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Feeling our way towards embodied wholeness- A brief Guide

Photography by Yasin Yusuf

“We tremble at the feelings we experience as our sense of wholeness is recognized by what we see”

-Emmet Gowin

My relationship with emotions has always been complicated- in a love/hate sort of way; yearning to feel more yet stunting when I do. The notion of "feeling" my emotions was often an overwhelming thought and what I found out was that I am not alone. In Sri Lanka, we (especially men) are often getting away with not needing to depend on our emotions as Sri Lankan family dynamics are designed that way. Most of us come from families where the sense of identity as a man is instilled with financial success; career driven+ provider+ man of the house. And the sense of identity as a woman is limited to household chores & taking care of children; nurturer+ chef+ housekeeper.

My intention in writing this post is not to tell you how to fix these traditional roles. They do need fixing because dividing aspects of masculinity & femininity into such destructive roles ultimately robs our sense of wholeness. And the path to fixing them demands serious change from both systemic & personal avenues. Instead, I want to share a little bit about how we can get there faster by embracing our wholeness and it all starts with unapologetically feeling our emotions.

To experience life is to feel

In other words, "feeling" is how we survive; it is a visceral part of human beings. And “feeling” or "registering a sensation" is how we begin to assign meaning to our lives. If you’re thinking “now that’s quite a big leap from simply registering a sensation to the meaning of life”, it is. But the in-between is complex & subjective because not only we are feeling beings, we are also emotional beings; not only we register sensations; we attach stories to these sensations. From feeling the heat & the cold to feeling joy & anger, we are designed to feel and assign meaning to what we feel. Emotions are intertwined with these stories and these stories are deeply personal; making the meaning of life oh so very unique.

This is a beautiful thing; to experience life so personally is one of the rare gifts we have as human beings. Unfortunately, we tend to get lost in these personal stories and forget an integral part of experiencing life; the collective story.

Connecting with our collective story.

Our collective story is all about the ability to relate to one another or being empathetic towards each other. It is also who we are; a race of empathic beings. This is because personal stories aside, we all feel the same core emotions.

· Anger

· Sadness/grief

· Fear

· Shame

· Disgust

· Surprise or excitement

· Joy/happiness

What makes us distinct from one another might be our own accumulated experiences but what connects us all are our "core" emotions or "basic" yet, powerful emotions.

Just think back to a time when you felt so overwhelmed by joy and all you could do was celebrate incessantly. Or to a time when you felt intense sadness and all you could do was cry, or to a time where you were bursting with anger and all you could do was act out of rage. Sometimes we go through these emotions alone and sometimes we go through them together. We celebrate love and important milestones by collectively basking in joy. We mourn out of sadness but we also mourn together and share the intensity of sadness when we need to. We have created cultural events like birthdays & weddings to express collective joy, funerals to express collective grief, or Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) to express collective rage.

“The perfect human being is all human beings put together, it is a collective, it is all of us together that make perfection”

- Socrates

This is simply because as humans, our evolutionary story is about survival. And the ability to relate to one another emotionally is the ink we use to craft this story. But if our individual story doesn’t tally up with our collective one, relating to others becomes challenging and naturally, survival becomes difficult.

Individual vs. collective story and the bridge in-between

This brings me to “how” we can become whole through feeling our emotions. We can only truly be a part of this collective story if we feel our individual story to its full potential; if we become intimate with our emotions, so intimate that we become best friends with them. This means that we celebrate our emotions but we also see the flawed stories they create but keep them close anyway; like best friends do. And the first step to cultivating such intimacy is getting to know them.

Getting to know your emotions

Most of us struggle when it comes to emotional intimacy because we don't know our emotions very well and we tend to be uncomfortable around things we don't know a lot about. So our ego (a very rational part of our brain that is responsible for protecting us), aims for disconnection; from self, others & from anything that causes us discomfort.

This disconnection can look like being the victim, self-shame/blame, and shaming/blaming others. Simply put, it's a "half-ass" way of feeling your emotions. Trust me I know, I was quite the scholar at living an ego-centric life. My upbringing is a deeply traditional/religious one so I often had scripture or your general "that's the way it is" sort of closets to lock whatever I am feeling and as a boy who grew up in this culture, I got away with it quite often. All this did was lock away my empathy; my ability to relate to others emotionally. When I did finally realize the importance of empathy it was clear that I needed an education on what emotions are to properly identify how much power I give to the story my emotions create. One of the core lessons I learned in this journey was that we are NOT our emotions.

We are not our emotions but we are molded by combinations and extensions of our emotions.

This is also what makes our individual story different from our collective story. Often we struggle to relate because we identify with the personal story behind the emotion. We overvalue the story and undervalue the “feeling” of this emotion. Let’s break this down so I am clear when I use terms like “combinations vs. extension of emotions”.

Mix or combination of emotions

  • Ill Temper (anger+ sadness)

  • Contempt (anger+ disgust)

  • Guilt (shame+ fear)

Extension of emotions

  • Anxiety (something fear becomes)

  • Unkindness (something anger becomes)

  • Hate (a passionate extension of anger+ disgust+ fear)

Framework by Robert Augustus Masters

These are just a few examples of how our core emotions can create a whirlwind of stories within just by combining forces. And often we get carried away with these stories because it feels like protection to us. This is because of the aforementioned “half-ass” way of feeling our emotions. But if we make it a practice to recognize these stories, focus on the feeling & let go without judgment, we can strive to become whole.

A brief guide to Embodying wholeness through feeling

1. Recognize & acknowledge- The first step towards a “wholesome” way of feeling is to realize that no emotion is negative but the story that arises can be. The lesson to learn here is that emotions, whether they flow through you in their raw form, as a combination or an extension, are primary; the story is secondary. So the first step towards feeling fully is to recognize what you are feeling first. The storyteller in us will want to interfere but over time we can figure out ways to identify our emotions first. Tools like belly breathing & mindfulness meditation can be very powerful to separate the emotion from the story. Once we do this we may begin to see how negative stories are “patterns of protection” and our emotions are indicators with the sole purpose of flowing towards transforming those stories into meaningful change.

2. Cultivate intimacy - The second step is to cultivate an intimate relationship with your emotions. Once we know the emotion, we can explore how that emotion behaves in our mind or if we feel a particular way in our body without assigning any meaning to it. For example, every time we feel guilty about something, if we identify it as guilt (shame+ fear) and give space for those emotions, we may begin to cultivate an intimate relationship with shame & fear. We create a sense of safety to open and receive anything that arises without judgment.

3. Listen to the story- Once we recognize and give space to the emotion, observe the story. Observe the arrangement of it; are you looking for a fall guy/girl? Is it a self-sabotaging sort of a story? Is the story on repeat? Think of it as if you’re sitting in front of a child who is also an amazing storyteller. Often these stories are negative because of our inner-child wounds; we are people who are constantly trying to heal our childhood wounds-be seen & heard. So giving space to that inner storyteller gives us much needed clarity.

Celebrate your felt experience

“One ought to hold on to one’s heart; for if one lets it go, one soon loses control of the head too”

-Friedrich Nietzsche

Photography by Jene Stephaniuk

Listening to your heart means opening up for all the wonderful feelings which pass through us. Only then, we will realize how masculinity & femininity are intertwined; not in any external source, not in another person, not in pre-assigned gender roles. It is first within the individual. Embodying wholeness is about seeing beyond the gender roles you were taught and feeling your emotions, all of them; shamelessly. We all have the capacity to be assertive & kind, aggressive & caring, provide & nurture; unapologetically masculine & feminine.

And it all starts with feeling our emotions wholeheartedly.

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