Container

We need containers for our feelings just like banana bread needs a container in order to shape it in the heat of the oven. The container gives the feeling shape. The container is a ritual or a practice.

We have to have places to put our feelings. Rituals are the way to do that. Western culture has some rituals and ceremonies for how to handle big events – birth, marriage, graduation, death. But it doesn’t have rituals for much of anything else. Perhaps this is why so many people suffer from depression and anxiety.

When your culture doesn’t have the tools you need, you have to make your own.

Feelings are difficult to handle. Our culture tells us how to handle the feeling of having to go to the bathroom, but not other feelings. When you have the feeling that you have to go to the bathroom, you need to know what to do with that feeling otherwise you will make a mess everywhere. If you have that feeling you know what to do because you’ve been trained. That feeling you have is what lets you know that there something that needs to get out.

Other feelings are harder to figure out, but they are just as important to get out. There isn’t a physical thing that needs to come out of you, but there still is a need to release that feeling. Emotional, spiritual, and psychological pain will manifest in physical ways. Just like with having to go to the bathroom, you need to know how to deal with it.

When you have a sensation of tension in your shoulders, chest, or gut it is a sign that you have a feeling that needs to be processed. The poet Rumi reminds us that grain has to be broken up before it can become bread. But I’ll add that in order for it to become bread it has to be mixed together with other ingredients, poured into a form and put into the oven.

Difficult feelings aren’t ever alone – we aren’t just grain that has been ground up. And the form is our practice. It gives shape to our feelings. What do you do to stay balanced? Do you drift through your days, or are you intentional?

Our practice is our form, our mold for our feelings. If we don’t use it, our feelings will pour out all over everywhere and be a big mess.

When I found out that my coworker had died unexpectedly, I felt a pain in my stomach. I chose to sing it out. Rather than yell or cry, I chose to give it shape. Deep from my gut I sang out a long clear note, simply saying “Ahhhhh……” for as long as I could. Then I took another breath and did it again and again until I released the tension. I have since found out that this is from yoga. It is called “Lion’s breath”, except in yoga, you just breathe out hard. Here, I sang.

I have also used the technique “praying in color” to process my feelings. I have created some other art and started a prayer book that I will use to memorize prayers. I did all of this in his memory. I have chosen to use what I already do to stay balanced as a way to honor him and acknowledge his passing.

And, of course, I’m writing.

It doesn’t matter what you use to process your feelings – whatever form you use is good, as long as it works for you. What matters is that you use it.

Don’t wait until the storm hits to have a place to go.
Don’t wait until something bad happens to have a practice.

If you stick with your practice every day, then you will have something to rely upon when the inevitable happens. It will help you keep your balance and not get swept away. It doesn’t mean that you escape your feelings – it means that you don’t let your feelings overwhelm you. You still have them – they just don’t have you.

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Discipline and order

I know someone who got very upset about the idea of having to do prayers. I’d told him about the Jewish idea of having to say 100 blessings a day. He didn’t think this was a good idea. He thought that it sounded oppressive.

But discipline and order are good things. If we impose order upon our lives we can get stronger in many ways. Otherwise we are formless.

If your leg is broken you put a cast on it to make it stronger. The cast gives it a shape to grow into so it doesn’t grow crooked.

If you have a bonsai tree you carefully shape it with wires to make it have a beautiful shape.

If you are pouring concrete you have to put a form down so that the concrete doesn’t go everywhere.

The same is true of tomatoes or of peonies. You have to give them something to grow up against so that they don’t grow wild.

When we impose a discipline to our lives we are making ourselves into disciples. We are making ourselves stronger by making ourselves fit into a particular form or mold, one that we know to be good for us. It isn’t something that we have to do but it is something that we should do.

It is just like with Peter when he was walking out on the water to Jesus, he said “Lord if you command me I will go”. Peter needed to be commanded by Jesus in order to walk on the water.

We too can work miracles if we allow ourselves to be commanded. We allow ourselves to be commanded by adopting order and discipline into our lives. We aren’t giving up control or free will at all. We are strengthening ourselves by allowing order into our lives.