In most veins of men’s personal growth work, emotions are king. Feeling, ‘dealing with’, and unblocking our emotions is at the core of most men’s workshops and transformational retreats. So much so that some men come to fetishise emotions: if I cry, it must be a breakthrough! I must be doing this thing well! Not always true. Luckily, feeling emotions is not the end of the road, just a step along the way to something grander. But an unmissable step, I must say.
If we think of the four depths from the previous post, emotions occupy a curious place. Our masks and defences are in place to protect us from feeling our emotions, which are the primal flow of our animal energy. Yet it is only by feeling our emotions (and the full primal palette of our animal energies) that we get to transmute them into Presence. We can only embody our depth and potential once we pass through the Underworld of our emotions and our full, vital energy. And we can only let go of the masks and defences that keep us separate from others, once we allow and accept the emotions that would otherwise run underneath.
So what are emotions? Emotions are raw, aggressive energy that moves through the body, unleashed via hormones, and hardwired in us since mammalian times. They might be the feeling tones of our relationships, much of the meaning we make of the moments of our lives. But emotions came into being to help us survive, particularly by navigating our social environment, enabling us to build packs and tribes — to stand on our hairy hind legs — and fend off the deadly predators of our wilderness. But in the age of the neo-cortex we began to civilise ourselves, to reflect on our more animal impulses, and we’ve come to separate ourselves from these drives. We identify as lofty minds, looking down on our messy hormonal inner lives, and we habitually judge, categorise, avoid, suppress or minimise our emotions. We disidentify from our beastliness. However, our acceptance or our limitation of how we feel impacts the quality of our emotional flow. Being ‘open’ to the entirety of our emotions means accepting pain, sadness, rage, grief, longing, hatred, jealousy, attraction, the will to power — and importantly, accepting that we’re more animal and wild than we might like to admit. Being ‘closed’ to our emotions looks like walling off, distracting ourselves with addictions, keeping ourselves and our lives private from others, or putting up ridiculous façades. We grey, drug, and sedate the primate; or paint its nails, shave its chest, and place it in haute couture. Most often, this suppression and denial means shallow relationships and being alone, a lack of animal vitality, depression, illness. The more open we are to our emotions, the richer our interpersonal relationships, our health, and our connection to the sublime. To accept our emotions is embracing our deep evolution. Relating to our emotions… is king.
Here’s the thing: once I learn that I can feel an emotion fully, that I can survive the experience and still be ok, I can then lay down the defences that were blocking that emotion for so many years. Increasing my ‘emotional intelligence’ means I can feel wild and coarse like an animal, but not lose myself to my beast-like impulses. I can allow space for vulnerability, and know I will not be shamed or ostracised by the pack for doing so. Yet it’s a tricky thing for the deep bodymind to learn. Often we defend ourselves against our emotions, fearing that if I cry, the river of tears will be so deep I’ll never get back up. We sense that if I explode, the anger will be so big I might kill someone. These fears around feeling seem so real and true. And they were… to the child who couldn’t complete the process of their emotions before being told to put a sock in it, to pull it together. We need to re-learn, as adults, that we are big enough a container to feel ALL of our emotional possibilities, and still retain our centeredness and presence while doing so. This is possible. And I repeat: it is a tricky learning to transmit to the deep bodymind — the subconscious and reactive muscle structure — even the smartest of adults!
Funnily enough, if you are to touch the bottom of your stored-up grief, you’ll probably only cry for two or three minutes before the sun of perspective and gratitude peers through the clouds. Your most bitter hatred can be contained by four or five conscious adults, before you fall to the floor in tears and exhaustion. Unimpeded, our emotional circuity completes itself surprisingly fast.
I believe that Emotional Intelligence, then, means to live life as a centered and grounded Presence that can feel the entirely of our human, animal, hormonal emotional circuitry, without needed to numb, suppress, deny or distract from it. Continually feeling emotions is not the end of the road — hosting (and compassionately enjoying the sheer beauty and artistry of them) is more like it.
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So what are the most essential skills when it comes to unfolding our emotions, from suppressed dark-matter we’re afraid of, into the multi-faceted cinema of our human aliveness?
1. Being able to articulate what you’re feeling and when. Identifying emotions, without being submerged by them.
2. Bringing emotions into your inner practice — particularly Non-Linear Movement and Breathe-Move-Unfold. This form of practice means allowing yourself to feel your emotions so that these chemical rushes can complete their journeys without suppression or impediment. So you can find the peace and objectivity that lies on the other side.
It is important to allow our emotions to complete their hormonal-chemical journeys. As we give each of our emotions space, ‘oxygen’, acceptance, love… rather than closing and suppressing its flow… we allow the emotion to complete its cycle, and transform itself.
Interestingly, just as we begin feeling an emotion we’re afraid of, our muscles tense and our breathing contracts. It’s just like stepping on a garden-hose, only we are the hose and our musculature is our foot. Simply by relaxing and breathing, breathing and relaxing, we unkink the pipe, allow all our emotional content to pass through.
To put this into practice, here is a short guided practice for feeling your emotions
To read the rest of the post, and get access to the Emotional Journal, the Emotional Inner Work, and also the trainings entitled ‘Non-Linear Movement’ and ‘Breathe-Move-Unfold’, sign up to the full LOTM programme.
Not only will you get instant access to the entire course materials, you will get to join me and a band-of-brothers for a live, guided summer session of this adventure.