The main message in The Language of Emotions is that all emotions are necessary. And yet, we all know that emotions can be really troublesome. So how do you take an emotion that’s a total drag and turn it back into an asset?
First, you learn what the emotion is supposed to do and what message it carries. I find that when people know what their emotion is asking of them, they have a much easier time working with it. For instance, if you know that anger is about boundaries, you can look at an overabundance (or lack) of anger and re-frame the entire situation in terms of how you set (or ignore) boundaries. When you know what emotions are for, it’s a heck of a lot easier to work with them.
However, we often get ourselves into a rut with certain emotions. Maybe we’re very forceful and angry at work, or maybe we’re anger-impaired pushovers who can’t set boundaries. In either case, it can be hard to change these behaviors because we don’t know another way. We get stuck in an emotional behavior that not only doesn’t work; it also ignores the reason the emotion arose in the first place, so we lose our way.
Because emotions carry such vital messages, I created five empathic skills to help people reclaim their own innate empathic abilities. These skills rely on our ability to work in the imaginal realm (notice I didn’t say imaginary?). The imaginal realm isn’t something we make up; rather, it’s the place where our creativity comes from. In the imaginal realm, we create music, art, dreams, ideas, and sudden inspirations — and all of these recruit and rely upon our emotional and empathic abilities. With the five empathic skills, we learn to rely on our imaginal abilities so that we can work with our emotions in new ways.
We’ve been talking about shame this week, and I’ve noticed that there’s a lot of caution around shame. If you’ve got a great deal of applied and inauthentic shame clogging up your emotional life, there’s an empathic skill that can help you refocus and detoxify your shame. This skill is called Burning Contracts.
The Gifts of Burning Contracts
Behavioral change ~ Emotional renewal~ Self restoration
Burning contracts is an empathic practice that helps you separate yourself from behaviors, attitudes, and relationships that destabilize you. It helps you envision these things as tendencies, rather than concrete certainties. When you can view your behaviors not as life sentences, but as inclinations, then you can choose to support or release them.
If you’ve got trouble with certain emotions, you can burn your behavioral contracts with those emotions and restore your emotional flow. If you’re unhappy with one of your behaviors, you can burn your contracts with it and free yourself from its clutches. If you’re unable to function in relationships, you can burn your contracts with those relationships – not to end them, but to reorganize the behaviors that control your interactions with others.
To burn a contract with an idea, behavior, stance, or relationship, imagine unrolling a large piece of blank parchment paper right in front of you (if you can’t visualize, use your hands to actually unroll this imaginary parchment). This parchment should be a calming, gentle color that can absorb whatever you place onto it. Keep this roll of parchment near you for now, so that you can feel your connection to this attitude or behavior.
With your parchment in front of you, you can project, envision, write, speak, or just think your trouble with shame onto it. You can project emotional expectations, intellectual stances, physical rules, or spiritual pronouncements. Or, you can envision a picture of yourself feeling shamed or being shamed directly onto the parchment. When you can get these behaviors, stances, and ideas out in front of you, you can begin to observe and individuate from them. You can see yourself not as a victim, but as an upright individual who decides to act, relate, or behave in certain ways – and can decide to act and behave differently.
As these behaviors, beliefs, and postures move out in front of you, you may feel emotions rising up inside you. This is absolutely fantastic. You can use whatever emotion comes forward to dislodge unworkable ideas or behaviors, and in so doing, you’ll restore your flow. That’s what emotions do: They move energy and information from one place to the next and restore your flow. Rely on them, and you’ll achieve real separation from old attitudes and behaviors — and real understanding of your authentic self.
Welcome your emotions – whatever they are. If you feel angry, throw these ideas onto your parchment, or imagine a color, movement, sound, or quality you associate with anger, and place it alongside your images. If you feel fearful, speed up your movements and fling these ideas out of you. If you feel sad, imagine laying these ideas on your parchment slowly and mournfully. If you feel depressed, darken the images or your parchment (or slow your movements to a crawl), and welcome your depression to this process. Don’t fight your emotions or pretend you’re feeling something else. Don’t surround yourself with pink bunnies if you’re sad or anxious.
Do this for as long as you need to. When you feel done, and your parchment is full of words, images, feelings, or sounds, please roll it up. This parchment personifies the contract you’ve forged with shame. Roll this contract tightly so the material inside can’t be seen or heard any longer – in this way, it becomes less powerful immediately. Tie your contract with a cord, if that feels right. Grasp your rolled-up contract, and imagine tossing it away from you. When it lands, imagine burning it up with whatever emotional energy feels right. You can blast it with anger (or shame!), strike it with fear, engulf it with sadness, or use your depressive energy to create a funeral pyre. Your emotions will provide the exact intensity you need to destroy the contract and set yourself free.
You can burn contracts at any time, and in any place. No one needs to know you’re doing it. This process is a fully portable, emotionally welcoming process that was created for people with busy lives; it can be used whenever and wherever you like. Burning your contracts – because it utilizes the imaginal and emotive language the psyche likes best – will move you to a new place in consciousness, where you’ll no longer need to waste your time on unfulfilling behaviors or objectionable relationships to certain emotions. Burning your contracts can set you free.
After you’ve burnt a contract with a toxic emotion, it’s very helpful to get to know it better. With shame, you can ask yourself the questions: Who (or what) has been hurt? and What must be made right? This is a good way to sort of retrain your brain about shame, and it will bring forward all the things you may feel ashamed about. Luckily, you can make things right, so you don’t have to wallow in shame or be beaten down by it any longer.
Because shame is so often applied to us like a heavy coat of plaster, it can take more than a few contract burning sessions to get underneath all the foreign and inauthentic shaming messages we’ve received. The good news is that burning contracts is free, you can do it anywhere, it takes almost no energy, and it can help you rescue emotions that have been made toxic!
Yeeha! The imaginal realm rocks!