“There is one thing that, when cultivated and regularly practiced, leads to deep spiritual intention, to peace, to mindfulness and clear comprehension, to vision and knowledge, to a happy life here and now, and to the culmination of wisdom and awakening. And what is that one thing? It is mindfulness centered on the body.”
The Buddha, from the Satipatthana Sutta
What Happens: Your very close friend of forever tells you with happiness that she is engaged to a Good Guy.
What You Want to Feel: Exuberant joy and effervescence for her good fortune.
What YOU Do Feel: Bitter, slow churning anger in your gut. A heavy dollop of sadness that coats your entire chest. A severe jealously that you are 100% sure is blaring from your eyes and forced smile.
What You Do: You hug and congratulate your friend. Joke about ugly bridal dresses all while entertaining a raucous inner dialogue of Why Am I Such a Bitch? Why Can’t I Feel Happy for My Friend? What is Wrong With Me?
And maybe you go home and you try to shake these bad emotions from your mind as if they are raindrops along an umbrella. You reason: you should be happy. He’s smart and deep and treats your friend with grace. You love your friend.
Still the feelings persist no matter how much you talk yourself out of them. They follow you from bridal shower to wedding day, only dulling with time but never truly moving.
We all have feelings that seem to land on us from out of nowhere. Emotions that are ways away from what we want or expect to feel. A gleeful happiness when a colleague announces they didn’t get a prestigious grant. A welling of grief when we say goodbye to that one really toxic friend. Comparing ourselves to supermodels even when we know it’ll only depress us.
Sometimes, I think we forget that feelings are not milk.
They have no shelf-life, no labels detailing how many servings to ingest. They don’t stay neatly inside a container.
Emotions have a wisdom of their own–even when it feels like quite the opposite.
In our feelings-averse, feminine-hating society, emotions get a bad rap. Especially the strong ones. Especially the strong ones when experienced by women: Jealousy. Anger. Grief. Frustration. Raucous joy. Sexual abandon.
We are told to “calm down”. To “think positive”.
(As if that shit always works, as if it is healthy and wise to stuff down our most intense emotions with twee platitudes of JUST BE HAPPY.)
What we not told is that feelings are truth. We don’t need to act on them, express them (like, yeah, no need to tell your newly engaged friend I HATE YOU BITCH AND WISH IT WAS MEEEEEE!!!!!!). We are not told that once we began to greet our feelings with curiosity, openness, and a hello, we start to learn and engage in the world more honestly.
So, how do we do that?
One way I have been learning to engage with my feelings in a real, tangible way is dancing.
I don’t slip into choreography the minute I have a feeling, cuz, well, I do need to keep a job and my students might be just a bit confused if I started to gyrate in the midst of a lesson on writing closing arguments.
I have playlists for certain emotions.
(One of my favorite tasks in the world is making themed playlists.)
I put on my music. Loud. If my boyfriend is sleeping soundly or I am away from home, then I slip on my ear buds. And I move.
When I first started Dancing with My Feelings, I felt all kinds of silly. Sometimes when my boyfriend would amble out of the bedroom all bleary eyed to go to the bathroom, I would freeze like I was caught doing something indecent.
Sometimes we forgot that we are not just heads attached to clouds. Emotions are called “feelings” for a really good reason: they show up in our bodies. This is part of the reason we try and run away from them, the discomfort is not solely located in our racing thoughts and attitudes, but in our chests, stomachs, shoulders, backs, and jaws.
Dancing helps me to move with the feeling. To give it a language beyond reasoning and meditation. I let my hips circle through envy and my arms snake their way through confusion. I get on my knees and pound the floor with my anger in beat to a headbanger.
We are not taught to do this. We are taught to bottle up and be Appropriate, to be a Nice Girl, and to pretend that all we have what Mama Gena calls a “vanilla emotional life”.
I say no more.
When I hear of another unarmed black person shot, I dance out my feelings of powerlessness and fear. When I am mired in creative self-doubt, I take a break to shimmy. When anxiety threatens to dull my message, I close my office door and I dance.
I think dancing with our feelings is especially important for black women and women in color in general. We have to police our emotions even more vigilantly in a racist society that refuses to see us as full human beings.
Dancing can help us be truthful with ourselves, to give ourselves a gift of deep honesty.
And usually, something beautiful happens: my feelings reveal their wisdom to me. They tell me of my deepest insecurities, they speak of actions I can actively take, they assure me that I am still worthy of love and celebration.
Sometimes I end up crying. Or laughing hysterically. Or I sit in a quiet self-satisfied glow.
Everything is welcome. I may look crazy but I feel so free I don’t really give a shit.
The next time you experience a feeling you “shouldn’t” be feeling: dance that shit out. It will feel counterintuitive at first but whatever your body is called to do, let it do. You don’t have to best Ciara or even dance on beat.
If you want to sink to the floor in despair and shake your wrist limply, because you feel like a loser compared to all your “30 Under 30” friends, do that. If you want to twerk in front of your hallway mirror after seeing your ex all hugged up on someone new, do it. Write big and loopy in a journal in blood red ink. Wind up the windows in your car and scream like a banshee.
Let your body lead.