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Two Words to Overcome Sadness, Anger, Loneliness and Fear

One of the most common barriers to really “waking up” seems to be the propensity to avoid, isolate, and hold back when confronted with things that upset us. We seem pretty capable of holding onto cherished memories, but when it comes to something really ugly, we can’t run away fast enough. Why is that?

As I write this, I am (quite surprisingly) upset. I am stressed and confused in a way I don’t often feel anymore, having spent a lot of time learning ways of transmuting and altering emotional charges. As a result, I’m known for my emotional “even keel” and readiness to accept most anything that happens. But the fact remains: right now, I am upset. And it isn’t going away as easily as it should. This makes it a perfect time to taste my own medicine and try and impart some knowledge to others who might be reading this while angry, despairing, depressed or just plain scared.

The most satiating advice I can offer you, in this moment, and the advice I’m taking right now as well, is best expressed in two words.


“Feel this.”

You have to be willing to dissolve your boundaries just a little bit. Feel despair, or sadness, or frustration, just a little more than you’re comfortable with. What does it taste like? What sound does it make? Feel it in your stomach, your chest. Is there tension? Is there blackness? What do you see?

Relax your resistance, until you can let go and give in. Feel yourself completely, totally consumed with that single emotion. Feel it grip your bones, your muscles, your thoughts, your skin. See what the world looks like when everything but a single feeling is filtered out.

Whatever you do, don’t shut it out. Don’t hold it back. Don’t cut it off.

In “Fight Club“-- which, despite its violence, I consider to be the most haunting, thought-provoking, and flat-out phenomenal film ever made-- Tyler Durden (played by Brad Pitt) insists at another character’s worst moments-- in which they are trying to escape wrenching pain-- that “What you’re feeling is premature enlightenment. This is the greatest moment of your life, and you’re off somewhere, missing it.”

Where is your attention, right now? If you are angry, what does anger do to your body? What does sadness do? What does terror do, right now, to your experience of reading these words?

Even “now” is a misnomer. The world we’re all experiencing right now-- the moment we’re witnessing--has already passed. Your brain is processing events that have already occurred. In a sense, what you feel is already a memory. Why, then, does it feel so real? Why is this moment more intense? Surely you have experienced other sorrows and scares before?

Descent into Memory

At times like this I often think of childhood--the blaring of a kindergarden school bell, the feeling of a bumpy dirt road beneath bicycle tires, that overwhelming buoyancy when the girl I liked smiled back at me, the way snow feels on uncalloused fingertips--and realize that when those moments happened, they were as real to me as this is. There is, in essence, no distinction between those thoughts and these--merely the surrealistic glow, like a foggy halo, granted them by our brain’s mysterious memory system.

Sometimes we forget that emotions work the same way. In a lot of cases, focusing on them directly actually makes them start to fade right out from under you. What’s important is a focus on the sensations-- and not the events that caused them. Emotions, in and of themselves, are intangible--they require a charge in order to stay “alive”. This charge is created and sustained by your mind’s response to an external event. If either your mind’s response or the knowledge of the external event are removed from the equation, the resulting emotion momentarily “dies”.

This isn’t a question of “making it go away” or some “trick” that will let you merrily roll on with your life. This is a question of acceptance vs non-acceptance. It is this lack of acceptance which makes you seem to have a string of “bad luck”. It is this lack of acceptance which allows “the worst that could happen”. And I think that speaks to a much bigger theme in this world of ours-- a Rule, or rather three:

The Three Rules

1. Until we fully accept what is happening, we are destined to repeat it.
2. If you fully accept what is going on, it will never happen again.
3. If it continues to occur, it’s because on some level you aren’t ready to face it.

Read that again.

How can I promise that it will never happen again? That if your neighborhood is destroyed or your friend dies of a drug overdose or your significant other loses interest or your finances are in ruin or you’re stuck in a strange city with no way home, that you aren’t somehow karmically destined to keep meeting misfortune?

Well… all of those things have happened to me. Clearly, I’m still here. And I know now what each experience feels like. I’ve accepted what happens. If something similar ends up occurring again, it’s because I really wasn’t sure of how to deal with it. On some deeper level, I still had growing to do. And I accept this, too.

You really have to free yourself from reliance on external events. If you’re able to master your internal response to them, it won’t matter what the events actually are-- and you’ll be able to handle what is outside of your control as effectively as if it were in your control.

Realize that the Universe, quantum flux, God-- whatever you believe is responsible for all of this-- will continue to test us for as long as we live. This process will never end, nor will it necessarily get easier. Every instant is change. But in order to keep moving forward, you have to accept what is happening. You have to feel it-- every aspect of it, without censoring or denying or moving away-- in order to really understand it. Often, truly understanding it leads you to realize its insignificance in the greater picture.

Identifying the Causes

Sometimes what you think is the cause of all your anxiety or emotion is in fact entirely unrelated. A good example of this is the loneliness one sometimes (depending, of course, on the individual) feels if their lover/partner, best friend, or anyone they are accustomed to being around, is absent. It often appears that only the restoration of that single person will alleviate the situation-- when there is frequently a far subtler message in addition. In my case, this situation resolved itself as my own desire to never generate feelings of abandonment in others-- to ensure that people who cared about me did not feel the way I currently did. Essentially, what I thought was directly related to a specific person-- an external unknown-- was in fact a way for my own psychic “needs” to be made visible. Once I understood this desire, I still anxiously awaited the person’s return, but understood that I could now directly address a deeper psychological need by interacting with other friends/family in a meaningful way. It didn’t replace what was happening, but it allowed me to grow.

All of our avoidance is rooted in fear-- fear of change, fear of failure, fear of loss. It’s human nature, for better or worse, to fear. It’s also human nature to overcome fear. And the more intensely you can feel into what upsets you, the more you can be sure that you are conquering its challenge. Not only is there a lesson to be learned in virtually any moment, but until you actually do the learning, you will continue to feel confused/angry/sad/etc. As a result, you will continue to face obstacles that seem insurmountable, people who seem impossible to deal with, situations that distress you, repeated incidents of “the worst that could happen”, and with it all, tremendous levels of good old stress.

Love wants to come through you most in the ways you want to express the least. Otherwise, you would already be living utterly spontaneously, gifting the world through your true purpose, while always letting go as unfettered openness.
- David Deida

Take this moment of fear or sadness or anger to dig deeper-- to feel into the core of your experience-- and find something new in what is churning there. No matter how awful it seems right now, remind yourself that even this will end-- to become nothing more than a memory, foggy and surreal, like a luminous wisp of childhood. Until you resolve it, it will keep beating you over the head in some form or another-- so just this once, take it head-on. Why not grow? Why not evolve?

This is the greatest moment of your life, and you’re off somewhere missing it.

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