Have you heard the advice: “Buck Up!”, “It can’t be as bad as all that” or my personal favourite “At least you’re not starving/homeless/jobless/loveless etc”. In offering these platitudes, others are trying to be helpful. But if you could have implemented that kind of advice and got yourself out of whatever psychological or emotional hole you’re currently in, I’m sure you would have done so. This is where the gentle art of wallowing comes into its own.
In her book Constructive Wallowing: How to Have Bad Feelings by Letting Yourself Have Them, author Tina Gilbertson draws the link between acceptance of our feelings and self-acceptance. As she astutely observes:
“When we refuse to (w)allow in ‘negative’ feelings, what happens is that we push away the part of us that feels that way. This creates a fragmented self, with an Acceptable Me and an Unacceptable Me.”
While we all experience a wide range of emotions, most of us are more comfortable with the positive ones than the negative. And it does feel better to be joyful, curious, playful and grateful than it does to feel angry, sad, regretful or anxious. But all these feelings are part of a full human experience. When we run from the less comfortable bits we short-change ourselves and generally find we are less able to empathise with others when they’re in a not so great place.
The problem is that when we’re feeling down, it feels as if it will go on forever. Equally when we feel ‘up’ we often convince ourselves that we’ve reached Nirvana and this hopeful state of mind will never leave us. Neither assessment is true.
The best analogy I’ve heard is that our emotions are like being ain a lift (or elevator, if you hail from North America). Different emotions are associated with different floors. Awe and ecstasy are what you’ll find on the very top floor; misery and despair live in the basement.
The trick is to remember you’re in a lift. It’s built to go up and down, from floor to floor. Allow yourself to experience the feelings at each floor but know that, at some point soon, the lift will be off again to another floor bringing different emotions with each stop. At all costs, resist the temptation to try to get off the lift and move yourself onto a particular floor, especially the basement!
Learning to not only be with our feelings but to welcome them in and listen, acknowledge and appreciate the lessons they may be offering, is part of the skill-set of being fully grown and fully whole. A Ripenist I was speaking with recently observed that just giving herself permission to be sad, instead of continuing to keep ignoring it as she had been doing for months, was enough to help the feeling lift.
So ask yourself: are you in need of some time to (w)allow? Do you need to give yourself permission to just be and feel let-down, lonely or sorry for yourself for a while? To do so, you need to stop comparing your life circumstances to others and weighing up whether or not your situation justifies the emotions you’re experiencing. Even if you’re not starving/homeless/jobless or loveless it may feel a lot like you are, just at this moment!
As Edith Wharton quipped: “If only we’d stop trying to be happy, we could have a pretty good time.” Counter-intuitive as it may sound, indulging in the gentle art of (w)allowing may just be the key to a happier and more delicious second half.