Across the Universe

"The spaces and times where we most fall apart is when we have the most to learn." -Pema Chödrön

The human experience is a tapestry of complex emotions. Most of us are pretty good at highlighting the positive experiences, like celebrating graduations, promotions, and new homes, or sharing travel and family photos. We are good with happiness. But as soon as we get near anything that feels uncomfortable, collectively, we're like, "I don't want it!"

Feeling sad and insecure, feelings of rejection and loneliness, are part of being human. Right now, all over the world, there are people who feel not good enough, people who are worried, people who are grieving deep loss. And in the past, and in the future, billions have felt, and will continue to feel these uncomfortable, unwanted feelings. And as long as we continue being human, negative emotions will surface. Denying them, drinking them away, eating them away, or hating them away doesn't work.

So what does work?

As difficult as it is, we mustn't deny our humanity. The unwanted feelings need our presence, however bad it feels. It's important to sit with them, to fully accept the moment without pushing it away. Just give yourself permission to be human.

It might be good to leave the physical space, maybe go for a walk, or sit in a park or a library. Somewhere you can be alone with the feeling, without being interrupted. Listen to your thoughts. What do you say to yourself in these moments? Are you full of self-hatred? Self-pity? Either it's your fault or it's theirs. Shame or blame. Maybe both.

In the practice of meditation, you learn to separate yourself from your thoughts. The shame and blame come and go; you observe the thoughts, you are not the thoughts. This is the difference between sitting with unpleasantness, and wallowing in it.

The physical discomfort you experience, the space in your body where the feeling is manifesting itself, needs your attention. The knots in your gut, the pang in your chest, the lump in your throat, are your body's way of telling you, "pay attention to these feelings." It's okay. Billions have sat here before you.

When you turn toward the unpleasant feeling, the insecurity, the anxiety, the fear, it has a transformative effect. When you deny the feeling with a distraction, or when you give the feeling more power than it should have, it lingers. Perhaps months, perhaps years.

I grew up in a toxic, abusive environment. I spent the greater part of my life believing that at the core of me, I was fundamentally a screw up. I've turned to others for validation of my worthiness, and left myself open to new abuse. I tried nearly everything to feel better, to escape the bad feelings. But it was not until I faced the unpleasantness that I found my way forward. If you can handle sitting with the discontent, you give yourself the chance to evolve.

The next time you're feeling down, remember that you are not alone. The tapestry of complex emotions that make up the human experience is shared. Across the universe, as long as you are human, you will feel.

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