Know Your Emotions

How often have you driven to work on automatic pilot only vaguely aware of your surroundings? Or listened to the same radio station or podcast with half of your attention. 

We do the same with our feelings and emotions. If I asked you how you’re feeling at this moment, would you be able to tell me? What about how you feel about how you are feeling?

One day I decided I’d had enough of feeling sad, of carrying around the burdens of trying to build a new life. I felt I had no answers, knowing nothing but that I was going stir crazy. I didn’t want to commit suicide, but I also didn’t really want to do life anymore.

My solution: I emptied my fridge and cupboards figuring I’d simply starve myself allowing my body to slowly wither away.

A few hours later my phone rang, “You want to join us at Jade Garden?” You bet. I was in for some good Chinese food! I was hungry. So much for withering away.

Throwing out all my food was one version of numbing out and turning off life for the moment. Fortunately for me, I had friends who showed up unwittingly with just the right antidote. This incident woke me up, helping me to realize I was already feeling a range of emotions – not just lows. In one day I’d hit a low low and bounced to a high enough place to hang out with friends. In a restaurant. In public. 

It was time to stop running and start being more deliberate and conscious with my feelings. I was ready to feel pain more consciously and live in each moment, knowing this too would pass.

Handling grief, and not handling it, comes in waves. Some days there’s no escaping it and others there’s no solution but escaping it. And often the decision doesn’t feel voluntary – grief is manning the ship. It’s embodying the bereaved parent.

You may have reached a point in your grief where you no longer want it to embody you, but rather have it sit beside you. By becoming aware of how you are feeling at any given moment, you’ll no longer be so blown and tossed about by your emotions. Being aware of feelings can also be scary and difficult. Because of the enormity of the pain, many who are grieving discover they’ve been numbing out, moving through their days as tuned out as possible.

In order to move forward with discovering what kind of future will bring satisfaction and joy, in creating a life that feels good, it’s helpful to know how you feel now. Get clear on what brings on bad feelings and which build upon feeling good. 

Knowing Your Emotions can be accomplished in a variety of ways and below are several tools for you to become present and aware of their emotions in an intentional way. They include:

  • Two Hour Timer – Stop for a moment to check-in and record how you’re feeling every two hours over a twelve hour time period
  • High and Low of the Day – At the end of each day for a week record the high and low points of each day
  • Gratitude List – At the beginning of each day for a week write a list of 5-10 things they are grateful for

When developing the program for ‘Ohana Oasis retreats, I thought through the rhythm of each day, including the potential pitfalls. I pictured sitting around the dinner table with eight people who may or may not click. How awkward would it be if there was just silence? To avoid this, I instituted a nightly ritual of everyone sharing their highs and lows of the day. 

Like many of the concepts that found their way into retreats, I didn’t consciously understand immediately the depth and richness of what this brought. It clicked on the third night of the first retreat when a parent shared her low. She was the only one who didn’t score a hole-in-one at the mini golf course.

By identifying her high and low of an individual day, she recognized her low was pretty damn good. She still grieved, she still hurt, she was still working through the devastation of her daughter’s death and for this day not hitting a golf ball as well as everyone else was the lowest she felt.

What a relief to see the lows aren’t always at the bottom of the barrel.  Pretty good right?

The second ‘aha’ came at the end of that same week. This time it was one of the dads. He commented that because he knew he’d be expected to share at dinner, as he went about his adventures he’d noted if a particular experience would make his high or low list. What I saw was, it kept him present throughout the day. It kept everyone present, or at least checking in with themselves regularly.

Now even six years later, some retreat participants report back they’ve made this practice a part of their family dinners. I love it!

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