There seems to be no avoiding the pain that sometimes comes in life. It seems to be part of the human experience. I can personally attest to this after having recently experienced the greatest emotional pain of my life: the death of my son.
It seems that nothing can really prepare us for times like this. And there is really nothing anyone can say or do to help. And yet, it all seems to help—the love and words of support. One thing is certain: there are things we can learn and do to prevent, reduce, or even eliminate the suffering that often comes with the pain.
There is beauty and joy in the flow of all emotions. It’s the beauty and joy and the flow of life—of aliveness itself. And the fact is emotions are far more painful when we resist them than when we open and allow them. Heartache comes from holding onto our emotions and holding back our feelings.
Emotions arise from within as energy, and unless we suppress them or turn them back onto themselves, they naturally express and release outwardly. And yet, it is not just a matter of either expressing or suppressing emotions.
It’s not about putting on a good face to avoid them or to sugar coat the pain. It’s not about burying negative feelings under positive ones. It’s about opening fully to our feelings and allowing our emotions to flow through us.
When we deny feelings, when we suppress emotions, when we contract against them or tense up around them, we create suffering. And when we harden ourselves, emotions can push us into doing or saying hurtful things, or things that don’t serve us.
It’s really about learning to breathe into emotions, and channeling emotional energy into the breathing. It’s about relaxing the body and quieting the mind. It’s about learning to release physical tensions and guard against negative thinking. When you free the breath from the grip of powerful emotions, you free your body and mind, and you free yourself of pain and suffering.
Notice what happens to the breath when powerful emotions take over. It can be very difficult to breathe. The breath can become completely locked up or frenzied and chaotic. When we meet our feelings with the breath, when we channel emotional energy into the breathing, we relieve the body and mind, and ourselves, of a lot of unnecessary suffering.
You may notice that deep sobbing includes extreme exhales. It is as if your body is trying to squeeze out every last drop of pain that is overwhelming the system… like squeezing a sponge. We can help in this process.
Notice too that a big inhale wants to follow that extreme squeezing out of the exhale, in order to refill the system with fresh new energy. When we surrender, or cooperate with our nature during this process we are able to more easily navigate and weather our emotional storms.
Using the breath to open fully and surrender to the force of painful emotions on the front end reduces or accelerates recovery time on the back end. Fighting with this energy weakens us, robs us of life force, and creates additional suffering.
It’s easy to see that when we think about things, those thoughts create feelings… When we allow the thoughts to pass, the feelings also pass. And so, another important thing is to get a handle on our thinking, especially the “should have, could have, would have” kind of thinking.
In general thinking tends to pull us out of our body and into our head. Thinking can also give an unnatural extended life to emotions. So, it’s best to allow thoughts to come and go, and to consciously focus on simply breathing and relaxing when painful feelings arise.
I found that practicing breath awareness and conscious breathing, and being able to breathe fully and freely when anxious, upset, or stressed in everyday life, and during ordinary times, helped me when overwhelmingly powerful emotions took over my system.
Mastering the ability to open and expand (to breathe in), and to relax and let go (to breathe out), and especially mastering connected or continuous breathing (the Rebirthing Breath) is the key.
It’s also extremely important to remember that pain is not only personal: it is also universal. We cannot become so wrapped up and lost in our own suffering that we forget that every day mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters, are lost because of catastrophic illnesses, natural disasters, or insane wars.
Healing happens quickly if we remain connected in love and engaged in life. During the grieving period, it is very important to continue to chop wood and carry water. Dogs still need to be fed, plants still need to be watered, dishes still need to be washed, and the trash still needs to be taken out. Taking care of these things is extremely grounding and therapeutic; and allowing others to see to these things for a time as a way of supporting us is also therapeutic.
It’s good to remember that there really is a silver lining to every cloud, and to consciously look for it or create it! Powerful emotions, whether positive or negative, can crack us open to more love, more compassion, more peace, more joy, and more wisdom.
When we learn to breathe and relax during difficult times, our hearts open, our consciousness expands, and a beautiful space for grace is created, a space for sweetness, humor, gratitude, and for an unshakable peace that passes understanding.
As I was finishing this article, a song by the Byrds began playing: