Sadness and Quenching the Inner Thirst

There are so many parts of being human that are sad. When old people start getting old and can’t do what they used to. When children grow up and leave their parents’ home. When a long-term relationship ends. Watching a loved one struggle with an illness. When a pet dies. The natural and normal response in these situations is to simply feel sad.

raven keeper by eva lewarne

So often we may feel that our non-joyous feelings represent something being wrong or out of alignment. Too often we shuffle ourselves quickly out of grief in an effort to “move on,” when in fact grief is the only thing that can authentically move us forward. There is nothing “to do” but feel it all, to allow ourselves to weep, to be quiet, to be reflective.

Authentically felt sadness and grief are the cornerstones of compassion and the basis for wise action

Part of being awake is the act of allowing for all of our emotions to be recognized and felt, without resisting, rejecting or judging them–just interacting with them with openness, curisoty and empathy. Allowing them to be. The more we reject our own feelings, the more they persist; over time becoming dysfunctional and locked into patterns. On the other hand, the more we openly embrace our challenging emotions, the more easily they transform into other feelings like relief, joy and peace.

Here are some of our cultural beliefs about challenging emotions:

  • Negative, challenging emotions represent a personal failure.
  • Being polite and agreeable is paramount. (Your true feelings may offend others.)
  • It’s a woman’s duty to put the welfare of others above her own.
  • Self-sacrifice is noble and there will be payoff eventually.
  • Displays of emotional intensity are unattractive and a sign of weakness.

What most people don’t realize is that every emotion we suppress will need to be processed eventually. The emotions we deny or avoid never actually go away, they just lie waiting beneath the surface. Over time, the accumulation of unprocessed feelings may cause disease and further mental anguish. When we start to “wake up” these things rise to the surface to be welcomed and transformed into greater consciousness and awareness. Through this process, we learn that we are the benevolent space in which emotions arise, not the emotions themselves.

Lucian Freud Woman with eyes closed

Seeing that there is no escape from challenging emotions, it becomes clear that it is wise to process our emotions as close to the moment in which they arise as possible. This keeps us clear, fresh, available to the moment, and with a greater abiility to be wholeheartedly open to ourselves and those around us.

Recently while interacting with others I felt intense anger rise up in me that surprised me. Alongside that was an awareness that my anger was not about the people I was with at all. I was able to feel the legitimacy of my anger and the need to process it. I realized that all I really needed was some time and space to  feel fully the sadness and anger that were under the surface seeking a release. I noticed that my anger came up because on some level I was feeling deprived of something. I made a mental note to reflect on that later. This mental note and brief recognition of my anger caused it to subside in the situation.

I was able to reflect on my anger a day later and had some time alone to cry, journal and just stare into space in the quiet, to listen to my own breath.  In this space some interesting insights and inspiration were sparked. A new, exciting, affirming perspective emerged from allowing myself to be with my anger and the grief that was beneath it.

Eric Pedersen - The Untitled Painting of Vikki Sleeping

Later I was daydreaming and thought of how amazing it would be if all people felt worthy and were willing and able to make space in their lives to work out and process painful emotions, knowing that doing so would prevent triggers and projections getting placed onto others, causing unneeded pain and struggle. (Mental health days?)

What if all people felt encouraged and supported to take the time and space to process difficult emotions in healthy ways?

What if all people knew the pivotal importance of doing so and if society promoted this? What if it was mainstream in our culture for people to have tools available to them and education on how our emotions work, how to skillfully navigate them, and how to see the opportunity present in them, etc. What a wise culture it would be!

We can start building this culture now, a culture of emotional fluency and responsibility.

A common misconception is that people who are “evolved” never feel challenging emotions like rage, anger, grief, jealousy. I’d say quite the opposite. Being awake, aware and centered means embodying the benevolent space for the full spectrum of emotions to emerge and be seen. Emotional intelligence and mastery come from the ability to feel all kinds of emotions without getting stuck or identified with any of them. One could say one we have the ability to become emotionally “fluent.”

Sanctuary by lauren gray

Something I’ve struggled with and I know that others have too, is the sense of being unseen, unrecognized, not validated, being invisible. All children come into the world emotionally fluent, they know what they feel and they express it without fear. When they are hungry they cry. When they are happy, their smile lights up the room.

Children need their parents to mirror them in order to develop a self. The ability for our parents or caregivers to mirror us and support our emotional development is limited by the degree to which they have that benevolent welcoming space towards themselves and their own emotions. When we displayed feelings that they disowned or rejected within themselves, they rejected us. Ultimately, it’s not personal nor is it intentional, but it is damaging nonetheless. As adults it’s our responsibility to repair the damage and the wounds we acquired and to reap the benefits of our transformation.

As children we needed outer approval to survive, but as adults the approval we must find is our own. 

Recently I’ve been reflecting on the gift of having been unseen and unrecognized, of having been surrounded by people who, due to their own wounds, were unable to recognize or validate me.

My sense is that the true gift of the pain of being unseen is having no choice but to find and claim one’s worth within oneself first, without first getting approval or  validation of others. In doing so, a singularity of spirit emerges. This strength can only emerge after a certain amount of grieving has been done; grieving for what you legitimately needed that you did not receive, seeing that it was not your fault, seeing that the unconscious wounds of your parent/caretaker were the cause, something completely out of your control. A compassion for the human condition is possible when we follow grief where it takes us. Grief doesn’t weaken or deplete us, it restores and renews us.

The ability to fully grieve is an essential part of the path of the Heart

Grief clears the way for the authentic claiming of your own worth, and feeling it in your bones. Subsequently one becomes able to offer something to others that was never given to you, but something real you discovered firsthand within yourself. This can never be taken from you.

By radiating that self-blessing, you become a blessing to others, a source of lovingkindness and goodness that others can recognize and sense within themselves. Your self-blessing facilitates and strengthens the same in others, even if just energetically.

You have owned the highest and best within yourself, and you inspire and call it forth from others just by your presence.

Tom French

As adults, if we wait for others to approve of us first, we are giving our power away and allowing the wound to fester. Through enough painful trial and error we eventually learn that no amount of outer approval will quench our thirst for the Real. It’s a powerful realization to finally see that the source of all the fulfillment we seek is within ourselves, not on the outside. This creates a deep sense of integrity, responsibility and a fierce authenticity.

Our inner thirst can only be quenched from within. 

Mystical Hands in the LIving Waters by Elena Ray

We live in a transformational time, where on many levels, we cannot afford to wait to be given or shown what we need to do. We must move forward boldly, claiming from within what is needed first.

We cannot know the full scope of the wisdom and beauty that are inherent in us until we have no choice but to call it forth out of necessity. Now is that time.

About a year ago I had a dream in which I was in my car and feeling very thirsty. I pulled over and asked some people where to find water but no one could help me. Then I went into an open field that suddenly transformed into the backyard of the home I grew up in, which has a large boulder in the center of it. I stood on the huge boulder and looking down, I noticed it had a long and deep indentation as though it had been worn down over time by a strong flow of water, though no water was in it at the time. I took off my shoe and slowly placed my bare foot into the deep cavern in the rock. As I did so, I closed my eyes in bliss and felt the satisfaction of my thirst being fully quenched.

This dream symbolizes to me that embracing our sadness is key to quenching our inner thirst, the thirst for what is Real. Our emotional pain is a way of being fashioned, worn down and carved out by the Divine, to make way for the universal flow to move within us, and to find that eternal source of living water. We shed tears in joy and happiness as well as in fear and pain.  Have you ever felt the joy and relief that comes from feeling a difficult emotion all the way through? That sense of clearing, of a weight lifted, a sense of freshness and newness? Every difficult emotion offers us this transformation.

Maya by Bo Olsen

Our tears can lead us to this sacred source within us, to the only true source of fulfillment, the only thing that will quench our thirst–our very own Beingness, our ability to experience ourselves as a vast, loving spaciousness that has the capacity to embrace whatever is arising — and to let it flow through us.

Contemplations on challenging emotions: 

▪   Being empowered involves welcoming all emotions without feeling identified or over-powered by any of them. (This is a skill that can be learned.)

▪   Anger is a valuable emotion that tells us a boundary has been crossed. Once understood and listened to, it can naturally transform into self-knowledge and confidence.

▪   Grief is linked with surrender and acceptance, with the dissolution of old patterns and the birth of new life.

▪   Tears are holy; the water of Life.

▪   Usually anger is a layer above some fear. Our fears are the places within us that need our reassurance and love.

▪   Emotional Triggers indicate that we have projected old fears or patterns onto others around us. They offer the opportunity to inquire into what un-healed pattern from the past is activated so that it can be healed and released.

▪   I invite you to practice experiencing your emotions as pure energy, without a story or narrative. Simply feel the energy of your emotions in your body and your hearts as you are processing them. In doing so, you are embodying pure awareness, your true identity.

© Bethany Webster 2013

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Thank you for reading! Please share a comment below about your experience handling challenging emotions. Would love to hear from you!

Art credits in order of appearance: Raven Keeper by Eva Lewarne, Woman with Eyes Closed by Lucian Freud, The Untitled Painting of Vikki Sleeping by Eric Pedersen, Sanctuary by Lauren Gray, title unknown by Tom French, Mystical Hands in the Living Waters by Elena Ray, Maya by Bo Olsen

Does this article resonate with you?  Sign up here for a free 30-minute “Healing the Mother Wound Clarity Session” with Bethany to learn about her private coaching on healing the mother wound. 

Ways to work with Bethany: 

Click here to download my FREE e-book on “Transforming the Inner Mother” and sign up for my newsletter.

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Claiming our Fullness: Bringing ourselves out of hiding

Understanding the impact of patriarchal paradigms on women is critical to our full empowerment. It’s easy to take for granted or not fully realize how powerfully the patriarchy has affected how we see ourselves and the world.

In order to survive within a patriarchal society, women have had to internalize beliefs that turn them against themselves. And in order to ensure the survival of their children, they’ve had to pass along those beliefs onto their daughters.

Stardust” Generative Portraits by Sergio Albiac

It’s no wonder why there can be fierce competition between women—we are expected to give up parts of ourselves in order to be accepted by patriarchal values, while at the same time unable to fully suppress our longing for the full experience of our potential. Our full potential lies outside the confines of what the patriarchy has permitted for us.

 We need to transform fierce competition into fierce support.

We may criticize or envy other women for receiving patriarchal rewards for attenuating themselves and also those women who risk being fully and unapologetically themselves. The problem is the patriarchy doesn’t reward women for being real and authentic but rather for dis-owning themselves. This is why we may feel equally triggered by women who give their power away and also by women who fully claim it. We long to be authentic and fully seen in our power.

Patriarchal society cannot give us the validation we seek. As empowered women across the planet we ourselves are creating the society that values authentic women and the values of inclusion, interdependence, vulnerability. We are building it within ourselves and in doing so, it will be increasingly visible in the world around us.

To own our full power, we must welcome back all that we have disowned in ourselves

Kenyon Cox sketch

As children we learned that to receive love by the male world, we must make ourselves smaller than we truly are. To be accepted, we disowned the parts of ourselves that threaten others–perhaps not wanting to appear too pretty, too smart, too tall, too big, too loud, too strong, too artistic, too complex, too intense, etc.

All women have had to depart from their true selves to some degree in order to make it through childhood. This self-abandonment is actually a survival strategy which allows the child to survive emotionally intact. As adult women we have the chance to heal and reunite with the parts of us we had to abandon. This is the work of the awakened woman.

Our task is to dismantle the old structures that we were formed in childhood to cope with dysfunction of family and society while building a new structure that supports our full authenticity and empowerment as women. All true contributions for the betterment of the world flow from this new structure.

As we create the new structure within ourselves to support our full authenticity and empowerment, we are creating a new structure for the collective: A new world. 

Dung Hoang- The Mind-Heart Connection

No matter how spiritual you are, how many books you’ve read or programs you’ve attended, if you have not engaged in the process of dismantling the old structure and building the new structure within yourself, your empowerment will be incomplete.This is because it is the foundation, the bedrock of everything else.

To survive in this world a woman has had to put parts of herself into hiding, into a dark place within herself. In this shadow place lie talents, dreams, desires, feelings, ideas and more that had to be put away in order to receive validation and approval by a world unwilling to accept and welcome the full potential that all women carry within.

The atmosphere of patriarchal values distorts relationships between women.

Consider the power dynamic at the center of the mother/daughter relationship in the context of a patriarchal society. A simple and potent example is when a mother feels she has sacrificed her true self in order to be a wife and mother–she may feel anger if her grown daughter chooses not to sacrifice herself in the same way. On the surface, the mother’s anger seems to indicate a belief that if her daughter does not obey the patriarchal commandment of female sacrifice that she did, then the daughter is disloyal and ungrateful for all the sacrifices of the mother. However, underneath that anger is the mother’s sadness and longing for all of the parts of herself that she had to disown, which still remain in shadow.

Ultimately, the mother’s anger and sadness is really about her having to disown her authentic self and not directly related to her daughter. If the daughter made similar choices as the mother then the mother would not have to confront the pain of having had to put parts of herself into hiding long ago. The mother may associate her pain with her daughter, but really her daughter is just a present-day stimulus for an old, deeper pain within herself.

If the mother is not conscious or aware that her daughter is not the source of her pain, but rather the stimulus of old pain, she may unintentionally lash out or unconsciously withdraw from her daughter. The daughter may then feel shame and guilt for her desires and widened opportunities that her mother never had, perhaps causing her to feel discouraged and second-guess herself and her path. This is how the wound gets passed from mother to daughter.

However, if the mother is conscious and aware of her feelings, she may use this feedback to mourn and grieve what had to be disowned in herself and in doing so, potentially regain access and a new relationship with her full self. In doing so, the mother has freed her daughter from her projections, facilitating her daughter’s empowerment and individuation.

These are very subtle yet powerful dynamics that have profound impacts on how a woman carries herself in the world. 

Women tend not to blame men for having to disown themselves. Instead we tend to blame other women and ourselves. This is because patriarchy appears to be faceless. It appears to us as life, “just the way things are.” We can see clearly our own unlived dreams and abandoned desires in the faces and achievements of other women.

What parts of yourself have you put in the shadows? What aspects of yourself have you given up in order to fit in?

“modernique” by Joshua Burbank

The power dynamic wound between women that is created by the dominant patriarchal paradigms is the result of both the developmental need of a female child to please her mother and the mother unconsciously and with good intentions teaching her daughter how to be accepted by the patriarchal society. This involves some form of trying to keep herself small in order to fit in.  Thus, the daughter unconsciously interprets this as the message:  ‘To be like mother and be loved by mother, I must make myself small.’ This wound manifests in the daughter in adulthood as: “If I step into my full power, will I lose the love of others?” “Am I worthy or capable of what I desire?” “Will my mother love me if I exceed or surpass her?” Often this possibility feels way too scary to risk and so a woman’s power can stay hidden and un-manifest.

The childhood fear of losing “mother” for being our authentic selves can still live within us into adulthood.

We may still unconsciously believe that our authentic, true selves may cause suffering to others. Having the ability to hide ourselves was a successful way to survive childhood but it is a major barrier to fulfillment in adulthood. We have to transform the belief that our empowerment hurts others. The truth is that our empowerment serves others.

 “Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent.” ~Carl Jung

The above quote by Carl Jung is particularly potent for daughters. In what ways has your mother’s un-lived life affected you? Did you experience her unfulfilled dreams as a weight or burden? Did you keep yourself or your dreams small so as not to threaten or upset her?

 What is at risk for being your full self?

It takes a lot of grit and determination to birth your full self in the world. There is a lot at risk including relationships that may not be able to handle the fullness of who you are. People may leave your life. Things will shift. It is not easy, yet it is completely worth it.

Nothing is worth more than the gold at the center of your Being, the real YOU. 

The greatest gift you can give other people is the example of your own fulfillment and embodiment of your true self. The work of bringing yourself out of hiding is a journey of a lifetime. It’s not the means to an end–not a way to feel better or a way to look better. It’s about finding what is true for the sake of finding your truth, for the sake of experiencing what is real.

Submerged Dancers Capture the Essence of Weightlessness - My Modern Metropolis

A recent experience comes to mind. I was up in the middle of the night with a rare case of painful menstrual cramps. As I lay in bed staying present with my body and the waves of pain that would come and go, I noticed that it seemed to hurt more when I focused on how painful it felt, when I collapsed into judgement about it. And conversely, when I stayed totally open to the sensations of the cramps, without labeling or judging the feelings, the sensation ceased to be painful. It actually became a pure sensation.

I thought of how birth of any kind–of a baby or our true selves–requires radical openness to pain. 

As the ocean waves lapped the shore outside my window that night as I stayed present with the waves of cramps, I felt so grateful for that lesson–that pain ceases to be suffering when it is consciously and authentically engaged with, when it is fully felt, when it is not turned away from, judged or resisted.

You will feel pain as you claim your fullness, yet that is not a reason to turn away from the journey of becoming your full self. The parts of you that went into hiding are still waiting for you to retrieve them. They are awaiting your love.

Catrin Welz-Stein. - Heart

Questions to consider: 

  • What parts of yourself have you disowned and how has that affected your life?
  • What action can you take to welcome those disowned parts back into your life, back into your heart?
  • What is at risk for claiming your authentic, full self? What feels scary about that?
  • What are the possible gains for taking more risks in being authentic, real and loving to yourself?
  • In what ways were you taught that being your real self would cause you to be excluded or rejected?
  • How might embracing and embodying your authentic self serve and benefit other people?

Recommended reading: 

© Bethany Webster 2013

Thank you for reading! I invite you to leave a comment below!

Art credits in order of appearance: “Stardust” by Sergio Albiac, “Sketch” by Kenyon Cox, “The Mind-Heart Connection” by Dung Hoang, “Modernique” by Joshua Burbank, “Water” by Mallory Morrison, “Heart” by Catrin Welz-Stein

Does this article resonate with you?  Sign up here for a free 30-minute “Healing the Mother Wound Clarity Session” with Bethany to learn about her private coaching on healing the mother wound. 

Ways to work with Bethany: 

Click here to download my FREE e-book on “Transforming the Inner Mother” and sign up for my newsletter.