Riding the Wave of Emotions
Building a practice of being with your emotions.
Every day we are confronted with emotions that we may or may not want to experience. How we navigate our emotions has much to do with how we were raised and how people in our life do or do not make space for their own, and our, emotions. While it is multi-layered, and decidedly complex, becoming more adept at being with our emotions, rather than avoiding them, can help us find more freedom in our lives, and free us from the need to rely on addictions or unhealthy distractions.
Joan Rosenberg PhD is a psychologist and author of 90 Seconds to a Life You Love. With over three decades of counseling experience, Rosenberg recognizes that there are two essential “pathways” people choose when dealing with difficult emotions: one is a path of avoidance, and one is a path of awareness. The path of avoidance often involves addictions to substances, technology, or self-harm. The path of awareness opens us up to the possibility of living a full, rich, and fulfilling life.
In her book, Rosenberg offers a tool to allow ourselves to experience emotions that feel unpleasant or scary. Her “Rosenberg Reset,” is a “strategy that enables people to more fully lean into those unpleasant emotions.” She describes this as “based on one simple formula: one choice, eight feelings, 90 seconds.” Her big picture view of the reset is:
“If you can make the one choice to stay aware of and in touch with as much of your moment-to-moment experience as possible, and you are willing to experience and move through one or more 90-second waves of one or more of eight unpleasant feelings, then you can pursue whatever you want in life.”
First, you have to choose to pay attention to the moments of your day. While she has seen that most people believe that the bigger choices of their lives are most responsible for their happiness, it is actually the small moments that happen throughout the day, and our experience of them, that sets the tone for our life. The key here is to pay “special attention to your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations.” Rosenberg suggests, “turning towards the pain, rather than away from it, allows you to connect with, and therefore address, your emotions instead of allowing them to fester unresolved.” Over time, the more you allow yourself to stay connected to the moment, the less intense and overwhelming your emotions will feel. One of the important aspects of this practice is to tune into bodily sensations, and name the texture of those sensations.
The next step, although according to Rosenberg it’s practically happening at the same time, is to “experience and move through (one or more of) eight unpleasant emotions” which are: sadness, shame, helplessness, anger, embarrassment, disappointment, frustration, and vulnerability. Typically, it is the bodily sensations that people want to avoid, so developing the skill in allowing and identifying these sensations is crucial. By moving through your emotions, Rosenberg clarifies, “I mean being aware of your feelings and fully experiencing them by tolerating the waves of feelings or the intensity of the bodily sensations tied to the biochemical rush and flush.”
The final piece of the reset involves being present with each of the emotions you experience, and it’s physiological manifestation, for up to 90 seconds. Rosenberg cites Jill Bolte-Taylor as noting that the chemicals released in your brain moves through your body as sensation, and to “think of this rush of chemicals as a wave.” She goes on, “as these chemicals are completely flushed out of your bloodstream, and the physiological feelings subside, it feels as if the wave has passed.” Less intense emotions may move through in less time, and when they last longer than 90 seconds, it is usually because “you continue to think about the triggering situation or memory over and over, often in an effort to resolve or make sense of it.” The skill of “surfing the waves of emotion” come when we can simply be present and know that “like ocean waves, they always subside.”
Like any practice, this skill of riding waves of emotion take practice. We can each develop our style and skill-set that will help us become adept at the experience. Ultimately, as Rosenberg stress, it’s a skill that offers a true path to authenticity and freedom.