Written By Elaine Chan-Scherer, LCSW
I am writing this article close to Lunar New Year, Year of the Water Snake. It is supposed to be a year filled with connections, transformation, and discerning what choices need to be made. To me, it sounds like a recipe for a lot of emotional turmoil. So I thought I would share with you my thoughts on dealing with emotions.
Many of you know of Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, the neuroscientist who had a massive stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain. She gave a very popular TED talk, and wrote the book, My Stroke of Insight. In her book, she talks about how any emotion needs 90 seconds to be triggered, to cause a response, and then to be flushed out of our bloodstream. This means that when you are angry the physiological response occurs, and after 90 seconds the automatic response is over. After 90 seconds you CHOOSE to let that emotion continue. Some of us allow the emotion to continue for decades, for a lifetime. But the automatic response is actually physiologically over in 90 seconds. According to Dr. Taylor, we choose to hang on to our feelings of misery!
I found this information to be fascinating. I first learned about it when a friend shared about her father who had had a stroke. He told his friends that if he cried, they should just let him cry and it would be over in 90 seconds. And sure enough, it worked. I know so many people, myself included, who hold back feelings, instead of allowing them to flow for 90 seconds. If you allow those feelings to be fully felt, it is easier to release them. After the 90 seconds, if you choose to hang onto the feeling, then you are in the past instead of in the present.
Okay, so here is my recipe for dealing with those unwelcome, difficult feelings:
When we grasp onto a feeling and try to keep it there (such as joy or outrage), or wrestle with it to try to get rid of it (such as sadness or embarrassment), we are stuck. We are most alive when we can experience our feelings and then allow them to dissipate. So fully feel your joy, or fully feel your sadness, or fully feel your embarrassment for 90 seconds. Then notice how it dissipates. Notice how after 90 seconds, you are feeling something new. Clinging to one feeling is static; it dampens our ability to fully experience the present.
Birdwings, by 13th century Persian poet Rumi gives us beautiful imagery and lovely guidance for the flexibility we can cultivate in processing feelings:
Your grief for what you've lost lifts a mirror up to where you're bravely
working. Expecting the worst, you look, and instead, here's the joyful
face you've been wanting to see.
Your hand opens and closes and opens and closes.
If it were always a fist or always stretched open,
you would be paralyzed. Your deepest presence is in every small
contracting and expanding, the two as beautifully balanced and
coordinated as birdwings.