Turbulent emotions and an unstable world
With the world in a state of perpetual instability, the emotional challenges many of us face in our personal lives are being exacerbated by the new world we are entering.
Uncertainties around health, education, employment, food, housing, and community—already prevalent—have intensified and become more widespread.
One or several of these uncertainties have become part and parcel of the lives of many.
Our emotional resilience is being stretched, and for some people, it can feel unbearable.
So, when we get struck with feelings of anxiety, powerlessness, loneliness, hopelessness, depression, or even despair, how do we respond?
When these feelings are real and an individual feels them deep in the fibers of their body, what is the solution to finding peace within?
When avoidance is not the answer
As Muslims, when we experience strong, perpetually negative feelings, we may be told, “It’s a test, sister; be patient and have trust in Allah,” or “Have you read the Qur’an, brother; it will give you strength and hope.”
Or we may hear other well-intended advice coming from friends and relatives who wish the best for us.
There is certainly truth in these examples of advice given.
At the same time, while phrases such as “have patience and trust in Allah” are valid, they can remain intellectual ideas lacking any depth of traction.
To activate these qualities with meaning so that traction occurs, a capacity we can exercise is that of directing our attention to the internal world with the “patience” (sabr) and “trust” (tawakkul) we are being asked to have.
Another hurdle is that many of us will have received childhood messages that some emotions are good and some are bad.
We may also have been told that negative experiences such as “despair” are from Shatyan; an audience member put this in the chat box at an online event I recently spoke at.
The cultural conditioning that has shaped us will have led most of us to develop strategies to suppress or avoid emotional experiences we consider “wrong” or “bad.”
The remedy, however, may not be in emotional avoidance but in the exact opposite. We may need more time to fully feel what is here.
Radical honesty and the power of acceptance
“…and that it is He alone who causes [you] to laugh and to weep”
– Qur’an 53:43
Just as storms are nature’s way of restoring balance in the atmospheric system, the storms in our psyches, governed by the same Divine intelligence, also serve that function in the inner world.
Our psyches “know” how to move from a state of turmoil to a state of inner peace and wholeness.
The mechanisms are there, built in by the Creator, and all that is needed is for “us,” our ego-mind, to surrender to the intelligence present.
This is where patience and trust comes in. Thus, rather than resisting and fighting against a “negative” emotion, if we were to instead give ourselves permission to fully feel that emotional ‘storm’ in our body, our relationship with our emotional pain is transformed.
Pushing against a “negative” feeling only keeps it stuck. All the while, the emotion churns away under the surface.
The storm gains strength, and we are easily triggered into destructive reactions by everyday life events.
Invitation to a practise
Rumi wisely says, “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”
In this spirit, if you have a strong, troubling emotion, I invite you to find a place where you won’t be disturbed for a few minutes and sit with it as follows: Let the eyes close.
Notice what emotion you are feeling in your body, and see if you can name what it is: Is it anger, sadness, anxiety, shame? Or something else?
Then, name where in the body you feel that right now? Put your attention onto that area.
Gently surround the raw feeling with your acceptance. This is an opportunity to be truly patient with that feeling. If it helps, use the breath to connect more with it.
As you feel and accept the raw feeling in the body, it will feel welcome. It won’t stay stuck hanging out beneath the surface.
It will instead have permission to come through and out.
It isn’t for us to force anything, but simply to trust in and surrender to the process.
The ‘storm’ can then do its work, helping to rebalance the system, and leaving us more at peace, and transformed.
Opening through the layers
It may be that once we feel and open into one feeling, another one starts coming through.
Perhaps we fully feel that raw anger. It passes through. A different feeling may now arise.
Perhaps hurt, sadness or something else can often be something beneath anger.
We can do the same for this new feeling. This may lead us to move through a number of “emotional layers.” Eventually, we may open up into a more peaceful, expanded state.
I elaborate further on this process in the E-Book, ‘Radical Healing, Wholeness and Islam: An Introductory Narrative on Transforming Emotional Pain Through Journeywork’, which describes how it can be used for deep therapeutic work.
But the foundation is always the feeling and acceptance of emotions that arise.
This article is from our archives.