Photo © Staci Lee Kennelly
Feelings are wonderful, glorious things. Some are easy to love: joy, hope, happiness, peace. Some take time to learn how to love: confusion, apprehension, remorse. For others, it can be hard to see how or why we ought to love them at all: grief, abandonment, fear. Still, if we allow them, and if we are brave enough to feel them, all our feelings can be wonderful and glorious things. Confusion can become curiosity, remorse can become a lesson, grief can become love for what was, is, and is to come.
However, some of us don’t allow our emotions to be felt fully and allow them to teach us and reveal their mysteries to us. Some of us were taught at an early age — either by our guardians or by our own mind trying to protect us — that feelings are dangerous. Even the feelings that bring us joy eventually dissipate, so to deeply feel any emotion fully, deep down in our soul, is a risky thing.
We go through life experiencing it with a stretched out arm, keeping feelings far enough away that they don’t take us over, but close enough to barely taste what could be. Instead of completely feeling the sadness, loneliness, and pain of a loved one’s death, we comfort others in their sadness, and only allow death’s sting to touch us while watching a movie, or simply ignore it all and stuff away the feelings. We don’t allow the feelings to reach us deeply. We don’t travel through grief until we can appreciate life and treasure the small divine moments it brings us. And while it is easy to see why we may push the negative feelings away, even if the journey brings good things, what is heartbreaking is that once we start to bury our emotions, all emotions begin to hide from us. We keep joy so close to the surface that the memory of it disappears with a night’s sleep.
I lived like this. I held emotions far from my soul, which lead to holding others far from my soul, which eventually lead to forgetting who I really was and really wanted to be. I compartmentalized feelings and emotions until there were only pieces of me. Through therapy and hard work, I began to become integrated in my thoughts, feelings, and heart. That doesn’t mean that the work is over. To embody life, one must be thoughtful and purposeful.
One practice to help me fully embody life is prayer beads. I chose to buy a necklace so that I could wear it on days I knew I was wanting to push emotions and experiences away. My prayer beads are made of wood and stone beads. The weight of the necklace reminds me to hold and treasure my emotions and experiences and not allow them to quietly pass by without leaving the lesson and peace they were meant to bring. There are thirty stones on the strand, the number of seconds I like to soak in my moments. While living my day, I will pause when something exceptional has happened; a genuine smile from a stranger, a kind word from a loved one, a butterfly circling my body until it flutters away. I will start with the top stone bead and think about and treasure the divine moment. I will take a deep inhale, taking the moment in fully, and then a slow exhale, feeling the emotion sink into my body allowing my whole self to experience the emotion. I continue to do that with each bead until I have experienced the moment fully, allowing each simple second to embody me, and soak into my soul and heart. And though I do this exercise with positive, or safe, emotions quickly, I am beginning to do it with some of the harder emotions as well. Just the other day, my heart was breaking as I thought of my brother who passed away this summer. I took my prayer beads between my fingers and thought of him. With each touch of the bead and each dedicated breath, I remembered him. I remembered things that brought me joy and things that brought me sadness and pain. I let it all soak in, feeling it all down to my toes. And while this moment didn’t leave me with the same exuberance that the moment of the butterfly brought me, it did empower me and bring hope. You see, I not only survived my moment of grief, I thrived in it. I felt a connectedness to those who have gone before me. This moment of painful death brought hopeful life.
It can be a fearful thing to travel an unmarked road, a path we haven’t had the courage to journey down. Whether you muster up that courage today to find a way to feel it all and breath it all in, or you begin to entertain the idea to explore your emotions fully, I hope you find a practice that helps you embody your whole self.
While I cannot promise an easy journey, I do know what you will find – your beautiful, wonderful, and magical true self.
Staci Lee Kennelly
Staci Lee Kennelly is a spiritual director living in Los Angeles. When she isn’t working, she loves to read Merton and shoot film. She likes her cameras old, her shoes comfortable, and her whiskey neat.