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Intrinsic Hope: Opening up to Painful Emotions

Accepting Our Emotions in the Face of the US Election

Author Kate Davies

This past week I have seen posts on “Election Day Kit” suggestions that include: a seat, a flashlight, an umbrella, and snacks to prepare for the long waits to vote; ideas for different places to source groceries other than the grocery store as people stock up on goods in preparation for chaos after the US election results are announced; news alerts that Walmart is pulling guns and ammos off the shelves to keep them out of the hands of potential looters.

As a Canadian watching from the sidelines, I feel sad, scared, and overwhelmed for my friends, family, all US citizens, and the world as a whole, as we are all acutely aware that what happens in the US has a trickle down effect. I can only imagine the emotions Americans are feeling. It would seem that no matter who the winner is in this scenario, mayhem will follow.

So when thinking about what words might be useful in this situation, I considered excerpts on preparing for collapse, or perhaps how to communicate across the great divide, or skills needed for resilient living. All important. And while these will follow in days to come, today I turned to the book Intrinsic Hope by Kate Davies, because I think we all need a deeper source of hope right now--a path toward a courageous life in these troubled times.

Kate expresses so well the importance of accepting our emotions, like pain, sorrow, fear, and anxiety, as a way to open our hearts and move into a place of transformation and action.

Excerpt from the Book

Opening Up to Painful Emotions

Opening up to painful emotions makes it easier to accept them. Leaning into our grief, sadness, and other similar feelings, without judging them or trying to get rid of them helps us bear them and accept them. In fact, when we let ourselves experience our feelings about the state of the world, a strange thing happens — our hearts break open. When we rage about a clear-cut forest or cry about man’s inhumanity to man, our hearts soften and crack, making us gentler and stronger, more accepting and more passionate.

As Joanna Macy observes, “The heart that breaks open can contain the whole universe.” This requires courage because it’s quite uncomfortable, at least initially. Not the courage to tough it out, but the courage to be gentle and vulnerable.

When we open up to painful emotions, something transformative happens deep within us. As Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone say in their book, Active Hope, “It is our consistent experience that as people open to the flow of their emotional experience, including despair, sadness, guilt, fury or fear, they feel a weight being lifted from them. In the journey into the pain, something foundational shifts; a turning occurs.”

This turning allows us to make friends with previously unacknowledged parts of ourselves and to understand their significance. By leaning into fear, we can experience bravery. By leaning into sadness and despair, we can experience vulnerability and tenderness. By leaning into grief we can experience compassion. And by leaning into anger, we can experience forgiveness. Our tears for the world can cleanse our eyes and help us to see everything more clearly.

This transformation happens because love lies underneath all our fear, sorrow, and other painful emotions. Just think about it.

If we did not care for other people, other species, and the earth, we would not experience such heartbreak and distress. In other words, our pain and suffering are a natural consequence of our love and compassion. They are two sides of the same coin.

As Kahlil Gibran wrote:

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. . .

When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you
shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is
giving you joy.

When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you
shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has
been your delight.

We suffer because the object of our love is suffering. This is the basis of compassion. If we love our children, other people, or the earth, we will experience painful feelings whenever they are hurt or in pain. This may sound like a self-reinforcing downward spiral but it is actually very healing and enlarges our perspective on life. When we let go of our psychological defenses and experience our sorrow for the world, we realize our connectedness with others. We understand that we are all in this together. In other words, a broken heart provides the awareness that we are inextricably connected with everyone and everything that exists. It allows us to realize that we are not separate or alone; we are all part of the gigantic interdependent web of life. We discover that opening up to our pain and suffering, and that of others, brings down the walls between us and draws us into community with each other, other species, and the earth itself.

Broken-heartedness at the state of the world has no end. It is not something that happens once and then is over. Because human beings continue to damage and destroy the earth, broken-heartedness is an ongoing state of being. This may not be an appealing prospect, but it creates the opportunity for continuous emotional and psychological transformation. Every day, we can allow our hearts to soften and break so that instead of being controlled by our pain and suffering, we can be inspired by the love that lies underneath them. And this nurtures intrinsic hope.

Expressing Feelings

One of the best ways to accept our feelings is to express them. When we stop bottling up our emotions, we get to know them. And when we get to know them, their power over us decreases so we can accept them.

There are many ways to express feelings about the state of the world. Here are some that may be useful:

  • Writing enables us to understand what is in our hearts. It is a way of knowing what we are feeling at the deepest levels of our humanity. When we describe our feelings in writing, we give them shape and meaning, even though it can be difficult to find the right words. Paradoxically, writing prose or poetry, or keeping a journal, makes our feelings more real and reduces their hold on us.
  • Art and music. When it is impossible to put feelings into words, these nonverbal forms of expression can do the job nicely, as any artist or musician knows. Art and music do not need to be shared with others or performed in public. They can be just for ourselves. We don’t need to judge them as good or bad, attractive or unattractive. We can use these forms of expression to reveal what is in our hearts. In workshops, sometimes I ask participants to draw a picture of their feelings for the world.
  • Rituals have always helped humankind to express powerful feelings and find meaning in life. At their best, rituals connect the inner world of the heart with the outer world of structure and form. They create a union between the sacred and the secular. All types of ritual — personal, group, and public — provide a space to express and validate feelings. In doing so, they leave the participants feeling more accepting and more grounded. Group and public rituals have the added benefits of creating and strengthening relationships and building community.
  • Sharing with others is a terrific way to express feelings. When we are with people we know and trust, it’s easier to be open and honest about our emotions. Over the years, I have found my women’s groups very helpful. By simply being present and listening, they have held and supported me. Without offering false comfort or simplistic advice, they have helped me accept my feelings. Workshops that offer safe, trusting spaces for participants to express their feelings about the state of the world, such as Joanna Macy’s The Work That Reconnects, are also very helpful.
  • Taking action is perhaps the most powerful way to express feelings. Because this is such an important topic, I have dedicated the next chapter to it.

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