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The Art of Feeling: How Painful Emotions Can Be A Good Thing



A few years ago, I was placed on multiple antidepressants. Eventually, the realization that they were not only subduing depression but were subduing all other emotions to some degree as well prompted me to quit taking them. I learned you cannot simply cut off your ability to feel something, such as depression or any other emotion deemed negative, without cutting off your ability to fully feel everything else fully as well. The degree to which you are willing to experience any given feeling is in exact proportion with the degree to which you will experience all other feelings, willingly or not. Experiencing intense pain enables you to experience the ecstasy of life. Experiencing overwhelming despair brews a newfound gratitude for the happiness found in even the minutest of events and actions. After quitting antidepressants, I spent years groping my way through a hazy fog of unrelenting depression with no identifiable root cause. Although it took a while, emerging from the dark depths of depression faded from a mere fantasy into my reality. When it did, the newfound gratitude I had for my life was even greater than it was before depression entered my life. Perhaps when darkness, regardless of the tragedy that gave birth to it,  is approached consciously and experienced without resistance, it uncovers hidden, previously ignored truths about yourself and the world around you, which in turn allows you to see life more clearly and enables you to live with more vitality and passion. There are many routes to transmuting darkness into light, suffering into joy, listlessness into productivity. The trick is to consider each possible path and make the effort to embark on the ones that call out to you. Keep in mind, notions herein regarding depression and dealing with it productively can apply to all emotions in some way, not only depression.

How to Use Painful Emotions to Better Yourself

View your dissatisfaction with life as a message from your inner self: When an aspect of your life is not in alignment with your soul’s desires and your core beliefs and you continuously ignore it, your soul will often rise up in opposition and manifest itself as a debilitating condition such as depression, leaving you with no choice but to spend time in solitude. Isolation from debilitating depression demands you to explore every corner of inner turmoil, inevitably bringing to light the behaviors, actions, hobbies, or habits which are not in alignment with your fundamental beliefs. In solitude, you begin to explore the deepest parts of your inner self, which inevitably leads to the unveiling of the inner conflicts hindering your life. You may find you are unbearably miserable with your mind numbing job that has stripped you of your appetite for wonder, a romantic or platonic relationship, familial discord, the way you allow people to treat you, or a plethora of other things. Whatever it is, inner child work via hypnosis, meditation, and journaling can help you identify it.

Once you identify the root cause of conflict within, it is incredibly important to then take swift and immediate action to dissolve it. Otherwise, if you do not act, you risk worsening your depression by sending a message to your subconscious that although you know what is wrong and therefore what steps you need to take to take to begin healing, you do not think you are worth the effort to take them. Your subconscious is always eavesdropping on your thoughts, and responds accordingly.

Channel negative energy into creative expression: You are likely familiar with the stigma that artists are tortured, depressed souls. Of course, this is not true for every artist, but nonetheless many musicians, writers, painters, and other types of artists have long been known to draw their creative energy from deep within the murky waters of depression. Perhaps this is due to the fact that depressed people tend to ruminate over details of past experiences more so than the average individual. There are invisible dimensions of feelings in our day to day lives that we all feel, both good and bad. The average person dismisses lingering memories of the “bad” ones at their earliest convenience while creative people, especially those who are depressed, dive deep into those feelings. Going deep into the darkness of depression is unavoidable when the extent to which you feel things is far greater than the average person. Depression is able to consume you because it evokes such strong emotion. This makes it an incredibly powerful tool for channeling your energy into creative work, perhaps more so than most other emotions. When you use this monumental force of energy, you step aside mentally and allow the essence of the universe to flow through you to create a work of art — a painting, a song, poetry, a book, and so on.

Sharing your creative work with others helps you feel less alone. When others make an effort to pay attention to what you create, they likely identify with some part, or perhaps even all, of it. When this occurs, you contribute to an ever-growing and desperately needed collective movement to forge deep, compassionate connections with others in a world where we frequently separate and isolate ourselves from one another, often for surface reasons as trivial as race, political beliefs, disability, or societal status. When a diversity of people connect with the same work of art, whatever form it may take, the truth that we are all the same at our deepest levels becomes blatantly clear.

You do not have to share your creative work with others for it to be productive, though. There are many ways in which engaging in privately kept artistic expression can be productively used to harness the monumental flow of energy from depression into creative activity. For example, a research study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology showed journaling about upsetting experiences and aspects of your life for a mere 15 minutes a day for only three days boosts levels of happiness. [1] If you are more prone to expressing yourself freely if you know it will be kept private rather than shared with others, then you should absolutely choose that option —if you push yourself to share your creative work publicly regardless of your hesitation to do so, still engaging in private creative work on the side not only amplifies the benefits of committing to inner work, it may also diminish feelings of angst or fear fueling your hesitation to openly express yourself.

Both private and public creative expression are productive ways to minimize, if not overcome, depression. When you engage in creative expression fully, you drop into a meditative trance-like state. Although you do not realize it at the time, your consciousness makes contact with the inner demons hiding in your subconscious while in this state. When you emerge from this creatively induced trance-like state, so do the inner conflicts you uncovered within it, allowing you to finally acknowledge them and make peace with them.

Increase your gratitude: Yes, using depression as a vehicle to increase your sense of gratitude sounds paradoxical, but it is nonetheless very possible when a conscious decision to do so is made. This in no way means sitting around and waiting for something to happen that you can grateful for. It means discovering all of the things you already have to be thankful for. Intentionally practicing gratitude even when you don’t actually feel grateful reprograms the brain to focus on positive aspects of life more than negative ones. Keeping gratitude journals and engaging in gratitude meditations  are two excellent ways to do this.

Improve your physical health: Not surprisingly, when it comes to physical and mental health, the two go hand in hand. Boosting physical health also boosts mental health. So, striving to spend more time in the sun, eat healthier, and exercise more are often beneficial for combating depression — and at the same time, you improve the longevity and virtually every other area of your life to some degree, even if small, too.

Practice Mindfulness: Calming techniques, such as mindfulness meditation, yoga, hypnotherapy, and tai chi ease depression by helping you relax and clear your mind. Repetitively executing such techniques for depression does more than merely provide short term results like pharmaceutical antidepressants do (which, not to mention, often have harmful consequences in the long run), it also deeply instills a long lasting, life changing skill within you — a shift in consciousness, the ability to be more aware, more present, and ultimately more alive.

Of course, there are many other productive activities that may heal or ease symptoms of depression. I personally feel the above two require more inner work and thus generate the greatest results. Of course, everyone is different. Like most other things in life, productively working with your depression to alleviate it and improve your quality of life is a highly individualized path.

What it all comes down to is that at some point or another, in some way or another, we are all pushed to edge and consumed by darkness, by despair, by depression, by rage, and all of the friendly counterparts of pain. The vehicle that delivers us to this consumption differs –often significantly- among each of us. Regardless of how different the surface details of our painful situations may be, we all have our own form of rock bottom where we are ultimately forced to make a life changing decision: to gloss over our pain with medications and/or keep ourselves constantly busy with meaningless activity that allots us no time alone with our thoughts; or to stop, open our eyes, acknowledge the sickness of mankind in some way, in some aspect we were previously oblivious to, and let it change us on a deep level forever, for the better. From the moment of our first shutter of darkness, we all became one -cast out in some way and different, even if the shift within us is subtle, than we were before. The first time the spirits of those of us who allow ourselves to feel pain fully and let it change us are frosted with darkness, we sink beneath the glaciers of the lives we once knew and sink deeper, always deeper, into water so icy it burns the spirit like shards of shattered glass. Eventually, we hopefully begin to see that these shards of glass were but tools carving a passageway into the underlying invisibles of life where all things begin to shimmer with luminous particles not unlike the golden flecks that can be spotted in rays gleaming through windows as the scorching August sun begins to set.

Eventually, we see the burning of what we knew to be our spirits as exposed fallacies of a society struggling to place a word on something so deep -the invisible, wildness of the world. The place where we all must go, but to where no one can journey with us. The place pain, if fully felt, forces us to enter after we make it beyond the wall that we feel we simply cannot go past, one we all eventually hit at some point. Past that wall exists deeper realms so beautiful they possess no name, unattainable by the thinking mind, as it would only work to reduce these luminous things, these uncharted territories within, the ecstasy felt only once one has been seared with the hot iron whose board is made of feelings more painful and dark than we ever thought possible. The beautiful meanings we eventually find within our tragedies do not come to our attention at first. For some of us, it takes a few months. Others, years. Others, decades. Whether we acknowledge it or not, the truth is that within each of us lies the strength to adapt and withstand the relentless sting of passage from dark waters of emotions like deep depression -whose rapids, with time, push us off its smoothly surfaced sharp cliff, into the deep pleasure pain teaches us if and when we nobly follow it into the abyss.


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