Commitment #2: Openness to the Full Emotional Range
Even when my feelings are uncomfortable for me, I want to stay present with myself and keep my heart open to the fullness of my emotional experience. If I find myself shrinking away from my experience, getting numb or shut down, I want to seek support to release defensiveness and open to what is.
This commitment is both a goal to pursue for the full aliveness it nurtures, as well as a process that supports other goals. Opening to our emotions, overcoming any blocks to our experience, opens us up and makes us more able to stretch toward our deepest values, because it’s more often than not an unwillingness to feel certain things that prevents us from living as we want.
Our complicity with any part of the legacy of violence or domination we may have inherited from our families and societies came about through shutting down in the face of unbearable emotions. The willingness to feel again, especially uncomfortable emotions, is thus essential in order to find freedom again and choose nonviolence.
If we remain within our comfort zone, we are unlikely to grow in our capacity to live our values. Conversely, if we stretch beyond the edge within which we can continue to breathe and be with ourselves, we can reach a state where we cannot function at all, bringing us back to shutting down. How do we find a way to stretch beyond our comfort zone without getting into the alarm zone?
For myself, I study my emotions and examine what I do and how I respond to different situations and settings. For example, I learned over the years that relaxing into pain and despair about the gap between my vision and the reality keeps the pain in place and only changes my relationship with it, especially more acceptance of the pain. With shame, on the other hand, the more I willingly step into it, the less of it I have. These days I’ve been focusing on helplessness. I am learning that my aversion to helplessness keeps me from full humility and acceptance, and thereby reduces my ability to choose nonviolence under extreme conditions. This commitment, in short, is about reaching for freedom despite and through whatever fear of emotions we may still carry.
1) Explore the feelings list to acquaint yourself with a rich palette of possibilities, then pick a few to engage with: which emotions are easy for you to be open to? Which ones do you get so immersed in that you lose choice? Which ones do you resist and move away from?
2) Review your day or week and note moments in which you contracted away from an emotion and as a result didn’t respond in the way you would most wish. Imagine the incident again, pause when you reach the emotion, and take a few deliberate breaths with the intention of remaining open to that particular emotion. Do this a few times until you feel some release and opening.
About the author:
Miki Kashtan is a co-founder of Bay Area Nonviolent Communication (BayNVC). She is inspired by the role of visionary leadership in shaping a livable future, and works toward that vision by sharing the principles and practices of Nonviolent Communication through mediation, meeting facilitation, consulting, and training for organizations and for committed individuals. Miki blogs at the Fearless Heart. Her articles have appeared in Tikkun magazine (e.g.Wanting Fully Without Attachment), Waging Nonviolence (e.g. Pushing the powerful into a moral corner at India’s Barefoot College), Shareable, and elsewhere.
New to this blog? Read Miki’s Introduction to this series ‘All -in: fully committing to a life of nonviolence’