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Five Things I Learned By Going Celibate For A While (By Choice)

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Have you ever considered taking a time of celibacy?

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It’s a fascinating question because it seems counter to everything that we desire when we start studying tantra. Many of us start studying tantra because we hear about the incredible sex and hour-long orgasms. Why would we ever want to be celibate?

Because the magic of tantra is about breaking free of limitations and old patterns.

It’s about personally challenging our beliefs, fears, and desires.

It’s about changing, expanding, and truly taking ourselves to a new level.

And celibacy is a fascinating “wormhole” that can get us there.

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Many Great Tantric Masters Had Times of Celibacy. Why?

Sex is a wonderful experience, a wonderful way of sharing love. In fact, part of becoming tantric sexually involves getting rid of all the shame, guilt, and taboos connected with sex. So, isn’t taking a time of celibacy going in the wrong direction?  No.

The ancient tantriks were about changing things up and challenging the status quo so that people would wake up and start truly living.

And so, if they came into a town where everyone was sexually repressed through religion or societal rules, sex would be the thing to shock them into awakening.

But if they came into our sex-saturated society, what would they recommend? A break, perhaps, since  even though we have issues with shame, guilt, religion, and taboos around sexuality, sex is everywhere. We believe that it defines our self-worth. The media tells us subliminally each day how important it is to be attractive sexually. It is so deep in our subconscious now that the idea of chosen celibacy is shocking.

And in some tantra circles it is even worse. In many “red-tantra” workshops and courses, the focus is on healing and releasing the shame and guilt around sex — very valuable work. Accordingly, they include many sexual exercises and physical interactions that are very pleasurable and freeing. But often, there is also an undercurrent of sexual addiction. Having these pleasurable sexual experiences becomes the goal of every workshop and life experience. As you walk in, you can literally feel the sexual desire and needs coming off of people. Energetically, their “second chakra” is screaming for union.

Once we are freed of our shame, guilt, and taboos, the next step is to become whole. Tantra brings us to complete wholeness. There is actually no need for another. There is no need for sex. We have both masculine and feminine energies within us. Combining these polarities with spirit, we are fully satisfied within us. This is true tantra. Sexuality and union with another simply becomes one way of expressing this ecstasy.

What I Discovered Being Celibate:

I recently took a time of celibacy.

This was a huge deal because I LOVE sex. The choice of celibacy came as an intuitive knowing. A healer had told my friend that she had to take some time off from men for a while. As my friend told me this, it was like the healer had spoken directly to my heart. I instantly knew that this is what I needed to do.

And it horrified me! I had had a partner and been sexually active for over 25 years. I teach tantra. I have euphoric sexual experiences that I can’t even describe. Why in the world would I want to give this up?

My first clue was the incredible reaction my ego was having to the thought. I felt like that person who says that they could give cigarettes or booze up any time — they “just don’t want to right now,” but they could do it.

Sigh. And so it was.

And it changed my life.

1. I Realized That I Was Addicted to Sex and Relationships

I couldn’t believe how hard it was to give up having a man in my life. I had been married for over 20 years. Before and since then, I’d had other partners and lovers. I didn’t realize how much my heart depended on always having that other person to say “good morning” to or to crawl into bed with at night.

I never thought that I NEEDED the masculine energy of a man. I was convinced that I was an independent, intelligent, whole woman. You couldn’t have convinced me otherwise. And yet, the dark nights of the soul that I went through definitely showed me something else.

I found out that part of my self-worth was intimately tied to having a sexual partner. It meant that I was desirable and loveable. Without that person as a mirror for me, did I exist at all? I went through quite a few existential crises.

2. I Healed My Energy Leaks

I had a vision early in my celibacy of my pelvis as a bowl. And that ever since I started being interested in boys, this bowl had tipped downward in the front. And so energy would come into my body and then pour out the bowl into the other person. And when I was in a serious relationship, it was like every bit of energy I had simply went to nourish the other. Hmmm… No wonder I was so tired.

But after about 3 weeks, this bowl seemed to tip up and become level. It felt like energy would come into me and then it would circulate within me instead of pouring outward. This energy nourished ME for perhaps the first time in decades. It was absolutely incredible.

Even doing simple tantric breathing exercises like micro-cosmic orbit was different. This breath pattern asks us to breath energy up the back of our spine and then down the front of our bodies (this is a simplified explanation). Now, there was so much more energy circulating within me. And it was so easily orgasmic. I wondered whether this is why many people struggle with feeling anything during this breath. Do they have leaks?

3. The Masculine and Feminine Balanced Within Me

I soon realized that I had to become my own best boyfriend. What was this masculine energy that I was seeking in another? Structure, Logic, Protection, Energy… Hmmm.

In the rest of the world, my masculine energy was strong. I have a degree in mathematics (I’m logical). I’ve written books and courses and taught classes (manifested). I’ve owned my own businesses for 20 years (structure). I figured that I had this one covered.

But the masculine within myself needed work. To make a plan personally and honour it (structure). To turn my cellphone off and take a bath and not let anyone interrupt me (protection). To defend myself from others (protection).

I also asked myself what was it that I wanted a partner to do for me. Truthfully, I wanted him to look at me and tell me I was the most beautiful, incredible person he’d ever met. I wanted him to touch me gently and lovingly and not expect anything from me. I wanted him to plan fun outings and buy me flowers and chocolate.

So I did this for myself.

I planned fun things for “us” to do “together.” I looked in the mirror and observed the beauty before me and told my feminine side wonderful things about her. She cried a lot. I held myself in bed and loved myself completely. I am a tantrika. I have magic touch (we all do). I could actually use it on myself and drive myself crazy. Apparently, I am a great boyfriend!

After a few months, I can’t tell you the feeling of wholeness and complete contentment.

4. I Had More “Spontaneous Orgasms”

There’s a joke out there about people who study tantric sex becoming unable to finish a sentence without their whole body shaking in orgasm. It’s just a joke… kind of.

In my past, once in a while, I would have the experience of just sitting somewhere and suddenly feeling incredible orgasms in my whole body. No touching. Nothing in particular happening. They would just happen.

Well, as the months of my celibacy went on, this started happening more and more. I would be sitting in the library and I would read a beautiful passage and I would close my eyes to ponder it. And as I would breathe deeply, my whole body would start to shudder in pleasure. (Honestly, I was torn between the part of me having this incredible, unanticipated experience and the other part of me watching me sitting in the middle of the Toronto Public Library barely able to contain my full-body orgasm and thinking about how incredibly ironic and funny the scene was!)

But it started happening as I walked down the street, as I talked about tantra, as I watched the sunset.

Then, I found out that this was normal with people who choose tantric celibacy. If we choose celibacy because sex is “bad” or “dirty” or “low-energy,” then we are repressing our life-force and so instead, this energy just gets twisted into something else. But within a tantric path, we choose it with the desire of exploration. It is about “changing the variables” to further explore our own consciousness and experience. So, growth and new experiences (like spontaneous orgasms) happen.

And of course, this experience deepened my experience of being whole without the NEED of another to fill my needs. I was having orgasms just sitting in the library! Choosing a partner would truly be a CHOICE, not a need.

What a wonderful surprise!

5. I Integrated With My Spirit Even More

I’ve always been intensely spiritual. I’ve always been a mystic. But I had also always been a partner and a mom. As much as I connected “vertically” with God/Spirit, my first focus has always tended toward “horizontal” — partners, children, and family. No matter how spiritual I was, my default has always my interactions and love with others.

But during my time of celibacy, I was living alone. My children had grown and were thousands of miles away. I had lots of friends. But they aren’t the same level of intimacy.

So, I read a lot of Rumi. I read a lot of mystic poetry about the wonder and connection with God.

I was able to immerse myself in this experience in ways that I hadn’t before. I had cleared the decks in a way. It was so beautiful.

Being Celibate on Your Own

Would you like to try this? Does it feel like it’s on your path? Do you feel like you are always searching for a partner? Does it feel like more of a need than a choice?

Are you studying tantra but maybe missing the magic that everyone talks about?

Even without a partner, if you choose this, it is good to have at least one person that you can talk to that understands your process. I found it to be a very dark time, since I was looking at very vulnerable aspects of my need to belong and to be loved, as well as my self-worth. So it is good to have a teacher or wise confidante to share your journey with.

It’s often good to give yourself a timeframe. It’s only in the low times that we want to break our vow, and we don’t tend to have the best discernment then. So a hard “masculine” rule can be helpful here.

Being Celibate Within a Relationship

You can still practice celibacy within a loving partnership as well; you just release the sex part. You can be intimate in loving ways — embracing, kissing, touching. But we all know the difference between a loving touch and a sexual touch. Just let the sexual touch go.

And it’s even an interesting discussion to have within a relationship if it would be an issue. Sometimes, we rely on sex as our connector and if this is true, you’ll find out right away. The wonderful gift is that you will find other ways to connect intimately. You will find out what you both love to do together. You will have conversations like, “Sooooo, if we aren’t going to have sex, how else do you like to connect?” Just imagine the wonderful ripple effects of bringing in other loving connections into a relationship besides sex.

And then, after a couple months of connecting in a hundred other loving ways, your sex life would truly be the sacred worship that it is meant to be.

Being Celibate Was Fascinating

The most beautiful end result was that I truly felt like me again. I didn’t realize how I had subtly shifted with each person in my life — including family, children, and partners. It was like I had been a shapeshifting chameleon in some ways, and now I wasn’t. I got to see the real me: whole, perfect, and wonderful. Such an incredible gift!

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Consciousness

Are You A Spiritual Narcissist?

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    Narcissism, in a nutshell, is self-absorption to the extent that it will adopt any set of rationale to protect the ego which often includes a degree of self-deception. Is this happening to many in spiritual trends?

  • Reflect On:

    There is authentic being, and then there is self-absorption which pretending to be authenticity, are we aware of the difference?

We humans often have a hard time finding middle ground. We may be drowning in lack of self-worth one moment, and trampling over other’s with our own self indulgence the next as we struggle to find balance. Narcissism is not simply about enjoying selfies in our social media-saturated world, it goes deeper than that.

It appears as liberation but is a trap that can ruin relationships, increase personal suffering, and keep a person from their true spiritual aspirations. Not surprisingly, increased mindfulness and compassion for this tricky human quirk is the best way to heal it.

What is Spiritual Narcissism?

The capacity to become overly self-indulgent is within all of us, and it becomes increasingly dangerous when we confuse it with spirituality. In many ways it is easy to see that all of humanity is dealing with a certain degree of self-absorption while we desecrate forests and oceans, causing plants and animals to go extinct on our material quests. In his famous book, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, Chogyam Trungpa gave a good foundation for westerners to navigate the pitfalls of our materialistic abundance.

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The capacity to become overly self-indulgent is within all of us

We do not have to be ashamed of what we are. As sentient beings we have wonderful backgrounds. These backgrounds may not be particularly enlightened or peaceful or intelligent. Nevertheless, we have soil good enough to cultivate; we can plant anything in it. – Chögyam Trungpa, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism

There is a difference between ego-self and the deeper universal soul within us, differentiating the two is important. Sadly, we have spiritual philosophies and religions that have been constructed to feed the ego, inflate self-righteousness, and create division while giving justification for all manner of activities including killing, exploitation, and oppression. Ethical conduct, regardless of spirituality, requires honoring the other and the self as one with each deserving to be respected, heard, and seen with compassion.

No matter what the practice or teaching, ego loves to wait in ambush to appropriate spirituality for its own survival and gain. – Chögyam Trungpa, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism

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There is a difference between ego-self and the deeper universal soul within us

Finding the Antidote to Self-absorption

Narcissism, in a nutshell, is self-absorption to the extent that it will adopt any set of rationale to protect the ego which often includes a degree of self-deception. Ego is an important aspect of our selves, it is part of self-preservation but when it becomes out of balance it actually has the ability to destroy us and harm relationships.

Many spiritual practices seek to increase our ability to witness and bring mindful awareness to ego drives which allow us to master, instead of being enslaved by our ego. When ego gets too big it can be hard to swallow, yet spiritual liberation invites us to expand our sense of self beyond the ego, beyond time and space.

The goal is to find a balance between the inner experience and the outer reality. How do we embody healthy self-love without becoming an ego-maniac and hurting personal relationships? Meanwhile, self-loathing, and low self-esteem are also manifestations of ego out of balance. Selflessness can often be quite selfish, over-engagement can be as problematic as disengagement socially. Luckily we are here to find this balance through living fully, from making mistakes, and evolving our sense of self-awareness. Healthy self-awareness is the only antidote to self-absorption.

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How do we embody healthy self-love without becoming an ego-maniac?

The Story of Narcissus and Echo

One day Narcissus was walking in the woods when Echo, an Oread (mountain nymph) saw him, fell deeply in love, and followed him. Narcissus sensed he was being followed and shouted “Who’s there?”. Echo repeated “Who’s there?”. She eventually revealed her identity and attempted to embrace him. He stepped away and told her to leave him alone. She was heartbroken and spent the rest of her life in lonely glens until nothing but an echo sound remained of her. Nemesis, the goddess of revenge, learned of this story and decided to punish Narcissus. She lured him to a pool where he saw his own reflection. He didn’t realize it was only an image and fell in love with it. He eventually recognized that his love could not be reciprocated and committed suicide. -Wikipedia

Since intention is subjective, a person is often understood within their community by their actions or image. This becomes extra tricky in our age of social media and the materialism that has found it’s way into yoga, meditation, and spirituality. It is possible to put on a good act, to fool those around us and ourselves (temporarily).

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Narcissus mesmerized by his own reflection

We can have the latest yoga clothes, read the right books and hang out with all the “cool” people, but if our actions are not grounded in a deeper spiritual practice, basic consideration for others, and respect, it is still hollow. A common analogy is the guy who everyone likes but then goes home kicks his dog, or is rude and unaccountable to his wife.

Deep spirituality makes us more sensitive to the feeling of others, encouraging an open stance of courage where we can drop our protective shields and accept the vulnerability to be seen as we are. Narcissistic sensitivity, however, is focused solely on the subtle nuances one’s own internality, and resists looking at hard, uncomfortable truths that may upset the self image. One who is narcissistically sensitive is easily offended by the “coarseness” of others, seeks to make his environment change to align with the contours of his needs, and gets angry or offended when this does not happen. -The Allure of Narcissistic Spirituality, Huffington Post

How to Identify Narcissistic Behavior

The ability to identify narcissistic behavior in yourself and others is the best way to heal it. It is not your job to diagnose others or tell them they are narcissistic if they are not interested in hearing it or healing it. However, if you draw appropriate boundaries for them you will protect yourself and encourage them to become more mindful. This is a loving and compassionate way to handle narcissism.

Alt text hereThe ability to identify narcissistic behavior in yourself and others is the best way to heal it

It is always healthy to make boundaries and speak your truth in a loving and compassionate way. Whether the narcissist hears it or not is out of your control. Common responses from narcissists will include belittling your feelings, a hollow apology without effort to modify behavior, or ignoring you altogether. Basically, they will use any excuse they can in order to not look at it, or to make the situation your fault. This is your cue to make appropriate boundaries for yourself.

Within yourself be open and receptive when others tell you that you have been inconsiderate of them. Accepting constructive feedback from loved ones is a great way to keep a balance between internal needs and external relationships. This is also how we grow as individuals.

Common traits of narcissism courtesy of BPD Central.

  • Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
  • Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
  • Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
  • Is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
  • Is often envious of others or believes others are envious of him or her
  • Requires excessive admiration
  • Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes
  • Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
  • Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
Alt text hereLearning to stop keeping all the love for ourselves

Evolving Unhealthy Patterns

Hopefully, this will help you navigate tough interpersonal relationships and also better yourself. It is a beautiful thing that psychology is allowing us to have terms to identify and evolve unhealthy patterns emotionally. As we learn to live in community, we learn many aspects of love. This is how we help ourselves and those around us grow!

I’m republishing,  for the CE audience, this piece I wrote for Uplift Connect.

Help Support Collective Evolution

The demand for Collective Evolution's content is bigger than ever, except ad agencies and social media keep cutting our revenues. This is making it hard for us to continue.

In order to stay truly independent, we need your help. We are not going to put up paywalls on this website, as we want to get our info out far and wide. For as little as $3 a month, you can help keep CE alive!

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Consciousness

The Secret To Feeling Loved In a Relationship – It Might Surprise You

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    The secret to feeling loved is to explore what is blocking the love you already hold within yourself. It's about getting to your authentic self and recognizing it. No one can fulfill any of us, we must find it within.

  • Reflect On:

    How often do you feel your authentic self? How often do you connect with the love and peace within yourself? What are the main things you say or do to yourself that is blocking you from seeing you are love?

Everyone wants to feel loved don’t they? The feeling of having someone else sustain you and your feelings because they love you, tell you all the time and show it to you in every way imaginable? Well here’s the secret to live that fantasy life: Love Yourself!

Or better yet, work to see the love that you truly are. When you connect with the love within you, you won’t need any of the above as you realize you are already whole. Instead, the above will just show up naturally as part of a relationship and will be a joy to play with.

That’s right, feeling loved is not about what others can provide you, that’s only temporary feelings that will always need reassurance. It’s about what you are able to realize about yourself. We can always jump from person to person who gives us attention, makes us feel special and loved all the time, but this isn’t sustainable. If we always look outside of ourselves to have something fulfilled then we will always be searching.

It’s Within!

The truth is, like most things in life that we strive for, the answers are usually within. If we take a look at the reason we look for love in the first place we begin to notice things within ourselves that tell us we are not already love or loved. We might think we are not good enough, not attractive enough, don’t have a big enough sense of adventure or aren’t funny enough. It doesn’t matter what story we make up about ourselves, it’s these stories that make us look outside of ourselves for love.

Think of it this way. Imagine there is a box and it represents you. At the bottom of that box is an infinite amount of love. Now take a whole bunch of dirty clothes that you don’t want or need anymore and put it in that box under the assumption that these clothes represent you and you need to hold on to them. Think for a moment about what that looks like and how it feels.

Now realize something. Beneath all of the old, dirty and smelly clothes that you don’t need anymore and that you think represents you, there is love. So how do you get to it? You remove all of that which is hiding or covering up the love. The stories of things you believe represent you or are you but are not because you are, at the core, love.

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The Ego’s Idea of Love

“But in the movies it’s never like this! What about the fairy tales?” Who defines what love should look like between two people? How many times have you heard a mother say “I worry because I love.” Worrying means you love someone? Interesting definitions we have don’t we? The truth is we have through our own minds, ego’s and through external influences, created an idea of what is, what it looks like and how things should be in a loving relationship. But the reality is, most of this is all to appease the mind and ego and is rarely sustainable.

True love is felt within both people, as complete and whole people on their own. They come together and share lives, experiences, periods of time together and exchange that feeling of love with one another. It doesn’t matter whether someone is constantly doing something to show you or making sacrifices all the time, love IS. It’s unconditional and by this definition it means without condition. We don’t need A + B to = love. It’s simple love = love.

Does this mean we can’t do nice things for others and exchange cute experiences with those we care for because suddenly this is showing our love in the wrong way? Absolutely not. It means now when you do these things they are simply out of the inspiration to do it and it isn’t going to fulfill lack that both people in the relationship are experiencing.

How Do We Love Ourselves?

There are many ways to learn to love your authentic self, but mainly it comes back to the box analogy I used earlier. The more we can observe the reasons we put ourselves down, think negatively about ourselves or think there is something not loveable about ourselves, the more we can see what is blocking or stopping us from loving our true authentic self.

Write it down if you have to. Take the time to sit quietly on your own and think of the reasons why you don’t love yourself, feel self conscious or think something isn’t perfect about you.

After you write down what you think these things are. Write down how you think each one got there. Did you see it in a movie? Learn it from friends or family? Does society look at things this way?

After you have gone through each one, go back and choose to first accept that you once thought of yourself that way. It’s okay, at some point we have all been through these things and it’s often a normal part of personal development.

Now realize how there is no real truth to the things you have mentioned about yourself as they are just perceptions created based on some false idea of who you think you are and what those things mean in terms of love. The more you realize that you are not your appearance, career, hobbies and so forth, the more you begin to not rely on those things to love yourself.

Try looking at yourself in the mirror, look in your eyes and tell yourself you love yourself multiple times. See how this makes you feel. Is it easy? Awkward? Uncomfortable? Ask yourself why and reflect again on the answers that come up. The trick is the more you become aware of why you think these things about yourself, the more you realize they are stories and you begin to disempower them. From here it just takes continuing to disempower them as they creep back up as when you give them no truth and power, they dissipate because they are not true to begin with. They are just thought forms and ideas.

Help Support Collective Evolution

The demand for Collective Evolution's content is bigger than ever, except ad agencies and social media keep cutting our revenues. This is making it hard for us to continue.

In order to stay truly independent, we need your help. We are not going to put up paywalls on this website, as we want to get our info out far and wide. For as little as $3 a month, you can help keep CE alive!

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Consciousness

Dark Jewels: Mining The Gifts Of 8 Difficult Emotions

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    Our difficult emotions are not just unpleasant experiences. They have hidden gifts, including the capacity to transform our lives into more joy and wholeness. They impart wisdom and compassion we can't find living on, or fearfully clinging to, the su

  • Reflect On:

    Which emotions do you have trouble feeling or accepting in yourself and others? These might be the frontiers you need to embrace and enter to more fully embody your life.

Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It is a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.

—Pema Chodron

Unless we look into and skillfully navigate our dark sides, we can’t become our fullest selves. Consequently, we can’t truly love ourselves and the world as much as we are capable. Following Pema Chodron’s reasoning: if we cannot bear our own pain, how can we bear the pain of others? If we are afraid of our own suffering, how can we genuinely stand with another in theirs and thereby be the friend possible?

Below I list eight natural, universal emotions that at first blush we might feel like avoiding. This list is a kind of treasure hunt, revealing what we get to discover when we welcome and allow these at first uncomfortable feelings to be, and eventually change us from our depths on up through our heart and mind. For this growth to happen, we first have to be honest with ourselves—to be aware of what we are feeling and able to name it. Then we can embrace the feelings and go from there.

Notice how each “negative” emotion mentioned below informs us of our care. To welcome and work with our shadow emotions enables us to care more. Caring also requires sensitivity. So, if we have a sensitive heart, we will likely feel all these difficult emotions in good measure. And, when we learn how to intimately, courageously and patiently dance with them, they give us more heart and more inner power. Each emotion is therefore a portal to fulfill our capacity for greater love—love for ourselves, for those we love, and the Earth itself.

Difficult Emotion #1: Guilt

Guilt is usually a signal that we have acted, or might act, inappropriately. Guilt brings us back to our values, morality, and care for one another. Guilt shows us where we have acted poorly and can do better. Guilt keeps us accountable to one another. Guilt (that we have done wrong) need not become shame (that we are wrong or bad). We can harvest the lesson in our guilt (oftentimes along with our remorse), make amends, and forgive ourselves. For example, if I feel guilty that I wasn’t fully honest with you and this cost you, I might make an amend and confess my shortcoming.

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Sitting with guilt allows the sting of wrongdoing to impress a lesson upon us, or to change our hearts for the long term. Guilt need not be self-hatred, self-condemnation, or endless regret. It can be a mature reckoning and opportunity for more integrity. Note, guilt can also be a symptom of depression and OCD, in which case it’s best to notice it and not ruminate on it or try to mine it for wisdom.

Difficult Emotion #2: Anger or Rage

Almost every instance of anger arises because something we treasure has been threatened or taken away. It shows us what we care about and how we feel violated. Anger is the smoke alerting us to the fire of where we have been hurt. Anger shows us where our boundaries are, and welcoming the energy of anger helps us set boundaries. Anger protects what we love and shows us how much we care and value what is rightfully ours, or what is another’s. In the face of abuse, for example, anger or even rage, is an appropriate response. It protects our vulnerability.

Sitting with anger, without acting it out violently (unless appropriate in the moment to set a strong boundary) empowers our functional ego, or sense of self. It’s good, however, to make sure we get the facts straight before we let our anger take over, so we are not acting out on false assumption. With all this said, I find anger one of the less remunerative emotions to perpetuate. I try to get the lesson, hear the message from anger, then try to skillfully express, discharge, or let it go (not suppress or perpetuate it in thought and heart) as soon as possible. In excess, anger ages, wears us down, and burns bridges of support. At the same time, not embracing and discharging anger in healthy ways can sabotage and age us even more quickly.

Difficult Emotion #3: Fear

There is helpful and unhelpful fear. Helpful fear shows us our limits and where our limits for self-protection are, and therefore, what we care about. Fear of heights, or walking at the edge of a cliff, help us be careful so we don’t hurt ourselves. This is helpful fear. We all have limits, and healthy fear tells us when to stop and what to avoid, or to be careful in proceeding. Sitting with helpful fear shows us how to take care of ourselves and others, how to avoid harm. Unhelpful fear should be confronted, skillfully, and in good timing, so it doesn’t prevent us from achieving our goals. Asking that someone special out on a date or taking the steps to follow through on a dream, despite the fear, is confronting unhelpful fear and not letting it hold us back. We can’t help feeling unhelpful fear, and sometimes rather than try not to feel fear, the way to conquer it is simply to “Feel the fear and do it anyway.”

Difficult Emotion #4: Remorse

Remorse is related to guilt. It signals us that we have made a mistake, caused harm, or could have done better. Remorse arises because we care; otherwise we wouldn’t care how our actions affect others. Sitting with remorse allows it to teach us a heartfelt lesson. The remorse we feel because we didn’t take the time to review the pesticide-impact report accurately, or because we didn’t make the call that would have prevented a disaster, can all be good medicine. It’s important to allow remorse and not excessively beat ourselves up about it, which also gives us the opportunity to practice forgiveness. Remorse is tinged with sadness, which arises from caring, which is why it’s a good sign to feel remorse; it means we have a heart, care about life, and have a moral compass.

Difficult Emotion #5: Despair

Despair is tough and humbling. Sometimes we can’t help but despair. Despair has an element of giving up, and this total or partial surrender can bolster our capacity for letting go of unnecessary control. When we do, we can find inner strength we didn’t know we had, as well as outside support in those who come to our aid. Inside despair is the kernel of faith. Despair can be a path to what we might call God or Spirit, which is often our own resiliency and trust that things will somehow work out when we have given up, or feel like we have nothing left.

It’s important to have support and to self-motivate when appropriate so that despair does not unnecessarily turn to depression and self-harm. Falling apart in the arms of despair can be a powerful way to contact our depths and find that invisible inner fortitude. This is best done with people who can stand by us, hold us, and keep our heads above water, if indeed we are afraid of figuratively drowning. When we have support and can weather its storm, despair also reveals what we care about and who unconditionally cares for us.

Difficult Emotion #6: Worry or Anxiety

Worry can be unrealistic or realistic, and shades of both, just like fear. Noticing what we worry about can show us what we care about; otherwise, why would we bother to worry? Some are worrywarts, in which case it’s helpful to try not to worry as much, while preserving the kernel of care in worry. Sometimes it’s appropriate to act in order to reduce worry. If I’m worrying about having left the gate open, getting up and closing it abets my worry. Other times, when our worry is more unrealistic, we don’t need to act as much as we need to bring our minds back into balance. Sitting with realistic worry shows us what we need to do to protect ourselves and others, even if it’s as simple as closing the gate or moving a glass from the edge of the table. Worry brings out the care in our hearts or our fear of harm. Controlling negative and anxious thinking, getting the facts straight, and breathing deeply all help keep worry from becoming exaggerated, unrealistic, and getting the best of us. Worry is our hearts thinking out loud about what we care for.

Difficult Emotion #7: Grief

Grief is the price we pay for the privilege of love. Yet, it’s only a temporary cost, for I consider grief the most soul-making of the emotions. Grief takes us down into ourselves;  it is the polisher of our souls. Grief dissolves our pain, which making it invaluable for living as a sustainable person. For if we don’t clear our hearts of pain, the tendency is to poison the world and others with the hurt we didn’t allow it to dissolve. Within grief is the blossom of rebirth from suffering and loss. The more we grieve, the more we can love; and the more we love, the more we feel the sting of loss. To deny grief is to deny love. While most of us don’t want to feel the drag, dullness, and despair of grief, it is a natural and healthy reaction to loss. Grief is a symbol of our love and when we can welcome it, we give our hearts the opportunity to break and grow as wide as the world. Grief work is an aspect of grief that I describe as  intentionally entering our past pain, especially that from childhood, that has not been resolved. This work frees our lives from the inside out as nothing else can. Grief is merely the other side of feel-good love and is always in fluid communication with it.

Difficult Emotion #8: Envy or Jealousy

Envy, as the desire for what someone else has, points to our fulfillment. It brings out our longing and desire and shows us what we want and what we can work for to make our lives better or more enjoyable. Of course, it’s important to make sure that what we are envious of is something we truly want and value, and not just an excuse to hate on someone. Sometimes we feel a heavy dose of envy because we don’t want to work for the success another has. Yet, once we admit our admiration for someone else’s success or freedom, we can use that inspiration to work to acquire what we envy, and admire our own progress and achievements.

Jealousy, which is feeling threatened that what we cherish will be taken away or injured, is often accompanied by anger. In wanting to possess, jealousy shows us what we value, what we want to protect, what we would feel pain in losing. The element of anger, or even worry, in jealousy helps us set boundaries and limits to protect what we want and care about. Marriage, or committing to monogamy, are examples.

The Takeaway

I hope this deeper glimpse into difficult emotions allows you to lean into and appreciate them for their uncommon gifts and not throw out their wisdom with the bathwater of knee-jerk reaction of temporary discomfort. Yes, they can be difficult and bring us down, but when we wisely work with them, and for long enough, they release their nectar, transform us into better and kinder people, and initiate us to our shared humanity. Their benevolent darkness gifts us depth and beauty we can’t otherwise find in the sunny side of life alone.

****

Jack Adam Weber, L.Ac., M.A., is Chinese medicine physician, having graduated valedictorian of his class in 2000. He has authored hundreds of articles, thousands of poems, and several books. Weber is an activist for embodied spirituality and writes extensively on the subjects of holistic medicine, emotional depth work, and mind-body integration, all the while challenging his readers to think and act outside the box. His latest creation is the Nourish Practice, a deeply restorative, embodied meditation practice as well as an educational guide for healing the wounds of childhood. His work can be found at jackadamweber.com, on Facebook, or Twitter, where he can also be contacted for medical consultations and life-coaching.

 

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