So much of life is spent “doing.” Putting things into action, getting stuff done, making "it" (whatever "it" may be) happen. Over these last few months, many of us have had to “slow your roll” and spend a lot of time with ourselves we hadn’t done in a long time. Many emotions have come up in massive waves or we’ve pushed things down to simply get through. But finding ways to welcome those feelings that start to come at you as opposed to being overwhelmed by them opens amazing doors within ourselves. They enlighten and inform us, bring us closer to who we are and what we want out of life, they’re good for our health (really) and bond us with those around us, whether we know them or not.
Why we call the “heart” our home
We all know our “heart” is just a muscle in our chest that keeps blood flowing through our body, yada, yada, on and on with science and medicine speak. The brain is actually the key to kickstart all we experience — emotionally, physically, you name it. We KNOW this, right? So why is it that the heart has become that magical term for where our feelings live? Ladies and Gentlemen, introducing the ancient Egyptians.
During the time of the pharaohs and pyramid building, the heart was believed to be the seat of all that made us tick. To them, it managed thought, emotion, memory, wisdom — basically, all that we now know the brain handles. It was the one organ that wasn’t preserved in one of those gorgeous canopic jars, but was left in the body. Why, you wonder? Well, they believed that it would help you make good decisions in the afterlife so why not have it right there where it belongs? As for the brain, the ancients shoved a long stick up your nose then pulled it through your nostrils because, let’s be honest, it was just another organ.
Because of this long ago belief, we still view the “heart”— what the ancients called the jb — as the home of all we feel. At least, metaphorically.
Embracing our deepest of deeps
There’s a great line from the novel THE SHINING that reads, “She had never dreamed there could be so much pain in a life when there was nothing physically wrong. She hurt all the time.” When we are feeling fear, deep sorrow, incredible grief — anything that takes us to a place of emotional hurt — our bodies manifest them in different ways. We may not get enough sleep, we don’t eat or we eat too much, we become listless, we put ourselves in situations that aren’t good for us or we ignore our self-care as we struggle through.
Conversely, when we feel joy, happiness, contentment, or have a positive outlook, we are naturally drawn to those things that reflect the “feel good” moments of life. We are more physically active, choose to eat and do things that are better for our physical well-being, are more relaxed and at ease. Hell, laughter is truly one of the best medicines. No matter what your emotions are, they show in one way or another in and on your body — you’ve heard the term, “You wear your emotions on your face.” Good or bad, yep, there it is. And how do we turn the pain into something we can accept and grow with? How do we layer those positive moments throughout ones we would normally consider negative?
You may recall a recent two-part article our friends Isabelle Bridges Boesch and Jessica Hagen wrote about fear. Embracing it, acknowledging it, learning how to use it to your benefit rather than your detriment. That’s the same with all emotion, all feelings. Turning it from something to deny into something to truly look at and address. Changing it from a temporary light into one that can fill you and you can access at any given time. And in so doing, being aware of the emotions of others and empathizing along the way.
Mental wellness isn’t “Always look on the bright side of life”
No matter who you are, there are bad days along with the good. You’ll get sad, you’ll feel anger, you’ll be stressed and you’ll be afraid at some point in your life. Having a positive outlook doesn’t mean you’re all sunshine and roses regardless of what happens. Our brain — yes, our mind — has different areas for those positive emotions and the negative ones. The good "feels" trigger what are called “reward” pathways in the ventral striatum of your noggin; those we tend to view as not so good come from the amygdala. Those emotions that don’t take us down the “bright side of life” are still valuable and necessary. They can help us address and react to difficult situations appropriately, as long as we don’t lay in that place too long.
Holding onto the negative is literally bad for your health. It can lead to high-blood pressure, weight gain, depression and a whole host of dark things. Pushing them down and not dealing with them is also a recipe for un-wellness. GI problems, migraines, skin eruptions, and on and on. But research also shows that having an unrealistic and abnormally high level of optimism creates psychological problems including resorting to riskier behaviors due to the belief that no matter what happens “everything’s gonna be oh-oh-kay-ay,” excessive mania and a different set of unique problems. Humans are built to have a wide range of emotions that go both light and dark, and we are geared toward operating in balance.
The ability to easily access your positive emotions when you feel yourself going dark, however, is excellent for your wellness. Those able to do so regularly and more readily — folks who are more “resilient” — live a more well-rounded and consistently healthy life. When the shit hits the fan in any negative direction, they find a way to learn and grow from the hurt or turn it on its head. Building that muscle, however, takes some practice but it can be done. Some ways are cognitive therapy, reflecting on a difficult situation and how to address it, and — our favorite — meditation.
Say your “namaste”
Feelings can run us ragged and just as taking a rest between sets when you’re working out so you don’t push yourself to the breaking point, your “heart” needs to take a breather when something is pushing it in a direction that may burn you out. Meditating is that “take five” we need from time to time to bring us back in balance. It’s the respite from the chaos of being in our own head that can lead us down even more paths that confuse, incite and cause us to second guess ourselves.
It is possible for us to learn how to keep the dark and the light in harmony so we can make the most out of both. We are human. We are bound to have hills and valleys along our path. Ignoring either keeps us isolated within ourselves. Both ignoring and focusing too much on either can create an imbalance within ourselves. Naturally embracing what's in your "heart" helps you face the challenges with a mind that's open to those positive pathways to help you overcome, and allows you to enjoy the bright spots without waiting for the other shoe to drop. I know it can be lonely when facing your emotions. You wonder if there's anyone else out there feeling as you do, but the more you learn to acknowledge and recognize your feelings, the deeper your understanding of not only the world around you, but the other humans going through their own emotional journey. And you know what you realize then?
You're not alone.