The Thin Line of Working with Hard Emotions

 Where hard emotions can lead to profound learning

Where hard emotions can lead to profound learning

While I was working for RoundTable Global and creating the embodied perspective of the Shine program, I put myself to task on why I felt it was important to be able to create a situation where various difficult emotions could arrise in new experiences.  

There is resistance, certainly in executive training programs to provide an experience that might take people to a vulnerable (some people think embarrassing, or antisocial) place like tears, or anger or pain.  While I certainly understand that force is not what creates sustainable development, there is something to be understood about these hard emotions surfacing.  There is something valuable about being guided or guiding someone through these strong, sometimes taboo responses and I would like to formulate my thoughts into this slightly meandering post.  

Like anything interesting, there is a thin line, ___________________________________________ and I will try and describe this fine silk thread _________________________________________  this tightrope _____________________________________________________________________

because if it can be walked the rewards are AMPLE. 

******** Essential point of departure... before any of the work is begun, there has to be an agreement that both the facilitator and the participant are working towards a common goal.  With this as the initial agreement we can proceed: 

FRUSTRATION

ANGER

BOREDOM

EXHAUSTION

FEAR

PAIN

I call these blocks in this context.  Arising physiological occurrences that can be so big, embarrassing, scary or taboo that they create a stop. I have experienced them in whatever given situation and the result is that I stop participating or the whole activity stops.  By a stop I mean,

I stop doing what I am doing.

stop listening.

stop reading.

the other person stops.

stop trying to learn the new dance.

stop walking down a dark road.

stop talking to my husband.

stop participating in the activity because the block experienced is stronger than my will to do it.  In some cases it is life saving, in all cases it is preserving something that already IS. Something that doesn't want to change, something that serves the organism in some way.  The thin line is knowing where there is real danger that my organism is protecting me from or where there are only minor 'dangers' that my organism is protecting out of habit.  By 'real' danger I am referring to the possibility of death, or a serious injury vs. the minor dangers of changing my opinion, being wrong, changing my habits, my addictions or changing a part of my identity.

When one of these emotions arrises within during a workshop or a class it requires a seriously high level detective work be able to witness the reaction, understand why the reaction has occurred, and gauge which level of danger I am experiencing. Further, after seeing my situation clearly, the most ideal outcome is to then choose to react in line with the goal I have chosen, not against it.  It takes experience and practice to work with ourselves in this way.  Whether the block is saving my life, or it is simply stoping me from stepping into a different way of thinking, the emotions we humans feel to stop in both cases are the same, FEAR, FRUSTRATION, ANGER, BOREDOM, EXHAUSTION, PAIN and sometimes we have TEARS.  These reactions can be all consuming, if not only to ourselves, but also sometimes to the people around us who will stop and watch, console, perhaps respond with the same emotions, but whatever the response is, it can easily stop whatever was going on.  Like our own personal and often very effective EJECTION chair. 

If we approach these blocks like a scientist watching an experiment, it is very interesting to see where they occur, and in response to what. That is what the guide/facilitator/coach is there to help take you through.  Ultimately, as you have chosen to participate in the experience, you also want the guide to take you through that block, despite what you may want to do to the facilitator at the moment you are experiencing it*!**%$@£&^*_()@

THAT PRACTICE, to know how to recognise a life preserving block or a life STAGNATING block is what I want to deliver in the training experience.  The training room, if well designed, is a safe, low consequence place to experience and experiment with these arising physiological occurrences so you can practice your response, and master where you want to go with your response. Right there, I have found again, the essential principle of PLAY.  I keep finding it in my work. To try something out in a low consequence environment. Go wrong, learn, get confident and then go on to apply it in environments with higher stakes. 

 There is a reason we play, it serves a very 'serious' purpose in our lives. 

There is a reason we play, it serves a very 'serious' purpose in our lives. 

With playful experiences, for example, I have seen that my organism reacts with frustration which turns into a feeling of anger when I am repeatedly asked to do something that I repeatedly can't do. That turns to tears, and then it turns to stopping and watching or running away. But with experience I can observe it now, I can watch my frustration arrise, and not blame my guide/coach/teacher for making me frustrated, or doing something that I can't do, or teaching badly.  I can just let myself be frustrated, not react to it and keep my eye on the goal.  Keep trying, keep finding another way to figure it out, keep putting in little land marks that can take me to the next point and the next point.  With qualities of lightness and seriousness. 

Maybe I get it this time. 

Maybe I don't.

Maybe I get it next time... maybe I don't.  But if I keep going I will get it.  

It is like the walls of our 'comfort zones' are lined with or made from these hard emotions.  Like we need to go through them, accept them, feel them, and go past them.  That is when real change happens.  Really profound shifts in our experience of self and the world around us. 

 invisiblebread.com

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So, when we do corporate training programs, do we really, really want to avoid bringing people to see one of their road blocks?  If someone gets angry, or someone cries, or someone gets frustrated and sits out, does that mean a failed program?  Or does that actually mean that we are touching real limits of identity, and providing a real place to move past them?  I sincerely think the later.  I think we need to create a place where exposing the less socially acceptable parts of ourselves can be done without harming self or others, can be held, can be processed, and moved through. Ideally holding the possibility of moving through with more ease and grace the next time.  Because there will be a next time. It is never over, until we are over, we will keep getting situations that we need to learn from and grow with. And we can get better at letting these blocks show themselves, see them for the value they have and move past them, if we want to reach the agreed goal.  

Having had the blessing and curse to live through many different and challenging experiences from 33 days of fasting, solo trips in the Canadian Rockies, to deadly canoe trips down the Saskatchewn River, dance classes way beyond my means, moving house almost every year of my life, ahyawaska ceremonies, a broken back, circus training with the Moscow State Circus, to sitting in meditation for 11 days, 7 hours a day, my parent's divorce, Whirling Dervish training, Gurgeiv Movements and different forms of heart break, I can only say that where there is discomfort, there is definitely discovery. 

I would conjecture (because there are no absolutes in this subjective work of human development) play, in various disciplines helps us process the larger, higher consequence situations in life.  And if we take full range of emotions in play with grace and acceptance, then we have the possibility to do that in life. 

In any given workshop, the role of the guide/facilitator/coach is to take it out of the realm of trauma and keep it in the realm of play and possibility, but we have to invite the vulnerable, be willing to hold the space through hard emotions and know that they come up as a sign of shifting identity, of shifting what we have considered right and wrong: shift to grow.   

As Dr. Brene Brown has famously said:

we associate vulnerability with emotions we want to avoid such as fear, shame, and uncertainty. Yet we too often lose sight of the fact that vulnerability is also the birthplace of joy, belonging, creativity, authenticity, and love.
— The Power of Vulnerability