There are many therapies out there — different approaches aimed at helping people become more effective and less fearful. What I’ve learned is that good psychological health comes down to emotional energy and whether this energy inside you is positive and moving or negative and stuck. I like the metaphor of the river with flowing clean water vs. the murky pond or swamp filled with rocks, debris and sludge. The point is not to avoid the difficult emotions but to find a way of expressing them and moving them out of your heart, brain, body and spirit. This is essentially what I do at my retreats — help people empty their ponds of dark emotions such as anger, rage, shame, guilt, anxiety, insecurity, etc. At a rational level, we understand that bad stuff happens. People die or fail us in other ways. But emotionally we may not come to terms with some of life’s betrayals and injustices. These wounds accumulate in the pond wreaking havoc on our health and our relationships. Not only that, this dark energy chokes our creativity and our life force making us feel victimized by life rather than empowered.
If you feel “stuck” in your life, it could be because you’re stuck emotionally. If you’re overwhelmed with anger or sadness, it could be because your swamp is too full of hurts. It’s time to let it flow out of you. Men are typically more emotionally constipated than women. It’s not their fault — we socialize men this way. We tell them that “feelings” are not masculine. Some of us figure out that it’s our emotions that are not working but what do we do? We pop pills. Drugs are temporary solutions and eventually they can even turn against us. This is why anti-depressants come with warning labels. Others seek counselling or coaching. It does help but sadly it takes a long time to empty the swamp just by talking about it. Some “old” wounds like shame, for example, are very stubborn. You need a magical pump that forces shame and other toxic emotions to the surface in a loving way and then helps it flow
s out of you like a river. You’ve got to feel it, to heal it to let it flow. I have created an emotional healing process which I practice with couples but also at my intensive retreats for women and men. I have witnessed first hand the transformation that can occur in people when they express and release the emotional debris in their ponds.
You might be thinking if these emotions are old and repressed, why bother them? Just leave them alone. Let sleeping dogs lie. Researchers report the harm toxic emotions like anger, shame and anxiety do to our health. Not only that, but these emotions hijack our rational mind and our behaviour. They ruin relationships because the dark emotions in the swamp cause us to feel “triggered” by what people say and do. And sadly, the people we love the most, we end up pushing away because of our negative emotional reactions to them. For example: Let’s say you had a controlling mother who made all your decisions. She was loud and abrasive and domineering. Whenever anyone tries to tell you what to do, this memory gets activated and you react negatively. I believe that “hell” is being triggered by everyone all the time. “Heaven” is taking nothing personally. Other than a Buddhist monk, who can do this? The answer is that anyone can learn to do this, just as the Buddhists do with their intensive practice.
The key is to make sure your emotions are flowing like a river. Ask yourself: Who pushes my buttons and why? What angers me? What shuts me down? We spend millions of dollars acquiring knowledge for the mind, yet we resent it when we have to spend money for our emotional well-being. If your heart is stuck in the black swamp, weighed down by forgotten hurts and betrayals, it can’t feel love, joy, or passion. We are mammals. We need to attach to people but with a heavy heart, our attachments are fraught with problems and unnecessary triggers. And so we lead lives of quiet desperation—hoping for that moment of inspiration, the smile from a stranger, the hug from a child that lifts our heart, albeit only temporarily, to higher ground.
Rainer Maria Rilke said that our greatest work — that which all other work was but preparation — is to love. But I believe there is something more foundational for modern men and women — our greatest work is to empty that swamp of hardened and toxic feelings until it flows clean and pure like a river into the sea of love. Helping people with this has been my life’s purpose and passion.
“Cry if you need to, it’s good to cry out all your tears, because only then you will be able to smile again…”
―Paul Coelho, Like the Flowing River