Finding Joy in Shame
A week or so ago, I told a story about something that occurred in my past, and the reaction I received set off a profound wave of shame in me. I was taken aback by it because I had not experienced shame that intensely in a long time. Fortunately, I was immediately aware that my reaction was out of all proportion to what had actually occurred in the interaction--that something more profound was being called up from the depths of my being. Unfortunately, that knowledge didn't make me feel any better.
Over the next 24 hours, the waves of shame came and went. As I encountered each wave, I tried to use the advice of Dr. Kim D'Eramo, whom I've had the opportunity to work with in person during her workshop at Kripalu, and whom I follow via her Mind Body Community on Facebook. She says that, in situations like these, the "gunk" that we shove deep down inside of us (because we don't want to, or are not ready to, deal with it) gets stirred up and comes to the surface. We can choose to shove it back down, or we can acknowledge it and give it space to release. I decided to try the latter. Instead of running from the sensation of shame, I tried to let it be as big as it wanted to be, and to speak calmly to myself: "It's OK....I love you...just breathe..." With each wave, I repeated this process. It still felt crappy, but it also felt more manageable. I was not trying to make it go away; I was just trying to be present to it, with no expectations about what would happen in the next moment.
The feeling of shame eventually did release after a few days. As I think of the incident now, there is no shame associated with it. But that's not the big story, or the reason this experience was so exciting for me that I wanted to share it. The morning after the initial incident, I was riding the shame wave, talking myself through it, experiencing it as fully as I could, when the most amazing thing happened--I started to smile! I was still feeling the shame, but I was smiling. Kim says that, even when things seem very difficult, if you can find even 2% more ease in the moment, you make space for something else to happen. And in my own moment of slightly more ease, I found joy. I was still feeling the shame, but I had the clear sense that it was temporary and that joy was right there--had been there all along--waiting for me to find it!
Knowing that allows me to release fear of whatever else might come. Even powerful feelings will not overwhelm me if I acknowledge them and give them space. And I know that I can support myself through the process, even if it takes some time. This amazing superpower is available to all of us--why don't you give it a try?