Naming and Being at Home with Our Feelings

I recently listened to an On Being podcast on depression and found that the author, Anita Burrows, had published translations from the German poet, Rilke, one of my favourites. One book was a collection of daily reflections from Rilke’s writings, called A Year with Rilke. A particular passage seems to relate well to our own recent reflections.
Just keep on, quietly and earnestly, growing through all that happens to you. You cannot disrupt this                      process more violently than by looking outside yourself for answers that may only be found by attending                to your innermost feeling. (15)

We recently mentioned that all of us have the whole array of human feelings, from profound joy to immense sorrow to unruly anger. It seems essential at once to recognize this puzzling variety of deep feelings, while at the same time holding on to a conviction of our sacred worth.

We have often spoken as well of allowing ourselves, in a safe place, whether quietly by ourselves, or in the presence of a trustworthy caring friend, to feel our deepest feelings. As we feel them, without either repressing them or unleashing them, the next task is to name them.

Gordon Cosby, in an article entitled “Journey to the Place of Central Silence,” speaks in a fascinating way about this process. He writes that naming our experience from within enables us to reach an inward place of silence.
When we withdraw from our usual occupations and try to settle down, we find it hard to sit still, we are                restless and ill at ease. Our task is to acknowledge these feelings, to meditate on them, and try to discover               what they have to tell us. With time to listen and to reflect, we will awake to what is in our hearts–all those           feelings that in the rush of our days we keep hidden from ourselves and from others. Silence will put us in             touch with yearnings, anxieties, pain, despair, envy, competition, and a host of other feelings that need to be         put into words if we are to move toward a place of centeredness and come into possession of our lives. The          fact is that most of us have an incredible amount of unfaced suffering in our histories that has to be looked at      and worked through.

In naming our inner feelings, we can also look to discover what lies beneath some of them, For example, we find ourselves annoyed and even expressing unfriendly words with those close to us, perhaps even moreso in pandemic circumstances. It may be because we feel safe to do so because of an underlying awareness that our irritation will not put an end to their caring for us nor erase the wider caring context of our connection with them. We may then realize that our deeper feelings are gratitude and trust and caring.

In a similar way we and those closest to us may want the best for each other, may want each other to become the best persons we can be. Yet this may be experienced on the surface as an expression of judgment and control rather than caring. Here the words of Richard Rohr may be helpful. “Sincerely caring for another person before trying to change him or her is the only way a person will change anyway.” (Immortal Diamond, 182)

Homelessness, as an inner experience, is precisely the attempt to run from ourselves into outer busyness and distraction. To the extent that we are moving, however tentatively, towards a recognition of our sacred worth, we are able to return home to our inmost, core self. We can then realize that it is possible gradually to live from that inner sacredness and that we need not abandon it out of fear. As many writers have said, we are all flawed human beings, but these limitations do not negate our sacred worth. They do negate our finding total fulfillment in any other human being or reality, or being a source of such fulfillment for one another. But we can share, with vulnerability, our common longing. Nor can we save the world, but we can take the next step, according to our gifts, in bringing a little more light to places of darkness.

Along the same lines, we have referred to a favourite quotation from Richard Rohr, who says that suffering that is not transformed is transmitted. This thought is expressed as well in the words of Gordon Cosby quoted above. Rohr goes on to explain that “ we shouldn’t try to get rid of our own pain until we’ve learned what it has to teach. When we can hold our pain consciously and trustfully (and not project it elsewhere), we find ourselves in a very special liminal space. Here we are open to learning and breaking through to a much deeper level of faith and consciousness.” Then we can become “the wounded healers of the world, and healers who have fully faced their wounds are the only ones who heal anyone else.”

The key realization here is that not only do our own wounds or other limitations and mistakes not negate our sacred worth, but they may make us more compassionate and forgiving for ourselves and others, and be a healing presence for one another.

May your own pain, however great or small, become a source of healing for your own spirit and for those who share in some way your life journey.

Norman King. February 22, 2021