I often feel that my emotions are running my life. When it comes to happiness, joy, peace and love, that's fine by me; but when it's fear, sadness, anxiety, loneliness or depression, that's not so good. We like to think that we're in conscious control of our lives all the time, but the reality is that everything we do is driven by an emotion of one sort or another. We're constantly either seeking the pleasant emotions or avoiding the unpleasant ones. Our emotions exist in our subconscious, so we often aren't consciously aware of them until they pop up strongly enough to interrupt what we're doing and make their presence felt. But they still play their role whether we acknowledge it or not; and if we ignore them, they just get louder and stronger until we start paying attention.
Our society places a premium analytical thinking and often downplays the importance of emotions. We learn very little about the role of emotions in our lives at school or university; which is ironic considering that it's not our analytical thinking that is driving our behaviour: it's our emotions. If we really want to get a handle on running our lives more effectively, we need to deal with how we feel. As a guy growing up in a family where emotions weren't generally expressed directly but were often bottled up, I had lots of practice at pushing down how I felt for many years. Yet I always knew I had strong feelings; I just felt out of place in a family and society where they didn't seem to be recognised. A bit like a square peg in a round hole. Not surprisingly, when I did start to deal with some of the emotional pain I had experienced in life, it wasn't particularly pleasant. But it was either that, or suffer an awful loneliness, anxiety and depression. Emotions are the key binding force between people and being able to recognise and express them is essential for having really meaningful relationships. Empathy is the basis of all deep connections between us, and unless we know how to express how we feel, that's not going to work so well.
My 20-year career in engineering was great fun while it lasted, but none of the training or on-the-job experience dealt with the topic of emotions. So I figure I have some catch-up work to do. Many women I meet complain about their disillusionment with men who are “like robots” when it comes to their emotional availability: workaholics, perfectionists, pessimists; all working hard to avoid how they feel or just lacking the skills or practise at expressing it. I don't want to be one of them any more. Coming down with chronic fatigue 14 months ago also had a huge impact on me; one of its common symptoms is that feeling tired and sick all the time tends to magnify any unpleasant emotions; and it's the emotional and psychological toll that this takes more than the physical illness which causes me suffering.
With all this is mind, I recently drove 900 km from Sydney to Melbourne to attend Nicholas de Castella's Passionately Alive workshop on emotional mastery. I knew that a theoretical knowledge of emotions wasn't going to cut it; I had to actually experience how I really felt, pleasant or unpleasant, to release the bottled up emotional energy and get a better handle on dealing with my emotions. I had met Nicholas briefly once before, and from what I read in his Heart Thoughts newsletter, I could see that he was the real deal when it came to putting emotional intelligence into practise and could provide a safe environment for doing so. We also had a bit in common: being the “sensitive” one in families where this hadn't been validated, left-brained careers that ultimately became unfulfilling, and even the chronic fatigue thing. Nicholas seemed like a compassionate man, and I was pretty sure I'd be able to relate to what he had to say.
I knew I was tuned-in and ready for getting in touch with my emotions even before I arrived: A guy in the barber in Albury had suggested I take a back route to The Basin east of Melbourne, which took me past the turn-off to King Lake, a suburb devastated by recent bushfires with tragic loss of life and property. From far-off Sydney, the bushfires had been a media-frenzy far away, but I felt an immediate sense of heaviness as I drove through the burnt-out forest towards the workshop.
The workshop itself consisted of a 3½ day residential with a series of small group exercises and sharing in pairs. Each day built upon the previous one, as Nicholas shared his insights into the role of our emotions. We laughed, we cried, we danced, we sang, we got angry, we yelled and screamed, and we allowed ourselves to feel whatever we felt without being judged for it. It was all very cathartic. The process was intense, but I never felt anxious about what Nicholas was going to get us to do next. It was tremendously moving, and it was remarkable how close the group felt to each other due to the sharing that was going on and the respect we all showed for each other's journey through life. During a Breathwork session, I literally felt emotional energy buzzing in my body for the first time.
There's still a voice from the rational part of my brain that jumps in every now and then while doing any kind of emotional exercise to say that “this is ridiculous!”. Usually it sounds a lot like my mother. But I'm learning to not listen to it so much any more, go with my intuition and listen to my feelings instead. The emotion I struggle with the most is anxiety: it's not always giving me helpful clues and more often than not, it seems to be getting in the way. Shame gets in the way too, big time. Both stop me from being free to be myself, to do what I want and have the life I truly desire.
Before Passionately Alive, I was feeling pretty anxious about a lot of things: my career, my relationships, and what I was doing with my life generally. At the workshop, I got a lot of my buried feelings off my chest, met other people willing to work at mastering their emotions too, and learned some new tools for continuing to do so in the future. I feel more peaceful now. I had a dream one night shortly after where I was being attacked by a robber, and as I woke in a state of panic I felt the fear rush through my body and leave, rather than hanging around like it used to do. I still wake up in the middle of the night sometimes wondering “where is my life all heading?”, but I've got more of a sense that I'm on the right track, whatever that is.
I wish all my friends and family would do things like Passionately Alive, so that we can all have deeper more meaningful relationships. This is the stuff that makes life worth living. If you struggle to find peace in your life or would like to be handling your emotions better, I highly recommend Passionately Alive. One of the ironies my group recognised was that the people who probably needed this training the most were the least likely to recognise it. So if you've never had any sort of training or therapy on the topic of emotions, but you just find some areas of life aren't working as well as you'd like or you keep pushing other people away or pissing them off repeatedly, perhaps this is just what the doctor ordered for you too.
For more information on how you can get your emotions to work for rather than against you, check the Institute of Heart Intelligence website. If you register for Passionately Alive, please mention this website and my name to Nicholas, tell him I sent you.