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Emotions are simply energies that are meant to be in motion. They are designed to move into our awareness and be felt in our bodies and at some point move out. They move in to teach us something about ourselves and they move out when we learn what we needed to learn. Just like in school, learning certain lessons takes longer than we expect. And just like in school, we sometimes duck from learning the harder lessons altogether but eventually we realize that there’s no way to escape the needed curriculum.

I often use this food analogy to explain, to myself as much as to my yogis, how emotions work: We take in food and eventually we eliminate it out of our bodies but between the intake and elimination, there is a process of digesting, assimilating and metabolizing the nutrients. And so it is with emotions: Once the emotion is in our system, it has to go through a certain process before it can leave us. That process, however it looks and however long it takes, has to leave us with certain “nutrients,” or insights about ourselves, our relationships or life in general before it can come to completion.

Would you eat and expect the food to be eliminated out of your system right away? That would leave you without the needed nutrients, which is why you eat to begin with. We all know how horrid that feels because we’ve all had food poisoning or the stomach flu. So why do we expect certain emotions to immediately leave us, just because they may be unexpected or unpleasant? If they’ve entered our system, they’ve done so for a reason (and just like with food, we let those emotions in voluntarily, even if we may not be aware we did). Finding out why these emotions are here now and what lessons they carry with them won’t happen if we short-circuit their natural unfolding process by skipping the steps of emotional digesting, assimilating and metabolizing.

Sometimes we use the opposite, and equally unhealthy and counterproductive dodging technique by holding on to emotions for years or decades. We don’t keep these emotions prisoner within ourselves because it feels good, but because we’re trying to bypass the lesson we need to learn. But back to my food analogy, would you eat, day after day, and just refuse to poop? I know, it’s gross and unnatural and unhealthy. But that’s my point.

No one can tell us how long any given process of emotional digesting, assimilating and metabolizing will or should take. Asking such a question is just the mind’s attempt to subvert the self-discovery process by skipping the steps between the beginning and the end. The mind is always focused on the beginning, which is the past, and the end, which is the future. No wonder believing our thoughts causes so much indigestion.

See what would happen if you just trusted the process by shifting from thinking and analyzing to feeling and being. As long as you’re having this human experience, you will feel because that’s why you’re here. A feeling is only negative when it’s repressed, when it’s not allowed to be felt. That’s all any emotion asks of us: let me be felt without the mind’s incessant judgment and commentary. And as soon as the emotion is given space to be, to digest, it will bow out on its own, leaving you nourished by the insight it came to bring you in the first place.