Why do we avoid “negative" emotions?
When I first started teaching Yoga I had a private class with a couple who were the parents of a friend of mine. They were very spiritual and had visited India many times. I was a beginner Yogi but they invited me into their home to teach them the physical practice. I was very into focusing on the positive and letting go of the negative, making sure that there was no negative energy, only inviting in the positive. These amazing humans stopped me in my dharma talk and asked me why I was so adamant on getting rid of the negative, explaining to me that the negative holds great lessons for us. At that time, I was in my early 20’s and determined to be happy all the time. I didn’t quite understand what they were trying to show me. Doesn’t everyone want to be happy all the time?
Fast forward a couple of years to one of the worst periods of my life. I was in a horrible relationship with a narcissist and pathological liar. He had managed to manipulate me into leaving my home and family and moving to another country. He was completely dependent on me financially and used verbal and emotional abuse to control me. Being the eternal optimist that I was, I was hellbent on fixing him, supporting him and loving him. However, it was to the massive detriment of my physical, emotional and mental well being. Every time he put me down I suppressed all the negative and tried my hardest to focus on the positive. I smeared a smile on my face and kept going. This is the period of my life when anxiety, depression and panic attacks really took a firm hold on me. There was nothing I could do to get out of it. The more anxious I became, the more I tried to suppress it or hide it, which in turn made me more anxious. Go figure. The whole heartbreaking, soul-crushing experience ended in my dad flying to Mozambique, packing me, my dogs and all my stuff up and driving me home to Johannesburg. It took a really, really long time for me to heal, to trust other humans, to develop my self-esteem and start to forgive myself. My parents were my comfort, my safe place and my saviours through this difficult time. As was my psychiatrist and the anti-anxiety meds she put me on. But still, I did not learn the lesson and I was adamant that I needed to be a happy, smiling human.
Although this was the worst period of my life, looking back now I am so grateful to that damaged, hateful man and consider him one of my greatest teachers. He taught me what boundaries are and how they can literally keep you alive.
Moving forward again to me now, 34 years old, very happily married to an amazingly conscious, kind and compassionate man, living the life I choose. I am currently, with the help of my psychiatrist, weaning myself off the meds and have a very healthy relationship with my friend: Anxiety. Through the years of dealing with anxiety, depression and panic attacks I’ve learned to sit with these emotions, with the guilt, the shame, the anger, the remorse, the disgrace, the blame, the self-condemnation, the fury, the hatred, the rage, the disappointment in self, the irritation, the indignation, the resentment, the impatiences, the unforgiving, the humiliation, the confusion, the contempt, the degradation, the self-disgust, the mortification and so many more, in all their various shades, notes and nuances. You may think it’s impossible for one person to feel all these things, but I have. On occasion I still do and I’m sure you have as well.
One of my favourite Sanskrit words is “Abhyasa” which means “to sit with it”. So, one by one, I took each of these so-called “negative” feelings, I invited them in, to make themselves known. I sat down with them and opened myself to their teachings. What I learned from these emotions and feelings is far more valuable than what I have learned from the “positive” emotions. What I learned in my darkness is that there’s nothing to be afraid of here. In most cases, there’s a scared child, cowering in a corner, begging me to help her. I learned that in my darkness is where I truly am. The real me. All the uncomfortable sensations were me trying to avoid this. Once I committed to making friends with my shadows and allowing all my stuff to come out, it was, surprisingly, not so scary and uncomfortable anymore. It was a relief to realise that these feelings are different ways to connect with myself on a deeper level, to learn myself more intimately, to find compassion and kindness for me. With that, I was then able to process these emotions, I was able to work through these awful experiences in a safe and healthy way. And most importantly I was able to forgive. Not just the awful human that presented these experiences, but also all the people in my life that I felt failed me when I needed them most. The biggest benefit of working deeply into these dark, shadowy places is that I was able to forgive myself, and I now have the ability to forgive myself for all my “stuff” on a daily basis. I also learned radical self-acceptance, unconditional self-love and iron-clad boundaries.
If I could teach every single person what I’ve learnt, these would be my lessons to the world. Learn how to accept yourself for exactly who you are. Learn that you are the most magnificent and important human being on the planet and you deserve the most kindness, compassion and love from yourself. Learn to set and hold healthy boundaries for yourself and for others. If my karma includes a child one day, these are the most important lessons I will teach them.
So, I encourage you to take a moment, invite the shadows in and sit with them. Make a cup of tea, get comfortable and explore these dark, hidden areas of yourself. And yes, it may get painful and uncomfortable at times but there’s nothing "wrong" with that. Pain and discomfort are where the lessons live. You are brave enough and important enough to delve into the depths of yourself. Trust me when I say, you will come back stronger, kinder and more connected.
You may be asking yourself what this all has to do with Yoga. I learned all these practices from my teachers. I learned Abhyasa; I learned meditation; I learned non-violence and compassion; I learned powerful mantras; and I learned the ancient teachings which are so relevant in this day and age. I have spent thousands of hours on the mat working with breath, mantra and intention to continuously let go of the heaviness, invite forgiveness in and surrender to my teachings. The practices of Yoga take us far deeper into ourselves than just the physical level. Working with the varied practices of Yoga gives you the magical power of connection with self, of forgiveness and of surrender. This is where true happiness and contentment lives.
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