By Jack Adam Weber, Collective Evolution
- The Facts: Our difficult emotions are not just unpleasant experiences. They have hidden gifts, including the capacity to transform our lives into more joy and wholeness. They impart wisdom and compassion we can’t find living on, or fearfully clinging to, the su
- Reflect On: Which emotions do you have trouble feeling or accepting in yourself and others? These might be the frontiers you need to embrace and enter to more fully embody your life.
Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It is a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.
Unless we look into and skillfully navigate our dark sides, we can’t become our fullest selves. Consequently, we can’t truly love ourselves and the world as much as we are capable. Following Pema Chodron’s reasoning: if we cannot bear our own pain, how can we bear the pain of others? If we are afraid of our own suffering, how can we genuinely stand with another in theirs and thereby be the friend possible?
Below I list eight natural, universal emotions that at first blush we might feel like avoiding. This list is a kind of treasure hunt, revealing what we get to discover when we welcome and allow these at first uncomfortable feelings to be, and eventually change us from our depths on up through our heart and mind. For this growth to happen, we first have to be honest with ourselves—to be aware of what we are feeling and able to name it. Then we can embrace the feelings and go from there.
Notice how each “negative” emotion mentioned below informs us of our care. To welcome and work with our shadow emotions enables us to care more. Caring also requires sensitivity. So, if we have a sensitive heart, we will likely feel all these difficult emotions in good measure. And, when we learn how to intimately, courageously and patiently dance with them, they give us more heart and more inner power. Each emotion is therefore a portal to fulfill our capacity for greater love—love for ourselves, for those we love, and the Earth itself.
Difficult Emotion #1: Guilt
Guilt is usually a signal that we have acted, or might act, inappropriately. Guilt brings us back to our values, morality, and care for one another. Guilt shows us where we have acted poorly and can do better. Guilt keeps us accountable to one another. Guilt (that we have done wrong) need not become shame (that we are wrong or bad). We can harvest the lesson in our guilt (oftentimes along with our remorse), make amends, and forgive ourselves. For example, if I feel guilty that I wasn’t fully honest with you and this cost you, I might make an amend and confess my shortcoming.
Sitting with guilt allows the sting of wrongdoing to impress a lesson upon us, or to change our hearts for the long term. Guilt need not be self-hatred, self-condemnation, or endless regret. It can be a mature reckoning and opportunity for more integrity. Note, guilt can also be a symptom of depression and OCD, in which case it’s best to notice it and not ruminate on it or try to mine it for wisdom.