This blog post is an excerpt from my free Ebook "Shaping a New Body Narrative" which goes along with my recently released 14-day online meditation program: Body Connect.
Emotional intelligence goes hand in hand with body awareness. Inquiring into physical and emotional experiences supports a deeper understanding of the interplay of body, heart, and mind. Inner inquiry is not well supported in today's world--it's up to us as individuals to make this exploration.
Something missing from our childhood and adult education is in-depth exploration of emotion and sensation. However, nothing is stopping you from inquiring within.
Before I proceed, I'd like to just say that I’m not going to try to put a definition on “emotions” or “sensations,” because I know any definition will be problematic and will provoke objections from philosophers and experts in numerous fields. Further, I don’t think that definitions in terms of words is necessarily what brings us clarity. If such an approach were possible, and if it were helpful, it would have been done by now. So please understand that I speak in relatively loose terms in order to give an outline of something very nuanced that does not conform to the structures of language.
How do sensations and emotions unfold together?
All emotional experience takes place as physical sensation. Hence the term “feelings.” your nervous system, your heart, your lungs, your blood, every part of you is involved in an emotional experience, whether in a subtle or strong way. Note that neural networks are also part of the body.
Studying sensation in the body over time facilitates pattern recognition. You can begin to identify the relationships between your feelings, thoughts, and actions. When you begin to familiarize with what sensations connect with what emotions and actions, you begin to recognize coherence within yourself. Many sensations and emotional states can be initially confusing and mislead us to actions that do not help our situation. Giving pause, whether in a full meditation practice or a brief moment of awareness, creates the space needed to open your experience into a broader context--one that allows you to overcome confusion and transcend the cycles of suffering.
Sometimes you find out that problems you have simply go away when you release tension from the body. In fact those problems were “reasons” you came up with to explain the discomfort in your body. It can go the other way around too. When you are honest with what you feel, offering open awareness to the present moment, any experience can build on the development of body awareness and emotional intelligence. This is very fascinating and rewarding.
Bringing together a variety of practices and rituals, such as meditation, journaling, reflection, and creative work can clarify the communications taking place within. This gives rise to both body awareness and emotional intelligence, and of course these grow together. We begin in an effort to better understand ourselves. What we learn can then be applied to better understand others. There is no mastery. This is a lifelong journey. And it's one the world deeply needs you to take.
Why engage in inner inquiry?
The goal of self-study is not to perfectly understand every emotional experience you have, but rather to be able to be present with each fluctuation, acknowledge it, respect it, and know that it, like everything else, will pass.
We tend to think that letting the emotions unfold is "too much," or they will be "too painful." But emotional experience can't be swept under the rug. When it is repressed, it is liable to crop up as irritability, aggression, physical pain, illness, and other cyclic forms of suffering. If you distract yourself from or try to cover up your emotional experience (for example, seeking high-stimulation situations or abusing substances), the emotions lock in, become less and less accessible, and eat away at you. This can feel like a terrible, relentless burden. Your emotional experiences don't really go away, no matter how hard you struggle or how long you run. They are right there. They don't need to be hidden or avoided. They need to be listened to.
Your emotional experiences don't really go away, no matter how hard you struggle or how long you run. They are right there. They don't need to be hidden or avoided. They need to be listened to.
Many of the problems our world is experiencing today are connected with emotional repression. We need to have the courage to not cover up our difficult experiences, and to engage constructively with our emotions. We need to learn that grief can be deeply insightful and even beautiful. We need to learn how guilt and shame are connected with the pathways of love and hope. When we accept and engage with our emotions, we do not feel that we suffer. We feel the emotional richness, and we discover acceptance, understanding, and compassion.
Many of the problems our world is experiencing today are connected with emotional repression.
It may be frightening to open to painful emotional experiences, but afterward, you will feel so much lighter and so much more spacious. Just like anything you practice, over time, you can become highly skilled at inner listening.
How do we start to connect with ourselves?
Any emotional experience can provide the entry point for understanding and transformation. Emotional experiences can happen in phases. There's no set structure for this, but one example might be anger-->sadness-->forgiveness-->acceptance/understanding. The exact details are not important. The important thing is how you engage with what you feel.
Meditation is an excellent practice for connecting with your emotional experiences because it sets an appropriate pace. It does not overwhelm you. Meditation shows you what you need to know, and it offers exactly what you need to make peace with yourself in the moment. How incredible, how simple, and how tragically unknown this is.
Meditation shows you what you need to know, and it offers exactly what you need to make peace with yourself in the moment.
By making space for and keeping up with your emotional experiences as they come, fully feeling the textures and depths of life events, you create room to move emotional experience along in its process. You liberate yourself from repeating cycles of suffering.
There is no handbook on "how" to open to your emotions, but there are certainly some practices and ideas that can support you. I think meditation and journaling are powerful pathways for inner inquiry. My main piece of advice is to just make space. Ask yourself how you feel, what you need, and create a safe space for the responses to take shape. Can you imagine what the world would be like if we all did that once a week?
Your ability to accept and constructively engage with your sensations and emotions is something that will transform your relationship with yourself and others, redirect your life, and create ripple effects throughout your social circles and your world. It’s life-changing. This is something our world needs as urgently as conservation, policy change, and creative action. So where to begin?
It begins with you
In the effort to develop body awareness and emotional intelligence, we may not have much in the way of formal education, but we do have the best option available: personal exploration.
When you begin to inquire into physical and emotional experience, this marks a beautiful beginning to an incredibly meaningful and prosperous journey. This is the kind of inquiry that changes what you notice and how you relate to yourself. It lightens you. Perhaps it enlightens you. You begin to come into alignment with yourself, into soul resonance, and no matter how much pain you find within, you find there also incomparable beauty, dignity, patience, forgiveness, and awe. We may go through some difficult and strong experiences when we inquire within. But beyond the swamps and the thickets, there is the most beautiful vista you can imagine, and once you see it, you realize the swamps and thickets are gorgeous and important too.
The 14-day online meditation program, "Body Connect," provides further guidance and inspiration in this journey of inner inquiry.