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Posted By Opening the Heart

Bottling things up might be great for making preserves, but it sure doesn't work with emotions. Have you ever had the experience of leaving a meeting or a family gathering with "steam coming out of your ears," feeling as if you are about to explode? Look what happened in The Odyssey. Odysseus and his crew were having a hard time getting back to Ithaca when they came to the island of Aeolus, guardian of the winds. Aeolus  gave Odysseus a tightly sealed bag containing all the contrary winds. With only favorable winds Odysseus and his men rapidly sailed to within sight of home. Exhausted, Odysseus fell asleep at the tiller. His men, suspecting that the sealed bag contained treasure that Odysseus was witholding from them, decided to open it while he slept.

Aeolus Bag of Winds

 Out roared all the contrary winds that had been "bottled up" inside the bag and within seconds the resulting storm blew the ship way back out to sea, drowning many of the sailors.

After the wind's release

It was seven years before Odysseus finally made it home.

Isn't that the way with bottled up "contrary" emotions? Sooner or later they are triggered  and, before we know it we are thrown way off center and have succeeded only in alienating those nearest to us. It will take huge amounts of time and effort to bring ourselves back "home" to our center.

So - How not to bottle? First and foremost, when you are in an emotionally stressful situation, RECOGNIZE IT and BREATHE! Second - notice what is happening IN YOUR BODY - NOT YOUR MIND! Your mind will probably be going crazy with a mini-storm of justification or blame or judgement or "story" or indignant rebuttal: just let that be and focus on the physical feeling of being "stirred up." Try holding the physical feelings with compassion, knowing that they are natural, and that they are temporary. Recognizing and caring about the feelings in your body is the pressure release valve that will help prevent an emotional explosion. Third - as soon as you can, do what is necessary to remove yourself from the actively stimulating situation that has triggered the anger or fear. Take time out to continue being with your breath and with the ongoing physical feelings and sensations in your body. Your mind will probably keep trying to interrupt your focus with all kinds of negative thoughts about whoever else was involved and about yourself. Gently tell your mind that you need to focus on your breathing and body just now. Continue with that focus until you sense a return to emotional equilibrium.

If you have a history of "going off the deep end" this technique is going to take committment and practice, but I have found that it is an essential tool in the toolbox of emotional intelligence and mindfulness of emotions.




3 Comment(s):
Jon Berenson said...
Dear Peter, Really nice job- and oh so true. Thank you for reminding us.
June 27, 2012 07:51:44
Donna Macomber said...
Peter's words remind me of a gorgeous passage by Mark Nepo, a cancer survivor, author and poet who poses a worthy question: "For years, I’ve been trying to explore and understand: How can we, being forgetfully human, remember we are of one human family? How can we stay awake and authentic when our wounds make us numb and hidden? How can we minimize what stands between us and our experience of life? How can we make a practice of wearing down what thickens around our mind and heart? How can this practice of staying authentic serve and draw strength from the Universal Whole while we are ever immersed and entangled in the moment of our lives?"
June 25, 2012 11:42:07
Donna Macomber said...
The human heart is absolutely a "package deal", and when we bottle things up, we close down to life, to love, to the diverse colors of summer, to the frogs singing their green hearts out in the nearby pond, to the undefended laughter of children, to the eyes we pass on the street each day, to the possibility of deep contentment, to truly being met in the landscape of the human heart. Thank you, Peter, for this gorgeous reminder to wake all the way up. See you at Omega!
June 25, 2012 11:36:22
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