Note: I wrote this from the mountain town perspective but it applies to all habitats
Living in the mountains calls for many adventures, whether it’s wading out to your car through a foot of freshly fallen snow or backpacking to the perfect alpine location, the journey awaits. Mountain dwellers have a tenacity for the challenges that are presented in our unique environment. However, there is one adventure that can often be neglected for fear of the unknown; that is the exploration of emotional landscape. There are lots of reasons why a person may avoid allowing for the full experience of emotions: the uncomfortable physical sensations, the thought of getting stuck or lost or overwhelmed, the societal message of “don’t go there”. But since when do any of those reasons stop a mountain dweller from taking on a challenge.
Yes, opening ourselves to emotion experiencing can be difficult, uncomfortable and inconvenient. And yet, there are many benefical things that come from taking the journey through emotional exploration. Just like there is a benefit from running 50 miles or riding your bike all through the night, that sense of accomplishment and relief can come after fully experiencing difficult emotions. Another benefit is that emotions provide us with information that can help us with life decision making. Think about what you might do upon seeing dark clouds on the horizon when you are out for a hike, maybe pick up the pace or keep an eye out for shelter. Similarly, the rumbling of emotion can tell you to consider a new job or make more time for an old friend, for example. And the last benefit I’ll mention is that emotions give meaning, fullness, and color to life, even the hard ones. You have to wait through the cold and wet of the storm to get the rainbow afterwards, and if you try to shut out the pain of anger or sadness you won’t get to experience the delight of excitement or joy.
Often emotions that we’d rather not feel are put in a corner of the mind, ignored or avoided. In that corner these emotions will fester and become toxic, just waiting for an unexpected time to jump out and disrupt things. If you have ever lashed out at undeserving passerby or even an undeserving loved one, then you have experienced a festering emotion shooting out from its corner in a misdirected attempt to earn some attention. Emotions need attention and can lie in wait for as long as needed, sometimes pestering you to give it that attention and typically causing other problems in the meantime. There are many ways we can use to distract us from the presence of unprocessed emotions, some popular ones in mountain towns: exercise and alcohol/drugs. Both of these can be over-used as an escape from the nagging need, and more powerful fear, of allowing emotions to be present. But the escape is only temporary, because the need doesn’t go away.
Okay so maybe you feel ready now to embark on an emotional experiencing journey. You need a gear list and an itinerary, right? First find a comfortable, safe space and give yourself some time without distractions. Invite your emotions into your awareness. They are temporary guests so treat them with patience and kindness, and above all with acceptance and non-judgement. How you think about the emotions impacts how you are able to experience them, thinking “I shouldn’t feel this way” is going to limit the fullness of the experience. Once your emotion guests are present and welcome you can begin to FEEL your feelings. It is not just a coincidence that emotions are also known as feelings, so pay attention to the physical sensations that arise with the presence of the emotion. Are the sensations warm, cold, sharp, pulsating, heavy, electrical? Experiment with how they may shift when you tune into each sensation, or take a deep breath into it, or send it messages of loving acceptance. Notice any urges for action that may be presented by the emotion, such as to scream or sing or clench your fists, follow the urges (as long as they are safe) and watch how the experience unfolds. All of this may feel overwhelming or unwanted at times, watch for that too and remind yourself that you are strong and can make it to the light at the end of the tunnel. Remind yourself the pain is worth the end result of peace and resolution. Think of the words of philosopher poet Rumi, who wrote that each emotion “may be clearing you out from some new delight”. When you have found the light at the end of the tunnel and completed your adventurous journey through emotional experiencing you will gain relief and release and possibly new insights or inspiration. Emotions are a part of a healthy mountain lifestyle (of course any lifestyle) and they are a territory where I can offer guide service if you would like to embark on your journey with an expert companion.