At this time of year, we feel it. Back to school is a time of transition, which evokes so many emotions. For some, leaving behind the carefree days of summer brings sadness and frustration when the summer fun ends and the “real world” of busy schedules and increased stress begins. For others, dropping off a child at college stirs intense feelings of sadness and longing for the past. New schools, new beginnings and saying good-bye remind us all this time of year of the intensity of being human. Anxiety, fear, uncertainty, sadness, joy and excitement are tangible for so many of us starting a new school year - - parents and children face new situations, changing routines and new benchmarks in our journey forward. So, how do we deal with all of these intense emotions? Our “go to” method of coping with strong emotions is usually avoidance. Overeating, long hours at work, traveling, cleaning, planning, browsing the web, drinking all offer us brief distractions from feeling what we are feeling. These may provide some temporary relief, but those intense feelings are still there, lying just below the surface. And, these methods of avoidance carry their own unhealthy side effects on our bodies and minds.
Robert Frost once said, “The best way out is always through.” In order to properly process our emotions, we must allow ourselves to feel them. Matthew Brensilver, one of my mindfulness teachers, recently made the analogy of intense human emotions being like eating a meal that is way too big. The best way to deal with that discomfort is to simply sit and digest it. It may take some time, but sitting with stillness and quiet, acknowledging what we are feeling and allowing ourselves to feel it, is a very gentle way of digesting the intensity of our human experience.
I recently spent a week at the Garrison Institute with over 100 colleagues from the Mindful Schools Community as part of an intensive yearlong training program. The first three days were spent in total silence – no talking, no reading, no television, no computers or cell phones, no communication of any kind. Just three long, lovely days with my thoughts, my emotions and myself. It was fascinating, difficult, joyful and rejuvenating. At the end of the silence, I felt as if my central nervous system had been rebooted. Everything seemed clearer, brighter, simpler and more intense. I had time to digest, to sit in silence and to reconnect inward - - to deal with the good, the bad and the ugly, and to come out feeling whole, calm and peaceful.
Finding time to sit quietly each day, to reconnect inward and to feel whatever it is we are feeling, even if it is only for a few minutes a day, gives us the time and the space we need to digest and reboot. Each day is different, bringing with it its own set of feelings. Some days are joyful, others less so. To meet each day with self-compassion and kindness, and full acceptance of whatever it is we are feeling (“Hello sadness!”) helps us greet our experience with a sense of openness and a recognition of the impermanence of our emotions (this too shall pass, but first let me feel it). Taking the time to sit with whatever we are feeling, helps build resilience, inner strength and confidence to know that we can make it through feelings that are uncomfortable or unpleasant. It also wakes us up to feelings of joy and happiness that we may miss because we are too busy to notice them.
In this time of transition and change, try simply sitting with your emotions, giving yourself a little quiet time, offering yourself compassion and kindness in your experience and recognize that this is all part of the intensity and the beauty of being human.
I wish you well and I wish you peace in your journey.