Letting emotional baggage go with tools from the Chopra Center for Well-Being
In the old comic strip Li’l Abner, a character walked around with his own personal storm system roiling overhead. We’ve all known people who move moodily through their day, raining on many a parade. Others go beyond simple negativity to place their emotional outbursts front and center; others sink into grief, despair and fear.
Some of these emotional challenges may have genetic components, come from chemical/hormonal imbalances or be set off by environmental triggers. There is also the story of our lives, especially deep-seated mental or physical abuse from childhood and beyond.
For most of us, negative flare-ups are more immediate, triggered by our day-to-day experiences. This everyday play of emotion has the potential to be one of our most predominant stressors and can be a source of tremendous toxicity, wreaking all manner of misery and mayhem on our lives, including failed relationships, addictions and potentially serious health issues. Developing the “emotional intelligence” to handle the ebb and flow of feeling is therefore a different process for everyone.
The stakes are high. When we divert, block or “stuff” our pain, conflict or fear, we become anesthetized to life, and truly do narrow our consciousness. Our senses become dulled, along with our capacity for intimacy with self and others.
Having the discipline to manage how we respond to changes and challenges in our lives is not only possible, it’s life-giving. As we learn to observe and respond to our emotions with grace, empathy and maturity, our mindfulness rewires and stabilizes our neurological system and harmonizes our brain wave patterns so that it becomes easier to respond in like-kind in the future.
Virtually everyone tends to walk through life carrying excess baggage—past hurts, resentments and sadness. Perhaps you’ve heard the saying “our issues are in our tissues”? Yes, indeed! It is important to let these unhealthy emotions go before they create fragmentation, divisiveness and separation between the layers of our being—greatly compromising our wholeness in mind, body and soul.
The key to what is called “present moment awareness” is not to avoid the emotion or the issue, but to attend to it, to feel it, to sense it without trying to analyze, change or end it. Let your emotions be and let them speak to you. When you’ve done this successfully, you can let go and surrender to the flow of the emotion toward healing and balance.
At the Chopra Center for Well-Being, we use a powerful emotional cleansing process. Modified here, this practice can help you work through an emotion from your past or help deal immediately with a highly charged emotional encounter:
- Identify an experience that has provoked an uncomfortable or toxic emotion. Do this in a very matter of fact way.
- State the reasons for this emotion (the event or issue), to yourself or out loud, or write them down as clearly as possible. Try not to be accusatory or use words that reinforce a sense of victimization, but be as accurate as possible.
- Focus on the emotion. Emotions are thoughts connected to sensations in the body. That’s why they’re called “feelings.” Allow the feeling to well up and fully witness it in your mind-body physiology.
- Catalogue the physical sensations that it creates, identifying the location and intensity of the feelings. Does the emotion create a backache, stomachache or headache? Perhaps it makes your heart race? Or gives you a lump in your throat? Be very specific.
- Reflect on what the emotion reveals about you: a fearful ego, a need for approval, a need for control, a need for respect, a need for love? This is where regular meditation becomes a valuable practice. You’re more connected to your inner voice, to your higher self, thus making the most conscious, life affirming choices.
- Now work toward releasing the emotion and any painful body sensations. Have this intention. Affirm it. Perhaps build a ritual around this—creative visualization, energetic breathing—anything that helps discharge the emotion from your mind-body physiology.
- Dwell in this new space for a few moments, opening your heart and expressing gratitude for lessons learned and for the opportunity to heal, grow and move forward. Honor and acknowledge yourself for the courage to clear house and let go.
Each one of you will have your own process for releasing. And, having released the emotion that you’re working with, celebrate! Take a luxurious bath. Go somewhere beautiful for a walk. Prepare and eat a nourishing meal. Listen to your favorite music. Get a massage.
When you have finished, tune into your body and mind. See yourself joyful and content with this new reality. Do you notice a shift in attitude? Congratulations! You just gave yourself a tremendous gift.
MARY BETH JANSSEN is a certified mind-body health educator for the Chopra Center for Well-Being and author of five books. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.