does not require shedding, it simply is. The truth is that we are complete and whole as we are, and this real Self requires no healing. All the events and situations that arise that challenge us are for the purpose of unveiling the real Self, where we finally find peace and rest.
The reason that the release of hidden pain provides such relief is that we feel a rare moment of existing in the Now, of being present to ourselves. This is a profound experience, for it is only in being present to ‘what is’ that we can truly experience ourselves as real.
Pain cannot exist except in our minds, our closely guarded memories, and the beliefs we hold about ourselves and others. These are simply a protection mechanism for fears that do not exist in reality. Ultimately all pain and suffering are an illusion – hard as this may be for the mind to accept. How we know fear doesn’t exist in reality is because in those beautiful, alive moments when we are wholly present to what is, we feel freedom and lightness. There is no fear then.
And what does life look like without undue suffering? David Spero, a great spiritual teacher based in California, says, “The more profoundly we go into our emotional states, going deep into the fabric of our emotional life (that which is true for us) and release that which has been put there through some form of abuse or some form of betrayal – working through that you begin to feel naturally what you feel in an unhurt state.” Fundamentally, we are all innately happy and peaceful.
Sri Ramana Maharshi (1879 – 1950), the Indian sage who attained enlightenment at the age of 16, said: “Happiness is your nature. It is not wrong to desire it. What is wrong is seeking it outside when it is inside.”
To unveil this state of happiness we must first look at its distortions. We can only discover it by going into and through the level of guilt and negativity we carry inside. This allows the moment to be experienced unresisted. Then sorrow is transcended and our own innate joyful nature allowed to surface. And in being true to our real Self, we experience deep satisfaction. Finally, we are home.