Updated: Jul 30, 2021
There are situations in this world and in our lives that at times feel unbearable. The unfortunate thing is that if we try to bury those situations and forget them, they fester and create a toxic internal environment. Furthermore, what we resist, persists.
The more we cultivate the felt experience of love (non-romantic love) - the warmth we can experience in our abdomen, the way our chest feels expansive, and how we feel limitless potential - the more we can begin to heal the uncomfortable memories that cause us so much pain.
The felt expression of love in our body allows it to relax and feel safe. When we feel safe, we can begin the process of healing. Embodied love creates space for the discomforts to surface, gives us an opportunity to tend to them in a compassionate way, and then allow them to transform. The alternative is feeling stuck or triggered by our emotions/memories that we keep trying to suppress or avoid.
My first attempt at using love to soothe my triggered reaction was when I saw a dead dog on the side of the road. I tend to see this often during rainy season in Miami and I always have an intense visceral reaction that feels as if my body has been electrocuted. I decided to activate the felt expression of love within my body and direct intentions from my heart to the dead animal. I couldn't believe that I was staring at the dog and feeling my body relax.
It doesn't work every time. I still cringe when I see suffering, but the more we practice, the more we can hold pain in our awareness without needing to numb ourselves or look away.
It’s not a quick fix and for that reason, most of us don’t even try to heal, instead we choose to attempt numbing ourselves from the pain.
If it is trauma that we’ve experienced, the work is done with a professional that can ensure you only touch the discomfort in doable amounts, they help you access a felt experience of safety, and under supervision so that you don’t retraumatize yourself.
If it is a work/family/political situation that is not traumatizing, we open to the exact point where we begin to feel uncomfortable and in that moment remind ourselves of our safety, try to embody the somatic experience of safety, and then open the heart. We do whatever it takes to keep the heart open when we touch the discomfort.
Touch the discomfort, cultivate the felt sense of safety, open the heart. Repeat 10,000x.
The alternative is to keep trying to run away/numb ourselves/suppress.
Would you prefer wasting your energy burying your discomforts and feeling triggered/stuck the moment it surfaces, or are you ready to begin the process of healing?
One ingredient in a transformed relationship to pain is to have enough light to surround the darkness, openness big enough to hold the pain and not collapse into it. A heart as wide as the world. Suffering is, it hurts, and yet we have the capacity to not add shame, or rage at not being able to control it, or conviction we will never feel anything else, ever. - Sharon S RealChange
How is one to activate embodied love?
Find your refuges. A refuge can be someone that you know cares for you unconditionally, even if they are no longer with us in their physical form. If thinking of this person brings you pain, bring to mind someone else. This person you bring to mind either helps bring a smile to your face or allows you to see the potential for peace - someone you have an uncomplicated relationship with. It may be a child, niece, or even a 4 legged family member.
Alternatively, you can think of a spiritual teacher or someone that inspires you like Jesus Christ, the Dalai Lama, or Ram Dass.
Instead of a refuge, you can call up resources. Your resources are memories of places you've visited that have taken your breath away, the feeling you have when swimming or floating in the ocean, or recalling how you felt when you reached the summit and were able to enjoy panoramic views. Resources allow us to expand our awareness and feel a deep sense of peace within.
For more on how to activate embodied love click here.
Reasons why a Metta practice would NOT work...
Crucial to cultivating the felt experience of Metta is releasing the narrative. "The issue is in our tissues." We have to let go of our stories and thoughts around our refuges and instead let ourselves focus on how the body feels the openness and warmth of love.
We can't THINK our way out of the pain. We begin to grow resources to hold the pain and allow it to transform.
Equally important to note that we are not trying to conjure a feeling of love from nothing to avoid feeling our pain, but instead are remembering the different sources of love in our lives that can support us on the journey of feeling unprocessed wounds and healing.
The story of a street cat and dog...
We can’t deny the power of love. Once we allow ourselves to train in the practice of Metta or Loving Kindness, we give ourselves a healthier way of responding to our pain. The moment we get the urge to numb, go into a downward ruminating spiral, or suppress, we can instead begin to CHOOSE - we can choose to open the heart and let the warmth of love transform our pain and allow it to evolve.
Once we consistently practice activating the warmth of Metta, it will become more accessible when we experience any form of suffering. We call upon the alchemizing potential of love the moment we begin to contract against an experience or memory and begin the important work of processing and healing.
The more we practice loving kindness, the more we will be able to turn on this embodied state as if we were flipping on a light switch.
I had the pleasure of witnessing love transform discomfort first hand with my dog Billy Goat and the street cat I rescued recently, Garfield. Billy has always been a terror for cats because the terrier in him likes to chase, corner, and bark at cats incessantly.
Garfield has been one of the kindest cats I’ve known and embodies the essence of Metta - to love no matter what, to keep the heart open. Instead of closing up and becoming defensive, Garfield would roll onto his back when Billy would pursue him and begin to playfully paw at Billy. For weeks, Billy would chase and bark at Garfield, and Garfield continued to patiently wait for Billy’s hysterics to be over. Once there was a break from the barking, then Garfield would try to approach and befriend Billy. Little by little I began to let Garfield into the house and Billy seemed to reduce his need to bark at Garfield and began to tolerate him.
I witnessed a major milestone the other day when all 3 of us were on the couch and Garfield successfully placed himself next to Billy without Billy running away. I NEVER thought I’d see Billy sitting peacefully by a cat, but there he was, next to the most unconditionally loving cat, Garfield.
*If anyone would like to adopt said loving cat and his janky legged brother Oreo, please let me know! More pictures below!
The moral of this story is that transformation/healing takes time/patience (unless you take plant medicine or see a hypnotist), and that Metta is a profound and powerful force that can facilitate getting unstuck.
Are you ready to do the work?
Are you ready to look directly at what trips you up and begin to decondition your reactivity?
Are you ready to begin to responding to challenging situations in a manner you feel is in alignment with your core values?
If so you can try the below Loving Kindness practice and let me know if you had any obstacles, questions, or highlights! You can also join me every Wednesday at 7:30am EDT for a 30 min Mindfulness and Metta practice on zoom. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in joining.