So much everything else, and so little of me: 3 beautiful ways to handle emotional overwhelm
“O Divine Master, grant that I may not seek to be consoled, as to console. To be understood, as to understand. To be loved, as to love."
– The Prayer of St. Francis
Sometimes I wonder if I focus too much on everything that is wrong.
Do I write too much about what hurts? Do I spend too much time contemplating how to change? Do I read too many books on self-help, healing, psychology, personal development?
And sometimes I wonder if I am sugar coating reality with my blurry images and swirling music. Do I still pretend – for myself and others – that life is wonderful when it really isn't? Do I cover with a smile what cannot be spoken of? Do I run away?
How do you truthfully express yourself, without motives, without selecting?
There are so many questions, and so few answers.
And yet, inside me there's a truth that cannot be thought, only felt.
I cannot be of service, unless I can help us feel the universal feelings of hopelessness and despair. And I cannot be leading the way unless I can provide for us a safe space to seek refuge and find moments of relief.
Sometimes I wonder why I, of all beings, are meant to do this work.
I feel so small.
And then I remember, that exactly that may be the reason I am looking for.
I am a small force, representing a large presence.
"Don't be the light, be the window" – Martha Beck
The following methods and meditations are three ways I handle emotional overwhelm. It has helped me greatly, as these are tools that neither dig deep into the darkness, nor pretend like the situation or feeling isn't there. The key words are presence and acceptance, and the practice is perspective and connection.
Expanding your View
Sometimes when you cannot make a situation smaller, you can make the world larger.
What is going on right now is overwhelming, yes.
Like there is so much everything else, and so little of me.
But tomorrow, the sun is going to rise over the hills and greet the new day.
Tomorrow, the clouds will dance across the sky, uninterrupted.
As you are sleeping, millions of people are waking over you. Millions of people, eating their breakfast, walking to work.
As you are resting, planes are continually taking off, and landing. Ships are coming into port. Fathers are coming home.
In this very moment, a new life is being born, somewhere. And in this moment, another life is letting go, peacefully.
The planets are in motion, slowly. Stars are fading out. Comets are racing over the night sky like a ball of fire, an explosive force paving the way.
Somewhere in the world, the leaves are starting to get yellow. Somewhere, there's a balloon slipped out of small hands, slowly being caught by the wind.
And in you, there is a light that is never fading. Deep, deep inside, you have a flame burning like a fireplace in a library, on a stormy night.
As certain as the sun and the stars, your breath is rising and falling. Your heart is beating, through the tears and the laughter.
There is beauty in being insignificant, sometimes.
How important are your struggles when there are satellites floating around in steady circles, keeping the world connected, safe?
How important is your deadline when no matter what happens, the snow will fall and melt, and fall again?
It may feel like the whole world is falling apart before our eyes, and the feeling is very real. You are feeling it with every fiber of your being, I know. The fear that is always lurking in the background is a real fear, and it is okay that it's there. So is the deadline, the test, the challenge, the situation, the drama.
But don't forget that life is a rhythm that never skips a beat. And that you, you are a part of a much larger dance.
Focusing – Activating your Larger Presence
The feeling you are feeling right now may feel larger than you. Sadness may feel like a roaring wave, and despair like a vacuum sucking the life our of your veins. Confusion is like a thick, thick fog – blocking your view and leaving you helpless.
Sometimes, you can't make the feeling smaller or make it disappear. But you can connect with the part of you that is so much larger.
It's called Focusing.
Start by saying out loud how you are feeling.
I feel anxious.
And then replace it with "something in me feels" and say it out loud,
Something in me feels anxious.
Sometimes this is enough to tap into your larger self. Sometimes it's enough to know that as there is something in you feeling anxious, there is also something in you that is not. If you don't sense a shift, continue on.
Say hello to your feeling.
When you are saying hello, you are acknowledging your feeling. You don't have to like it. You don't have to hate it. Just see that it is there. Greet it, hello. Just the act of seeing your feeling, accepting it's presence, can give you relief.
"This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all!"
– Guest House, Rumi.
Then, place your hand gently on the part of your body where you feel the emotion the most. Where in your body is your energy located? If no body part stands out, lift your hand and place it where it feels right to place it. Or shift your hand around, gently until you find a comfortable place to let it touch you, softly.
This is often where people feel the most relief. Feeling the warm presence of your larger self, physically on your body is often very soothing. It can make it feel more real, the divine power you have within.
You may choose to stop here. Hold your hand gently over where you feel the emotion the most, for as long as you want. If you want to continue, you can activate your larger self further by saying "I sense that" – where the "I" is your wise self.
I sense that something in me is feeling anxious.
And to complete the focusing, simply say "no wonder".
No wonder I am feeling anxious. No wonder.
Personally, I have found great relief with this focusing technique. It makes me feel divinely protected, and for that I feel safe to fan my eternal flame until it grows large and strong.
The Sanctuary Meditation
"Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary. Pure and Holy, tried and true. With thanksgiving I'll be a living sanctuary for you."
– Sanctuary, Gospel Hymn
Close your eyes and imagine that you have an empty space inside of you that is like a temple. Inside, you have the space to hold the divine, the sacred. Imagine yourself as the most beautiful church you have ever seen. Imagine the open space, the vastness, the energy.
Imagine that you are so large, you can contain the hills of England. Imagine that you are larger than the Sahara, deeper than the ocean, higher than the sky. You have mount Shasta in your veins and the Grand Canyon in your heart. You can hold the African plains and the forests of Canada in your space.
Now, imagine that you are the great holy buildings. The Angkor Wat, intricate and majestic in the jungle. Imagine to be the St. Peter's Basilica, so grand that it makes people whisper. Imagine that you are the Sagrada Familia, extraordinary, awe-inspiring. Imagine that you are a grand white mosque, a place for worship and prayer.
Imagine that inside of you, you have the space to contain the most vulnerable parts of human life. The joy of welcoming a new child to the world. The deep despair, the I-will-do-whatever-it-takes, the pleas for hope, for relief. Imagine containing the happy tears flowing when the crowd is witnessing a father guiding his daughter down the aisle, when the vulnerable man gasps when he sees his bride for the first time. Imagine the endless sadness when it's time to say goodbye. Laughter, tears, joy - you are vast enough to contain it all.
Imagine having room for everyone and everything – the poor, the wealthy, the weak and the strong. Imagine having room to welcome them all, equally. Imagine having generations grow old in your presence. Imagine being witness to the cycle of life.
You are a force. Endlessly able.
You are holy. You can hold.
You are a beautiful space. You can contain all of life.
You are a sanctuary.
You are true.
I hope you find as much relief as I have using these tools. And although you may not have all the answers, be grateful for having the questions.