Getting emotionally fit — A workout for the soul

I turn once again to the work of Miriam Greenspan for inspiration for this week’s post.

“Befriending emotional energy is about focusing our attention on these sensations and reactions nonjudgmentally, allowing the body to feel what it feels, and the mind to think what it thinks, | while maintaining a witness consciousness—a mindful awareness of the stream of sensations and thoughts as they pass through our bodies.”
p. 77-78

If, as I discussed in The dark emotions: Food for the soul, you can let go of shame, doubt, analysis and condemnation, and listen attentively and non-judgmentally, the body can be a source of wisdom. Following Greenspan’s suggestion, try to be present to your experiences and the environment in which they are taking place. Whenever possible, replace negative interpretations and labels with neutral or even positive ones to increase the chances of deriving a more hopeful understanding of your feelings, sensations and thoughts. For example, when your gut is churning, your fists are clenched or you feel like you might faint, stop and try these reframes:

  • If treated the churning in my gut as though it were a good friend emboldening me to take the significant first step in a new direction, what could I learn?
  • If I imagined my clenched fists as though they were strong companions encouraging me speak my own truth, what could I learn?
  • If I listened to my spinning head and weakened knees as though they were calm advisors protecting me with their consoling words, what could I learn?

When you concern yourself with whatever is going on in your mind, your body and your immediate environment, you can hear the spirit speak. The trick is to determine what these broadcasts are saying: Are they warning you of danger, stiffening your resolve, empowering you to act, prompting you to defend your decisions, alerting you to a violation of your values? This sort of soul listening is hard work. The channel can be filled with static and the message can appear garbled.

“In the realm of physical exercise, most of us believe ‘no pain no gain,’ but when it comes to emotional exercise, we want the quickie route to emotional fitness. The fact is, as with the body, so with the emotions: no pain, no gain. You can’t be emotionally flabby and expect to come to a place of emotional transformation and spiritual power.”
p. 77

As with any exercise — be it in the gym or the classroom — the more you do it, the more skilled you become. This is not repetition solely for the sake of it, however. The key here is to exercise the emotional muscles with an open heart and without attachment. The goal is to achieve the “witness consciousness” that Greenspan describes. When you are prepared simply to listen to these dispatches from the soul, you can begin to integrate the wisdom of both your personal and the collective psyche. This is the self-awareness and self-appreciation advantage.

Miriam Greenspan. (2003). Healing through the dark emotions. The wisdom of grief, fear, and despair. Boston: Shambala.


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The Diversity Dividend by Katherine W Hirsh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Getting emotionally fit — A workout for the soul

2 thoughts on “Getting emotionally fit — A workout for the soul

  1. kwhirsh says:

    Stretch is really a good term here – acceptance involves some stretching as we increase our capacity both to feel and to express emotions.


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