By Fiona Robertson
A few years back, I adopted a dog from a shelter. As a new dog owner, I spent a while researching all things canine, and watched numerous episodes of Cesar Milan’s The Dog Whisperer. I was fascinated by the changes that could be wrought in both dog and owner, simply by firmly establishing the pack order. Once the dog realised that it was no longer in charge, it inevitably settled down, relieved at being freed of the responsibility of having to protect the pack. The dog, now secure in its place in the hierarchy, could then get on with the business of being a dog, without further stress or anxiety.
For several decades, I seemed to be defined by my emotions, sensations, fears, and compulsions. Every day saw me navigating through each of these, evaluating relative successes and failures. A lack or absence of fear was always deemed a good thing; I’d keep count of the number of cigarettes I’d smoked or the amount of food I’d eaten (subdividing, of course, into the healthy and not-healthy categories) and judge myself accordingly. Success seemed to lie in my ability to control my feelings. I’d swing between triumphant and despondent, depending on whether I’d managed to do so or not, and my self-esteem would vary accordingly.
A boyfriend once remarked that I seemed to be a victim of my emotions, a comment that I took badly at the time. However, if we’re honest, I think many of us have felt that way; that we’re at the mercy of seemingly uncontrollable waves of feelings, sensations, and energy. Fear, anger, sadness, shame, anxiety; whatever the exact nature of the feeling, we’ll do our utmost to stem its tide by whatever means necessary. And those means cover a multitude of behaviours – drinking alcohol, over-eating, under-eating, medicating with prescription or social drugs, shopping, spiritual seeking; the list goes on as we find a multitude of ways to avoid being with what’s here. In essence, therefore, the feelings or sensations that we’re running from are running the show, whether we like to admit it or not.
As we start to look more closely, several things become apparent. One is that we inevitably do not want to feel what we’re feeling. Two, it often seems as if the feelings will become overwhelming if we don’t control or avoid them. Three, it can feel as if the feeling will go on forever if we simply let it be there, and that seems intolerable. We also become aware of how deeply exhausting it is to resist and attempt to control our experience in this way, and we long to stop, even as we fear the consequences of doing so.
The Living Inquiries and Natural Rest give us a way to explore all of this much more deeply. By allowing each layer of experience exactly as it is, we’re able to penetrate the sometimes dense and intense energies and feelings that we’ve been medicating and avoiding. We stay with the feelings of not wanting and resistance, letting them be. We look at the threat of finally feeling all that’s here. What’s the worst that can happen if I feel this? Various answers may come; each one is looked at, listened to, felt into, given full permission to be as it is. We start to touch on the exhaustion itself, and take moments here and there to rest more fully.
As this happens, we find ourselves less defined and driven by the feelings, sensations and energies that we’ve been trying to control or avoid. The tightness in the chest, the emptiness in the belly, the sadness, the anger – whatever it is – can be felt here and now, just as it is. The reaching out and the moving away from begin to settle; the compulsive behaviour starts to quiet. Our lives and the decisions we make are not predicated on avoidance or resistance any more. We’re able to tolerate and even welcome our present experience. The feelings, sensations, emotions and energies that we’ve been managing, resisting or avoiding can then take their natural place, as it were, freed of the burden of controlling our lives.
I come to a stop
At first, it’s hard to breathe
As wants, needs, fears, ifs and buts
(The things I thought were me)
Implore me to go on
Much like a clamouring, mewling litter
From this silent dwelling-place
I hear their sweet cries
And gently greet them one by one
Shrill though they can be
They never actually wanted to run the show
Fiona Robertson is a Senior Facilitator/Trainer of the Living Inquiries and the co-creator of the Anxiety Inquiry. She loves her work, and she also loves writing, music (she used to be a bass player) and dancing (in the kitchen, mostly). She intends to live in a house by the sea one day. You can find out more about the Living Inquiries here: www.beyondourbeliefs.org and you can read Fiona’s writings here: www.whilstwalkingjack.blogspot.com. Feel free to email her at firstname.lastname@example.org