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My long-time partner often travels around the world teaching weekend workshops, mostly to young, fit yoga teachers.
He leads practices that combine physical therapy, massage therapy, and yoga, so he often uses touch to demonstrate important principles of what he’s teaching. He also has an outgoing personality, so he usually connects easily with his trainees in meaningful ways.
On the last day of a course he was teaching out of town, I found myself waiting much longer than usual for a call from him. After several hours, I texted him, and he quickly responded, “Hi,” with a few scared emojis.
“I just sat down to dinner after a crazy day.” I assumed he was at dinner with his young, attractive training host, and I found myself irritated when I realized the two of them had just made social media posts at the same time.
That assumption, his lack of responses to my messages, plus some Facebook photos of my partner and his host looking extra happy together led me to impulsively fire off a few immature, spiteful texts. I was angry, mean, and in that moment, I was unconsciously sabotaging our relationship. I disconnected from any care about him or our future.
In that instant, I felt like I was possessed.
As soon as I realized how I was feeling, I paused. Thankfully, I had some practices that could support me as I tried to move out of my downward spiral, toward calm, clarity, and vulnerability.
I’d like to share some of the practices I used in that moment, and which I use whenever I’m feeling trapped by my emotions. I hope they might help you too:
Though I have meditated on and off for about 10 years, I have only recently managed to make it a daily practice. I have noticed a huge difference in the gap between my reactivity and my awareness of it. It turns out that regular and consistent meditation truly works. Who knew—ha!
As I was spiraling through stories of my partner’s betrayal, I leaned on my meditation practice, specifically the Buddhist practice of “sending and taking,” known as tonglen. As I breathed in, I embraced the pain of the moment. As I breathed out, I imagined relief and space. I was then able to separate from the part of me making up far-fetched stories and see that I had freedom of choice.
Ten to 15 minutes of quiet meditation each day can bring our baseline emotions and sensations into a calmer state. But starting with three minutes each day and gradually increasing our time in stillness is a great way to start. Apps like Calm, Headspace, and Waking Up are great ways to experiment with different methods.
2. Opposite action
Oftentimes, when we feel jealous or afraid, we also feel ashamed of those feelings and the behavior that comes with them. After I noticed what was happening to me, paused, and practiced tonglen, I was no longer merged with that part of myself that was fearful and out of control.
I could observe the story and see that this reaction had nothing to do with my partner, but that my childhood attachment wounds were triggered. My shame was motivating me to hide my suffering and continue to fight or withdraw. Thanks to the space I had created between my true self and my emotions, I could take the opposite action from shame—I reached out, apologized, and asked for support.
Shame often means to protect us from rejection and vulnerability, but in a situation where we feel safe enough to be vulnerable, taking the opposite action from shame can be a first step toward healing.
3. RAIN—Recognize, Allow, Investigate, Nurture
RAIN is an insight meditation practice that helps expand our capacity to be present with difficult emotions. It also helps us understand where the emotions are coming from and what our wounded parts need in order to heal. The practice looks like this:
Recognize: Label feelings, thoughts, and sensations (such as fear, anger, a racing heart).
Allow: Invite in whatever you’re feeling and imagine you are sitting down and having tea with your emotions and your experience.
Investigate with curiosity: Feel your emotions from the inside. Explore questions like, “Where do my emotions reside in my body?” “How intense are they?” “What does this part of me truly need?”
Nurture with kindness: Offer yourself some soothing touch, communicate compassion to the parts of you that are suffering, and let what’s calling for your attention know that you are there.
I went through this process, laying down with my hand on my heart, feeling the pain of the younger part of me who was so angry at the universe for not making her feel safe in the world. I allowed myself to feel all of that, and I nurtured my younger self, letting her know I feel her, I see her, and that I am there. I cried as I directly contacted my abandonment wound and began to heal it from the inside.
4. Radical acceptance
A wise friend once told me that vulnerability to being hurt, left, abandoned, or cheated on is the price of admission to being in a relationship. Yes, there was a small chance that my partner had actually betrayed me. But I was able to see that this was my work.
Even in uncertainty, it was my job to trust in his faithfulness until I knew otherwise, so that I was not constantly dependent on his reassurance. I realized then that the real freedom is in radically accepting that there is a chance of betrayal.
We cannot control or prevent suffering from happening, just as we cannot prevent a natural disaster or tragic accident from occurring. But we can trust in moments of suffering that we will be there for ourselves.
My fear of abandonment stems from my younger self who didn’t get her needs met. In this low moment, I was able to feel the pain of that child, depending on love and attentiveness for survival.
But I can handle a betrayal. As I felt the pain of the little girl inside of me, I let her know I was there. I will always be there.
I will be the wise, unconditionally loving person she never had, and I will not leave. That is all I truly need. That is all any of us need.