The importance of tuning IN to the sensations and emotions in your body
I was laying on my mat surrounded by pitch black, in a gazebo in the middle of the Amazon jungle, crying so hard that my whole body seemed to be seizing up.
This was my third Ayahuasca ceremony, and I had gone in with the intention to “feel whatever I needed to feel in order to move forward.” And boy, did I.
Ayahuasca is an ancient plant medicine used for healing deep emotional and physical wounds, and I knew going in it could be scary and unpleasant. What I didn’t expect was to feel like the force of my own sadness and rage might rip my body apart.
I had been told to tune into the sensations in my body, and I was shocked by how much that mattered. When I “tuned out” of the sensations in my body (usually to start thinking about something), the emotional pain would wane. But every time I returned my awareness to the feelings in my body, I was overwhelmed with a fresh wave.
So, since this was the work I traveled to Peru to do, I kept tuning in.
In order to stay with these feelings, I had to stop stop thinking; I had to stop trying to come up with a story about each emotion. I had to let go of the need to understand or justify each feeling, and just feel it instead.
I felt devastation, and helplessness.
I felt the betrayal and injustice of abandonment.
I felt anger, and terror.
I felt rage, first aimed outward and then aimed directly back at myself.
I felt my heart break.
I grieved for the state of the world, and for how sad it is sometimes to be a human.
I experienced old rage. Old pain. Old grief.
That night I cried and wailed and writhed and hurt with every fiber of my being, for about 3 straight hours. Then physical exhaustion took over, and I was unable to continue so the next few hours were spent laying in the fetal position breathing slowly. I could do no more.
The next morning I experienced something I had never experienced before. A sense of softness. Openness.
I felt a new freedom in my body, like I had knocked down deep old walls that I didn’t even know were there. My body felt sensual, alive, and truly peaceful for the first time I can truly ever remember. There was none of my familiar restlessness. No anxiety. No desire to escape myself. It was tender bliss.
That day I stayed tuned into my body, and followed her desire to move by doing some dancing and stretching. With ease, I melted into certain poses I haven’t been able to do since I was 6 years old. My body reflected the state of my heart: open, soft, easy.
Now, I am historically not someone who represses her feelings.
I do the work to create space for all of my emotions, to welcome them, and even to love them, no matter how dark and difficult they may be.
I mean, I wrote a course called Make Friends With Your Feelings, for God’s sake. I teach this stuff for a living.
So I was shocked to discover that I still had this deep dark cellar of pain.
By tuning into my body and welcoming my darkest dark material (and with the incredible help of plant medicine), I was able to go in, open the doors, and set that pain free.
I have done so much work on myself. I’ve analyzed and processed and done therapy and had breakthroughs and learned skills and worked with coaches and changed my mindset and healed so much.
This experience showed me that the work was over, though. There was nothing left to process, or figure out. My only job was simply to finally, completely, invite those old painful feelings to move in with me.
Over and over again in the dark, I found myself whispering to my feelings:
“Hello, sadness. I love you. Hello, rage. You are welcome here.”
Does this all sound masochistic and impossible to you? That’s understandable, since our culture is terrified of pain. Most people go way out of their way to avoid and ignore it.
I’m suggesting you do the opposite.
Pain itself is just pain, it’s neither good nor bad. The fear of pain, however, causes significant damage: it keeps you in constant battle with yourself.
In order to accept and embrace the full human experience, you must accept and embrace the messy and painful and scary parts.
Pain, when you allow yourself to feel it, teaches you how strong you are. It teaches you empathy for the struggle of others. It can even be used, like it did for me, to help your heart open, soften, and find peace.
I don’t usually give advice in my emails, but I’m going to here. This is for anyone who is struggling to love herself:
Stop tuning out your pain.
Stop thinking and stop tuning out your body’s sensations. Instead, tune in, and stay with whatever comes up.
See what’s underneath the physical sensations. What hurts under the tightness in your hips? What’s scary under the tingling in your jaw? Invite your feelings to show up, and then stay with them. Make space in your body for them.
Whatever comes up, no matter how uncomfortable, tell it that you see it, and that you love it, and that it’s welcome.
Be brave. Be soft. <3
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