Sometimes when I name my emotions I feel like the wheelbarrow in the picture above. Loaded down with the years, lifetimes perhaps of what that feeling means to me and has meant in the past. This post shares a simple exercise you can try to get under the accumulated weight of meaning attached to your words.
Words have power.
The way we use these words makes a difference to our experience. We can make positive affirmations to support our intentions. We can explore and name our emotions and journal our thoughts to help ourselves move through challenging situations. Or we can use them to metaphorically beat ourselves up with a stick.
Even the very words themselves have a strong energetic field. Some words can feel uplifting and strengthening, others may feel heavy and pull us down. Some words may feel heavier than lugging excess luggage around an airport on a trolley with a dodgy wheel.
When the gargantuan reality of the luggage is totally belied by the innocently light label it is attached to, I have often wished I could wave a magic wand and magic away the luggage entirely.
Whilst I am thinking figuratively this also brings to mind our family holidays to my husband’s native home, The Gambia...
...I brace myself, bend my knees keep my back straight and pull swiftly upwards swinging yet another bag onto the conveyor belt to be weighed. I am nervous. Will we be over the limit? We are getting some curious stares. Most people on this flight to The Gambia are English tourists. They have the lightest of bags suitable for a winter sun destination. Some look like they only have hand luggage.
We on the other hand have not one but two trolleys piled high with bags of every size that have been carefully weighed at home to get as close to the maximum limit as possible. We have something like 85 kilos of luggage wobbling around on the overloaded trolleys. I am also carrying a toddler in my arms and a baby in my belly. I can barely be seen beneath all this stuff.
Fast forward thousands of miles and a couple of days later the hot and dusty baggage makes it to its destination having survived the aeroplane, taxi, boat, bus roof and even wheel barrow rides. A knife rather than a magic wand cuts loose the tattered luggage labels but it nevertheless magically seems to release more than the kilos and kilometres our aching muscles have endured. Minus the extra luggage we had brought for the local school and for my husband’s extended family I feel free and light as a bird.
Whereas on holiday we had to physically carry heavy bags attached to our luggage labels, in life we are not beholden to the past history of the words we use to describe our emotional state. As we journey through life our brains attempt to make sense and categorise our varied experiences. When we encounter new situations it tries to work out if we are safe or not based on previous experience. Sometimes that’s ok. Sometimes it’s a bind.
Sometimes our words can be concealing heavy excess baggage that we may have been lugging around for years. The weight of the word may be like trying to lift a Mary Poppins bag of just in case items.
When we say we feel fear, do we mean the kind of fear that we get when we are nearly run over by a bus? Do we mean the kind of fear we feel when under pressure in an exam? Do we mean the kind of fear we feel when we are about to jump from an aeroplane for our first parachute jump? Are we responding to the current fear or to all the times we ever felt fear, particularly if we squashed it down and forced it to be stored in our cells?
Whenever the emotion is out of proportion to the situation in hand there is an invitation to do some inner healing work. If you sense that the label you have assigned to your emotion is part of the problem; If you feel that underbelly of consciousness that has got tangled up in the word is getting in your way and muddying the waters, here is a simple exercise to support you to open freshly in the experience.
It’s called “Take the label off.” It’s kind of self-explanatory and it goes like this.
1. Name your experience or emotion and notice how you feel as you do.
2. Take the label for your experience right off and throw it away. It may help to imagine getting a big pair of scissors and to cut the cord that attaches the label to the body of energy consciousness.
3. Tune in again and notice how your experience differs when you are simply experiencing what is arising without and reference points. It may help you to make sure your feet are firmly planted on the floor and you are breathing deeply and steadily into your body as you do. Have an intention to allow whatever arises and stay still in the centre of that. Be open and curious.
Without the label I experience a pure connection with the energy of the situation, a little like the connection I can feel to a stranger when participating in silent meditation together.
This exercise works well on emotions such as fear and it also works very well with concepts like Pain. Pain is one of the most quoted worries of labour- Will I be able to cope with the pain? I feel like I am splitting in two? I am not good with pain… are common refrains.
Pain in labour is not the same as pain from an injury but we use the same word to describe very different experiences and we may trigger our body into reacting as if we were in danger rather than in labour.
What happens when you take the label off and just feel what is actually happening? For me that was totally freeing. I could feel each muscle in my body working, I questioned what each sensation meant to me now I was not using the word pain. I got very interested in what I was actually experiencing in the here and now. My body felt heard and appreciated. I felt freedom even as I was feeling what in ordinary direct language pain is still the closest adjective I can find to communicate. The full story of how I was able to cope with intense pain and move smoothly through transition is the subject of a whole other post.
For now I will leave you with a quote from Ina May Gaskin that illustrates this exercise very well. In response to a woman’s question about labour she replies;
“Don’t think of it as pain, think of it as an interesting sensation that requires all your attention.” *
This quote could also expand into a whole post on the nature of life and the freedom of focusing on present moment awareness but I think you probably get it so I’d rather leave you to go off and play with the idea.
Let me know in the comments how you get on and I will be back soon with some more discussion about how to manage fear and other tricky emotions that may come up in labour.
* From the book Spiritual Midwifery, by Ina May Gaskin, page 43.