If you have been feeling more reflective and introspective lately, you are not alone. After the harvest, our natural inclination is to move inward, both physically and emotionally, cultivating time and space to review the past year as well as to integrate the lessons learned. This inward motion may look like decluttering and decorating hearth and home. It also may look like sitting quietly and witnessing a parade of emotions marching across your internal landscape.
You may be tempted to value the physical work more than the emotional work. Makes sense. Many of us have been taught productivity, especially of the variety that we can see, proves our worth. Accomplishing tasks and projects typically elicits praise and is a credit to our reputation, especially if our productivity gets other people results, e.g., authority figures.
But what about the work we do in our emotional landscapes? The kind of work that usually is not seen, at least not immediately, and is hard to measure. How do we prioritize that work?
One way we prioritize emotional work is to spend time in introspection every month.
Providing an opportunity to examine our choices and patterns is one reason why I offer New Moon Circles. I want folks to have a dedicated space to reflect on the past month and set intentions for the coming month.
I also offer New Moon Circles because I want folks to have the experience of being supported in community. There is a unique healing which occurs when we allow ourselves to be seen by people who are able to offer both compassion and empathy. The feeling of being seen and not judged is exquisite and eventually erases the damage inflicted by envy, anger and fear. Circles, when guided ethically and lovingly, are one of the best antidotes to shame and to hostility.
Noticing what triggers us is another aspect of emotional work.
Asking ourselves what is it about this person or this situation that upsets us is key to understanding our underlying motivations and fears. Being willing to look beneath the surface at own our insecurities or misunderstood needs is how we liberate ourselves from the shackles of our triggers. If we want to develop wiser, less reactive coping strategies, then we must identify what upsets us.
A first step toward uncovering our hidden motivations or fears is to answer two questions:
- What are the qualities or characteristics I most detest?
- What are the qualities or characteristics I most admire?
The answers to these questions will give you insight into what you fear and what you desire. Spend time describing each quality and characteristic. Be very clear on what you detest and on what you admire. Your descriptions will show you what parts of yourself need acceptance (the qualities you detest) and what parts of yourself need a shot of confidence (the characteristics you admire).
Examining our beliefs about ourselves and our world is yet another component of emotional work.
We are more likely to treat ourselves and others with compassion and respect if we recognize both our conscious and unconscious beliefs.
I recently learned a new term called “identity protective cognition.” This term comes out of the study of cultural cognition and refers to a person’s tendency to dismiss or diminish information that is inconsistent with their beliefs.
For example, if a person tells you a story that conflicts with your understanding of yourself or of your world, then you are more likely to question or to negate this person’s story. We see identity protective cognition in action every time a rape victim’s story is not believed or a child is told they misunderstood an adult’s abuse.
Why does this happen? Because it is easier to believe that someone misunderstood, did not remember accurately or even was somehow responsible for another person’s hurtful and destructive behavior. To recognize, and worse, to identify a particular “monster” is so hard. It challenges our world view and makes us rethink what we know about a particular person, especially a person we liked or trusted.
The good news is if we are brave enough to examine the beliefs that encourage us to reject another person’s story, then we are better able to hold space for reconciliation, forgiveness and understanding. This is big work and invites us to create new paradigms where much healing can occur and healthy communities can flourish. In other words, we all benefit from doing the hard work.
Which is why I invite you to share the rewards and the challenges you uncover as you tend to your emotional landscape. (Please email me below.) Your courage inspires me to do my own hard work.
Remember: If you are able to ask the question, then you are able to receive the answer. We are wiser than we know. When the time is right, you will have what you need to do the work.
Important note: If this work seems daunting, then consider asking for help. Talk to a trusted friend, find a support group or seek professional help. You are not expected to do this work alone.