I once had a conversation with one of my mindfulness teachers, Dr. Chris Cullen, about my experiences while conducting gratitude exercises. I said that most people could understand on a conceptual level why doing a gratitude exercise is useful. However, some are unable to connect with appreciation and gratitude as an embodied feeling, hence completing the exercise as a task. In my first few attempts of doing gratitude exercise, I was covering up my awkwardness by justifying in my mind – ‘So?’ I could not connect to the positive emotions of true appreciation, even though I was able to write down what I value in my life.
The habit of needing to protect ourselves from our negative (and positive) emotions
We are naturally aversive or uncomfortable with negative emotions. But do you realise that opening to positive emotions can also be difficult. Remember those times you feel the beat of the music and want to dance on the spot? ‘Opps, inappropriate,’ you might think to yourself. Or reminding yourself to be composed even though you feel it would be fun to roll in the sand on the beach? Protecting ourselves from potential shame and judgements.
The door to our heart is not selective, you close it, it closes to everything.
The more protective you are about your negative emotions, the more likely you will realise that it manifest in your positive emotions as well.
Have you ever thought to yourself, ‘I want to feel more alive’.
Well, embracing both positive and negative emotions is part of the deal. It doesn’t help that culturally, being emotional might be seen as ‘weakness’ or ‘vulnerability’. We are afraid to connect to our vulnerabilities, and so we do not allow ourselves to connect freely to our emotional library. In gratitude exercises, it’s when we allow ourselves to relive the emotions or connect with something deeper that it might begin to be meaningful.
So, coming back to the ‘how’
So Dr. Chris Cullen and I both agreed that it’s a disconnect from our feelings as a habitual pattern. So how do we reconnect with our heart and feelings again?
‘It can be too sensitive and scary to connect to the heart directly, especially if there are unknown pain or griefs that might hide there. Thus, connect with your feet.. your body.. do yoga.. do taichi.. start a body-based practice to get close to the body. When the body opens, the heart will gradually begin to feel safe to open too.’
– Dr. Chris Cullen
I resonated deeply and I believe that is how I learnt to open my heart as well.
For many years, I was unwilling to confront the amount of self-judgements and shame that have accumulated within me. It came to a point I had to acknowledge that there was so much self-hate and pain before I can work towards a sense of neutral objectivity first, then possibly the feelings of gratitude and appreciation. At least that was my path. If not, I was numb mostly by my thoughts. Hence my gradual but persistent journey through my yoga and mindfulness practices – learning to still my mind, ride my sensations and emotions safely through my feet, my arms, my legs, my hips – gradually led to opening of my heart.
It wasn’t exactly a fast journey (not absolutely long either), but it was totally worthwhile to feel alive again.
Practice with me at the end of the video.
Now Sensing your feet touching the ground in this moment.
Sensing them as there are.
And that is enough.
But if you feel open, think about the journey that you accomplished with them. The games you played, the countries you visited, the hike you took, the millions of steps you have walked.
Appreciating them.. yes, your feet. 😊