Being open: A way out of suffering
“We do not discover the wisdom of our feelings
because we do not let them complete their work;
we try to suppress them or discharge them in premature action,
not realising that they are a process of creation which, like birth,
begins as a pain and turns into a child”
- Alan Watts
Our primary nature is to be emotionally open and free. A baby is just itself, completely vulnerable, full of trust and capable of love. It has no shame, fear or opinion about itself or others. It doesn’t know about low self-esteem, depression or anxiety, because it can feel and express itself without any constriction. A baby is completely psychologically healthy and fully alive: pure and innocent acceptance.
This is how we come into the world and how we can leave it if we start opening up again to our true nature. But, what happens to us in the meantime is usually a different story. Why do we feel afraid and angry so often? Why do we suffer from anxiety, shame or low self-esteem, or even develop more severe psychological problems?
First cause of suffering: Covering up emotional pain
The answer to all of these questions lies in the relationship we have with emotional pain. When we are children, or in a condition of psychological and/or physical vulnerability and get hurt emotionally or are not loved enough, we cannot afford to maintain our openness and feel emotional pain at the same time. It is unbearable.
Therefore, nature makes us temporarily renounce our openness and we develop an emotional bandage around the pain. The first layer of this bandage is mainly made out of fear and anger. These emotions act like bodyguards, creating an apparent sense of separation by isolating or suppressing pain.
Second cause of suffering: Control strategies
Our modern Western society is, generally speaking, not really a supportive society when it comes to dealing with pain, anger, and fear and finding our way back to our open, natural self. In fact, it is mainly based on power and control as a way to avoid or neglect these feelings.
In this context, we are compelled to develop a second layer of bandage, which is made up of different control strategies. Basically, we start avoiding or manipulating external situations which might awaken our old pain: pleasing others in order not to be rejected and therefore feel pain; rejecting others in order not to let them come closer and possibly hurt us.
How suffering develops
When one of these situations becomes our main one, we start to contract and shrink emotionally. We develop another layer of suffering made up of different psychological symptoms like anxious and sad feelings, addictive behaviours, low self-esteem, co-dependency or isolation, guilt and shame, psychosomatic problems etc.
We usually approach our symptoms in a negative way, applying the same defensive approach that caused them in the first place: we try to get rid of them.
If we do this, we go even deeper into a spiral of suffering, and psychological symptoms will become psychological disorders, like depression, anxiety, addictions, etc. It is like a bandage that’s been on a wound for too long, it starts to produce an infection.
From symptoms to feelings: The healing spiral
It is important to understand that the symptoms are not our enemies, they function like an alarm; helping us to become aware that we are moving too far away from our true nature and openness. Instead of escaping them, we should experience and try to understand them deeply, because they have the code for accessing our feelings.
In approaching symptoms and the following feelings in a positive way, we basically stop a suffering spiral and open up to a healing spiral. It is crucial to include feelings and emotions in our experience, in fact, each time we reject them, in reality, we reject ourselves as we are at that moment, therefore they try to find other ways to be heard. Basically, they don’t knock from outside to get in, but from inside to be acknowledged.
The way back to our natural self can be found by practicing being present with our emotions and expressing them at an experiential level. The most direct and effective way to do this is through using breath, sounds, and movement. I personally guide people using a type of emotional- and body-oriented therapy that we call Emotional Release Therapy.
The principle of this therapy is that inside of each emotion and feeling, positive or negative, our life force is pulsating. If the emotion is allowed to be experienced and expressed, we become one with our life force. What a joy and happiness in feeling alive again! Our body becomes lighter and powerful, our breathing becomes more open and our mind is no longer clouded but clear and worry-free.
Being open again
Once we start to accept our deeper feelings in a continuative way, we experience an increasing and more stable sense of contentment and happiness. Rather than being busy controlling or manipulating what we feel, we start to understand that what we call negative feelings are just a part of life and are worthy of being felt. This is an important moment because we’ll start to realise, more or less consciously, that being open is our natural state.
It's impossible not to be happy when you are open and sharing! If we keep deepening our understanding of this, it will help us to experience authentic self-esteem, which, with time, evolves into a sort of “life-esteem”: A deep sense of trust and appreciation for how life is already sorting things out beautifully by itself.
“You are in a misunderstanding with clinging to feeling good and bad.
You overlook what you actually love in the midst of any feeling good or bad…”
- Dolano, Zen Master