On our life journey we are given no map. As much as we may wish we could simply query Google for the “right” set of directions, it can often feel like we’ve been thrown into a raging river, blindfolded without a boat. We may spend a good part of our life trying to swim upstream against the current, experiencing life in reaction to the twists and turns, rocks and waterfalls along the way and accumulating an ever-growing collection of bumps, bruises and injuries that threaten to weaken and drown us. This is the typical human experience and what it like to live unconsciously with the learned belief that the events and circumstances of our life are random, out of our control, and our emotional life is at the whim of outside circumstances and people.
What might it be like if instead, you were to view the River of your life as an unfolding adventure where every twist and turn, rock and waterfall were placed there for your benefit so that you might use them as opportunities to grow empowerment, resilience, compassion and wisdom?
What if you learned that the best way to reap all these benefits was to stop trying to swim upstream and let the current take you?
What if you knew, that if you paid attention, you would find allies and guides all along the way to ease your journey?
What if you learned that there was a Resilience System naturally built in to you that could help you to navigate with more ease through the rough patches and transform metaphorical bumps and bruises into wisdom, strength and compassion?
One way to activate this Resilience System is through the practice of Emotional Alchemy. Emotional Alchemy is learning to be more aware of and to master our internal state (thoughts, beliefs, emotions, sensations, energy) so that no matter what happens outside of us, we have the capacity to shift out of difficult body sensations and emotions and create a safe and steady place within us.
As humans we have an innate biological inclination to move toward pleasure and move away from pain. From a very young age we unconsciously develop certain behaviors and patterns for self-protection and to cope with difficult family systems and experiences. Pleasing, fixing, achieving, rescuing, judging, blaming, bullying, over-eating, over-drinking, over-working, video-gaming, staying busy, and more…are all common examples of ways we try to avoid painful emotions like anger, fear, anxiety, sadness, unworthiness, and shame that can be elicited by challenging life circumstances.
Living by these protective and defensive patterns is an important adaptive function that helps us to survive when we are children, but when we unconsciously take these same patterns into adulthood it can be exhausting. It also cuts us off from the inner knowings that can come from paying attention to our dark emotions. Being emotionally cut-off like this into adulthood, keeps us from growing more resourceful and powerful parts of our self.
The Practice of Emotional Alchemy
Emotions as neither “good” nor “bad”, rather they are neutral energies that play an important role in telling us when something inside of us is in or out of balance. Perceiving emotions in this more objective way removes self-judgment and invites us to work with them in a more open way that helps us to see where important shifts may be needed to better support us in our life.
Emotions are energies that are held in our body. Learning to notice when we are caught in one of our go-to coping patterns and taking a moment to pause and tune inwardly to observe and name the physical sensations in the body (tightness in my throat, heaviness in my chest, heat in my belly, etc.) and any associated emotions (anger, grief, resentment, jealousy, etc.) can help us to grow our emotional awareness.
As we practice emotional awareness it’s important to hold an attitude of curiosity, and allowing for whatever we discover is happening within us. Put aside any story or judgment you have that what you are feeling is somehow bad or wrong. Put aside the need to fix or change your experience. Practice growing your capacity to be with your bodily sensations and emotions in an allowing and curious way.
Practice tending to any discomfort you discover with kindness and compassion, the same way you might tend to a child who is scared or hurt. You might place a hand on your belly or your heart, or inwardly whisper, “yes, this hurts, I’m here.” You might imagine the face of someone who loves you looking at you with kindness and concern. Notice any shifts that happen within you as you do this? Can you become aware of a part of you that has the capacity to observe your experience and that is peaceful and untouched by any sensations or emotions?
These elements of Emotional Alchemy and are powerful ways in which you can free our self from the grip of difficult emotions and coping patterns and live with more resilience. Be patient with yourself as you work with these practices. Becoming Resilient is like building a muscle. It takes time, attention, patience and repetition.