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Emotions Are Not A Problem To Solve

Working with clients today, I saw it again and again: we are not what we think, and the process of getting to know ourselves entirely different from how we are accustomed to operating. Clients lie on my table and try to think their way to solving their problems, their “problem” being how they feel. Sad. Scared. Angry. All of the above at once...If I could only think hard enough to figure out how not to feel this. 

This struggle itself causes endless suffering. But even people who have repeatedly had the experience of getting out of their heads and into their bodies, into their true experience, forget what a relief that is compared to endless suffering. They forget that a few minutes of being real can land them in an experience of well-being even when sadness is around, or fear, or anything else. Being with the truth is all that matters.

Today one of my clients learned so much she got up and took notes after the session. “Emotions are not a problem to solve,” she wrote, with excitement. Then she added that the real job of her brain was to pay attention to what was actually going on. Then it could find out that it’s not all by itself trying to do everything–there’s a body, there’s a life force, there’s an intelligence which the brain is a part of but not all of. There’s Whoever she is, which is greater than the sum of all those parts, and which has not disappeared despite all the losses and griefs in her life. And guess what: that Whoever, that Life, knows what it’s doing.

Unfortunately, without knowing what our feelings are, we don’t have access to that deeper, truer part of ourselves. We don’t know how to live. That’s because we need to respond to situations in a way that makes sense for us, for our survival and our happiness. But we don’t. We don’t know what to do because we don’t get the signals from our bodies that tell us, I like this, I don’t like this; move toward this; move away from this. I like what my colleague and mentor Alan Fogel says about this. Our bodies are constantly doing tasks to make our health and well-being possible. Can you imagine how impossible life would be if we had to pay attention and make a conscious decision about every body function? Fogel writes, “We need to select, out of all the possible homeostatic tasks which are mostly handled without our self-awareness, which ones actually require our attention…Fortunately we have a very effective method…which has a long evolutionary history across different vertebrate species and appears to have evolved specifically because it gets our attention. This method is our emotions…” (pp.55-56 in The Psychophysiology of Embodied Self-Awareness.”

Wow, our emotions (sensation, evaluation, urge to act) save our lives! They’re not the enemy but the indicators of what we need. Why do we avoid them so much? Maybe because some of them “hurt.” Its’ no fun to be sad, but I’ve experienced and witnessed that it’s even worse to try to be not sad when you are. You’ve put yourself in an impossible position, trying to maintain an untruth. Now your sadness will never go away and it becomes something other than an emotion that can have a beginning, middle and end. It goes underground and becomes an unconscious motivator of your actions. You do things that don’t get you what you want and wonder why life sucks. That’s being irrational.

The other reason we avoid emotions is because many of us have been conditioned to. We’ve learned that if you feel and express your true response to something, someone will make it worse for you. I don’t even need to describe this; you know exactly what I’m talking about. Our culture has taken this tack (that you have to be “rational” vs. “emotional,” that you have to “be a man”) to such ridiculous extremes that it’s beyond dysfunctional. Just one example: this week, Time has an article about the high rate of suicide among premed students and doctors. Not to mention the poor care they give their patients when they’ve had no sleep, are belittled by their “superiors,” and demeaned by their peers if they can’t “take” it.

Our cultural bias against emotions is stupid and deadly. But it’s so strong that we need something like Rosen Method Bodywork to restore our ability to notice what we actually experience,  own our true feelings and responses, and therefore be real to ourselves. Then, once we are conscious of our inner feelings, needs and wants, we can act on our own behalf in ways that make sense and are effective. Our conscious minds are working together with our emotions to produce results. An amazing the number of problems (in physical and emotional health) go away when we are in unity with ourselves.

Emotions don’t solve the problem any more than thinking does. But when you’re a whole person with all your parts working together, you have many more resources available to you. When you’re integrated instead of at war with yourself, your nervous system calms down. Here’s what else my client (with a big grin on her face) wrote today: “Problems will be solved organically from within; my mind doesn’t have to think up a solution all by itself.”


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