For the longest time, I heard teachers mention transmuting emotion, yet I didn't come across anyone giving solid tools for how to do so. I understood that it meant turning one emotion into another one, but how? And could I turn this emotion that feels like soul-level abandonment into glimmering, transcendent bliss?
Well, yes, and no.
Emotional transmutation is taking a negative emotion, and removing some of the charge, perhaps neutralizing it over time. This process takes diligence, and a commitment to something many of us don't like: feeling our feelings.
Yes, to get rid of negative emotions, you must delve into them.
It's counterintuitive, I know.
Once you feel them, I promise, it frees up a world of energy and brain bandwidth. Instead of carrying emotions around in your unconscious, where they will come out guns ablazin' at the slightest annoyance or upset (we call that triggered), you gradually clear them. And the more shit we can clear from the unconscious, the better chance we have at thriving. We become less reactive and less attached. We feel fucking free.
Many of us have learned to bury our more painful emotions.
This can look like "being strong" and not allowing ourselves to feel. Or it can look like overeating; cutting; indulging in alcohol, sex or drugs; or even just a five-episode binge of Sherlock. We humans have created a bevy of distractions to keep ourselves from grief, sadness, and shame.
We also do this really cool thing where we berate ourselves when we do feel emotions. This can look like crying, and beating yourself up during (I've been known to use such mantras as: "I'm being such a baby, I'm broken, I'm stupid"). We add what Buddhists call a "secondary judgment" to the situation. Instead of rinsing the emotion from our psyches (you'll learn more about that in a minute), we recycle old emotions, and layer on self-pity, guilt, and shame.
Holy shit, we can be assholes to ourselves.
But the good news is, we can unlearn these behaviors and update them with new ones.
Make a commitment to feeling your feelings.
Instead of stuffing negative feelings down, set the intention that you will give your feelings space and time to process. You can do this in the moment, as they arise, or, if you're at work or somewhere where you can't show emotion, you can tell your yourself, "I hear that you are feeling really sad/angry/frustrated right now. At 8pm tonight, I am going to spend time really feeling you." Make sure to stick to these promises.
Some of us are scared to feel our feelings, because we feel like they will never end. But the truth is, the only go on and on when we avoid dealing with them. There's no feeling that can kill you, or scar you. Feelings are energy: they flow and move if we let them.
The idea is to rinse your feelings, rather than recycle them.
This means you let the feeling flow through without fighting it, without judging it, without a mantra of self-hatred layered on top. You simply let it be. Something I find really useful during this process is to cry up and out, rather than all hunched over in a stance of self-pity. Instead of crumpling, cry with your chest and chin held high. There is something about the posture that allows emotions to process faster—it breaks a pattern and allows better flow.
Recently, I found myself angry cleaning. I was frustrated with my partner, and instead of processing the emotion, I set about cleaning the fuck out of the kitchen. This isn't emotional release. This is stuffing it down. After five minutes, I realized what I was doing, and sat down to do a release writing practice.
This is my absolute favorite emotional release practice, and you don't have to be a writer to do it. In fact, let me show you one of my release writing pages: it looks like a five-year old went HAM on it. Which, psychologically, is usually what's happening.
When I'm upset about something, and feeling it in my mind and body, I begin release writing. I do this in a notebook—that makes it easier to throw the paper away afterward. Most times I get through a few sentences of writing, and then my hand begins to shake. I keep keep focusing on the emotion and the words that are coming up, as my hand moves across the page in wild scribbles, circles, and lines. Sometimes it might slow enough to become words again, sometimes it goes fast for minutes at a time.
As I express through my hand, I express through my mouth and body as well. I allow myself to shake. If I need to cry, I do. If I need to scream, I do it into a pillow. I beat the bed or a pillow to release anger. There's nothing I won't write on this paper. If it's "fuck you" over and over and over, if it's, "I'm so tired of feeling this way," if it's "I hate myself."
This is a time to get rid of everything. Ugly, mean, something you would never say to anyone. It's okay to express it here.
Remember to express up and out as you do the practice. Don't shrink in or collapse.
The emotion begins to change when it's allowed all this space to express. Like a child having a tantrum, you begin to tire out. The writing will slow. You will feel a shift. This could happen after five minutes, or fifteen. Ride it out.
At this point, sometimes I start writing with my left hand. Writing with your non-dominant hand can allow you to express deep emotion and wisdom. Instead of miring in "why me?" ask yourself, "what is this situation teaching me?" This is where I feel like my higher self comes through to give me guidance and insight to the deeper, unconscious underpinnings of my emotions.
As you settle down from your release writing, bring one hand to your heart and one hand to your belly. Close your eyes and take some deep breaths, focusing on your breath. Think of yourself as you would a child that you love very much. How would you treat this child in this moment? Perhaps there's something she needs to hear, like, "I'm so sorry that happened to you. You did the best you could with what you knew at the time. You are doing so good. I love you."
Tell yourself any of these compassionate words, or any others that come to you. You might also need to forgive yourself for any mistakes you may have made, or for what you didn't know at the time. "I forgive you. I forgive myself. I accept that I am human and I am learning as I go."
At this point I like to take a couple of notes in my journal (the one I keep) on what I learned in the process. I shred the emotional release writing pages with my hands, or sometimes, when I desire more ritual, I'll set them afire.
Slowly ease back into your day, perhaps with a bath, a gentle movement practice, or a walk.
Originally published May 2017.