I was talking with a man the other day who has a huge plan to transform “the system.” It’s a beautiful plan and he’s done a lot of work and made a lot of connections to bring his vision into being. The problem is he’s so angry with the current system that it’s close to making him violent.
It struck me as ironic that the guy who so wants to eradicate the violence implicit in the current “control and fear-based system” (as he views it) cannot fully control his own inner violence. Of course he won’t go and fight or kill people, but the energy inside him is close to that. It’s a very physical experience for him.
Some of the most radical gamechangers I’ve met are very very angry. Some of the most committed activists are extremely burnt out. Some of the most caring people are deeply disappointed at the state of the world.
It’s understandable. It seems to be an obvious and natural response to extremely challenging situations…but it doesn’t work.
When you’re angry you’re blaming someone else for having screwed everything up. It gives you a sense of power and something to fix, but it’s self defeating. Anger creates more anger.
When you’re burning out you’re running out of energy. You’re working so hard to save someone or something that you forgot to save yourself at the same time. Hardly a recipe for a healthy future.
When you’re disappointed there’s a part of you inside that’s given up. It looks like caring but it’s actually closer to hopelessness.
There’s a powerlessness in all these emotions that’s not easily recognised. They feel so appropriate, given the situation. Yet powerless is the last thing you need to be if you want to contribute to change in the world.
So what’s the alternative?
I’m not saying you shouldn’t feel these emotions. They come up. The usual response to feeling an emotion is to look for a story to attach to it.
If you feel an inner sense of disappointment you look around in your life for something in which you can be disappointed. If your self esteem is low it will usually be something about you. If you view yourself more powerfully you’ll be disappointed in someone else or something outside of yourself. In the end it all adds up to the same thing, whether you blame yourself or someone else. Blame is blame. It’s powerless.
There’s another way to respond to strong emotions
Instead of trying to understand why you feel disappointed or angry, simply allow yourself to feel the feeling, wherever it is in your body. Allow yourself to feel it fully without any escape. The essence is to allow yourself to feel the feeling but let go of the story.
Telling stories is a way to escape the pain. It takes you into your head and out of your body. The problem is that once you have a story that explains your feeling you tend to tell the same story over and over again.
You talk about how disappointed you are in humanity for having brought us to this situation. You express your disappointment in government, corporate leadership, the finance industry or whatever other target you want to reject. You’re disappointed in the lack of change or the lack of speed or the lack of good solutions.
The strange thing is that disappointment slows you down too. It makes it difficult for you respond to challenges. It prevents you from coming up with good solutions. It reduces your capacity for change. It’s disempowering at the most basic level, so you find yourself the same as the very institutions you’re criticising.
Eventually your story becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. It can even come to define you. Without realising it, you’re contributing to the problem you want so much to be solved. And in most cases you won’t even realise it.
In fact, if anything, you’re likely to be rather self righteous about it. I certainly was for many years. I thought I had all the answers but I had virtually zero power to make a meaningful difference.
Stop avoiding your real feelings
If you simply allow yourself to feel the feeling of disappointment or anger (or any other feeling) without any story attached to it at all, it will always change, move around your body and resolve itself, often very quickly. Without the story the energy moves freely through your body and then moves on. It stops affecting you, sometimes within seconds or minutes.
This can be amazing when you first experience it. Sometimes a feeling that’s affected you for years, and seems deeply embedded in your psyche, changes in a matter of minutes. You may even realise that the story you were telling was not true.
I was working with a man who felt very disappointed in himself because his brain was foggy. There was an air of constant self-criticism for not being clear. It had been going on for a long time. I asked him to let go of the story of the foggy brain and simply feel the feeling in his head. After a couple of minutes he laughed and looked at me. “It feels like peace,” he said. It was actually a really nice feeling that had been labelled as wrong.
When you allow yourself to feel feelings without any head chat you’ll discover something beautiful beneath every ugly feeling. That’s a law. You’ll also discover how very flexible your feelings are.
I was working with a man who was feeling very angry. He described it like knives whirling around in his solar plexus. After a little while he said he was now feeling anxious. I asked him to describe it. He said it felt like knives whirling around in his solar plexus. Then he started to feel fear. I asked him where he felt it. He said it was like knives whirling around in his solar plexus. This is more common that I like to think.
What happens when you allow yourself to feel feelings without stories?
I worked with another man who cared desperately about the environment. He was so disturbed by the endless development of new housing and loss of natural environment that it frequently drove him to despair.
When I look at that response I see someone who’s doing exactly what they’re complaining about. As he felt so deeply the loss of nature in the external world he was unable to see how he was devastating his own true nature in exactly the same way.
Eventually, beneath the darkness, he discovered his true self – his own inner nature. He discovered something beautiful, pure and wild, just like the physical nature he so loved and mourned. As his true self woke up inside him he dropped the despair and found joy instead.
He told me weeks later how he no longer felt powerless to help. He could see that he had so many opportunities to make a difference. He started to see that the solution isn’t all about him. It’s about all of us contributing our part.
We can all take responsibility.
There’s a deep level of responsibility that each one of us can take if we choose. It arises when we realise that everything that’s happening in our world is an aspect of our own energy. We’re connected to all of it and we influence all of it.
This deep responsibility lies beneath the feelings you most want to avoid. It comes with a profound sense of inner freedom and creativity. It’s not easy to find it, simply because it’s easier to tell stories and avoid feelings.
But it’s right there waiting for you.