My heart is full. Some of you may not know that I spent nearly two decades of my life in Japan– I went first as the child of missionaries, and then returned as an actress in my twenties. In fact, I only left Tokyo two years ago, after the 2011 earthquake.
It is almost exactly two years later, and I am here again with my little girl.
We are here to celebrate, and mourn. To say hello to beloveds, and to say the goodbyes we didn’t have time to say.
We are feeling some Very Big Feelings.
I’ve lost myself gazing blissfully at a quiet river blooming with sakura and teeming with koi.
I’ve cried, hard, over inconsequential things– knowing full well that that’s not what I was crying about at all.
At times like this, the intense saturation of the human experience bursts right through any illusion of control.
Platitudes don’t work. I can’t convince myself to be reasonable, think positive, or try to be enlightened.
All I can do is be human. So here is what works for me when I am operating outside my comfort zone, gasping too hard to take deep breaths, and grappling with things that cannot be tamed.
I’m sharing it because it might work for you too.
My first instinct, when confronted by an intense or uncomfortable emotion, is to beat it. With a stick. The peanut gallery loves this approach: squelch it, push through, grin and bear it, or– my personal shiny object favorite– distract yourself ding ding ding!
This works pretty well, except for the ulcers, psychic itchiness, and deep and unworkable grief.
Okay, so it doesn’t work at all.
Try this instead:
Find the intense sensation in your body. It might be a tightness in your throat, or a welling-up in your heart, or a clenching in your gut. Everything in you will try to get you to tamp down the sensation or turn your awareness Anywhere But There.
Instead, imagine yourself opening up a chamber in yourself around the emotion. Give it space, a room, air and light. Breathe into it, physically making your body bigger in that spot. Tell the sensation in a kind tone that you’re making space for it.
I suggest you do that part silently, unless you are in Hollywood or Sedona.
This is a sneaky trick, because as soon as you make space for the sensation, you will find that you can bear it.
This is because you are always, and I mean without exception, more strong and tender and bad-ass than you think you are. Especially when you’re keeping yourself company.
The sensation may feel overwhelming for a minute or two. You might sob, or shake, or keen. But keep feeding it your breath and your gentleness, the way you would watch tenderly over a small child who was grieving a great loss.
Then the most remarkable thing will happen.
The sensation will say, Okay, thank you, and dissipate. It will probably do this silently too.
They just want to be felt. They just want to be acknowledged.
They’re just opening you up to your own humanity. And you are absolutely up to the challenge.