Kids, partners, aging parents, siblings…all offer a plethora of opportunities to work with BIG feelings. In my ongoing effort to become more present and less reactive, I’ve discovered a helpful reminder: Don’t Shoot the Messenger. The people bringing the message that trigger the BIG feelings are simply messengers delivering a divine morsel (the big feeling) to aid our healing path.
Recently, my teenage son offered yet another opportunity for my emotional growth. He had been through a rough spell with a broken collarbone sitting at the kitchen table under my oppressing presence* attending to missed assignments. His job was to write three paragraphs describing various emotions. One paragraph per emotion. “How many sentences in a paragraph? Two?” he mumbled as he scratched out illegible words on the paper. I started to feel heat build and swirl in my body. Without a doubt, his writing was better in second grade. “Capitalize your sentences and put a period at the end!” I said sternly (for the billionth time).
There was zero desire, interest or motivation in his attempt to write the paragraph. As he stared into space twirling his pencil, I felt the swirl in my body get wilder and stronger until suddenly it rose up into my throat and erupted and a volcano of angry words flew out of my mouth. The words were not about my ability/inability to handle the emotion I was feeling. Oh, no. They were directed at him. In my whacked out state, it seemed as if he had done it differently, I would not be feeling this way.
Stop. (Stop, Take a breath, Observe, Proceed)
Wait, wasn’t that supposed to happen before the words flew out of my mouth?
I’ve been reading, researching, practicing and teaching on the subject of mindful parenting for years and still get triggered. I know about STOP, but how do I stop when the feeling has a strength and trajectory that feels so much bigger than me?
It turns out, BIG feelings are diamonds in the rough. They are keys to the internal radar guiding our emotional growth. When a BIG feeling arises – whether it’s anger, fear, judgement or something else, it is a divine gift from the Universe asking very simply: Be with me. When we attend to and hold this feeling with awareness, we integrate aspects of ourselves that were lost, afraid or felt judged. This is the path of healing and wholeness.
It’s easy to confuse the message with the messenger especially when we sense a loss of control with our kids who tend to command and stir our strongest, deepest feelings. But if we can remember the feeling we garner in response to their action or inaction is a divine gift for us to integrate, then we are less likely to lash out.
In the heat of the moment as the internal tornado starts to surge, I connect the words to the feeling: DON’T SHOOT THE MESSENGER. I see the beautiful boy, sister, husband, friend sitting in front of me, and I may have a better chance to stop the eruption so my relationship will not suffer from words that I can never take back.
*Side note: This post was released with the permission of my son only after changing the verbiage: "under my tutelage" to "under my oppressing presence". I am forever grateful for how these kids make me not only a better mother, but also a better writer.
I got the vaccine. I got COVID. But neither of those events (thankfully) were as troubling as the discovery at my post-COVID doctor’s visit that I have gained 15 pounds. Being a dancer and yogi most of my life, this was highly unusual and deeply disturbing. You would think one would know they are gaining that much weight, but I surmise I was in a pandemic-induced fog which prevented me from noticing the effects of “comfort measures” on my body. In shock and dismay, I started to unpack the situation. Here’s what I discovered and what I’m doing.
I started by taking inventory of the events that happened during this time and came up with a 7-step action plan.
#1: Be Kind
I refuse to be mean to myself choosing to hold myself in compassionate awareness. This begins with carefully monitoring my inner dialogue. My initial reaction is to blame and criticize but that only digs deep the well of self-loathing and I gave up on that method a long time ago. I notice more and change negative self-talk into a nurturing, understanding voice. The inventory list really helped with that!
#2: Get Creative
I have a stack of magazines a mile high and all kinds of cardboard that I scrap from the garage. I set aside time to create my next vision board. I invited my 14 year old into the process. We had so much fun connecting and creating. I like to set a specific intention for the collage and then let my inner guidance do the work – keeping the mental out of it. The end result is a beautiful, refreshing poster hanging on my wall and reminding me daily that anything is possible.
#3: Set a Reasonable Goal
I decided to take a slow and steady approach to the weight loss. There are so many ways you can do this, but I’ve learned that a tee total scene doesn’t work for me. Less bread, less sugar and daily exercise are my goals. The 12-minute workout and walking the dogs count.
#4: Stay connected to close friends and allies
Sharing my experience with understanding friends is always important to me. I can’t do this life journey alone. I don’t want to. Thankfully, I have created a close circle of sisters who I can trust with my most embarrassing and vulnerable experiences. These incredibly kind women meet the following requirements:
Hands down, the most important thing I do and simultaneously the hardest. I committed to a morning and evening practice 23 days ago and haven’t missed a day yet. THIS is where I cultivate the ability to notice when I’m being unkind or reacting rather than responding. Meditation is the soil, seed and flower of my emotional growth.
#6: Let every moment matter
When every moment matters, I don’t have “time” to wallow in self-pity. I am engaged, embraced, feeling, noticing, and loving. It’s the best feeling ever. Period.
#7: Be of service
This is a work in progress. I’m glimpsing the incredible impact service has on our souls. I say yes to the opportunities that present themselves. Currently, I’m getting the mail and taking out the trash for my neighbor who recently lost her partner. Our family is pet-sitting another four-legged one indefinitely while a different neighbor endures a tragic health crisis. I smile at passersby and have gratitude for my network of friends and family. There are infinite ways to be of service.
Sidenote: I know I'm not alone. An APA "Stress in America" survey conducted in February 2021 found 42% of US adults reported undesired weight gain since the start of the pandemic with an average gain of 29 pounds. There are numerous resources on the matter shared online, but I prefer to make up my own rules so very often. How did you fare on the weight front? What are you doing? I would love to hear your ideas and feedback. xo