I am an ENTJ, a thinker who struggles to process my emotions. I have been working for a couple of years with Harvey Cheatham, an old friend who is finishing up his Ph.D. in Psychology. I met Harvey when I started attending a Christian Businessmen’s Retreat in 1982. I’ve only missed three retreats since then, and Harvey has been a wonderful friend and spiritual mentor. Harvey introduced me to meditation in the early years. He and I would get up before dawn to meditate beside a lake at the retreat center. Meditation continues to be my most meaningful spiritual practice.
Soon after I started monthly sessions with Harvey, he told me, “Gregg, you need to learn how to process your emotions.” I mentioned the conversation to Genie, my spouse of 40 years, and she said, “I wonder what that would look like?”
Since then, I have worked in fits and spurts to do just that. I find it hard work. I wrote an earlier post about these attempts called Face your Pain, but don’t Wallow in It.
In my session to start off the New Year, Harvey again challenged me to begin a spiritual diary. He sent me a copy of his Doctoral Dissertation, which is an academic study of the work of his mentor, Dr. Ute Hoehne.
One of the hypotheses he explores is the idea that all wisdom that comes to us from God is filtered through our emotions. When we have many unresolved feelings lurking in the subconscious, it will distort what we are hearing from God. Accordingly, emotional clarity is critical to hearing clearly from God. Harvey’s says, “Purify the pond, only a clear pond reflects the moon.”Harvey questions whether I have given enough attention to my emotional state. He told me,
For thoughts from God to penetrate our physical body, they must come through our emotions. They cannot penetrate if we build a wall around our emotions. It diminished our ability to feel joy. If we sweep emotions under the rug, we will start to trip over the lumps. What emotions did you experience today? What caused a reaction today? Process your emotions!!
Quoting from Harvey’s dissertation, Dr. Hoehne puts it this way:
What comes in must go out. This is true of the food, liquids, and air that one intakes. It is also apparently true of all of the daily energies that bombard us. Unfortunately, one rarely takes the time to fully process those energies. As a result, these energies accumulate within the body and can create psychological or physical disease.
Hoehne recommends a structured period of daily reflection or, even better, of spiritual diary-writing. She believes this practice is an important tool to help process life impressions, which is an imperative obligation for a purposeful and soulful life. She refers to this activity as soul-making. Different approaches may vent intense emotions, provide self-observation, or open the door to spontaneous insights and revelations. Spiritual diary-writing, while identified with soul, can shift one’s focus to an attitude of loving understanding and detachment, which is particularly helpful in dealing with all the energies of life impressions that were taken in during the day.
In my journey, I have indeed experienced this phenomena. I have encountered times of opposition, times of betrayal, and stuffed the emotions. Over time, I have seen extended periods in the spiritual desert, what might otherwise be labeled depression following these experiences of opposition and betrayal. When that has not been enough to prompt me to deal with my emotions, I’ve seen it progress into multiple physical ailments. I have come to see that we are holistic beings, and what affects us psychologically, can also manifest in physical symptoms that will damage our health.
So, this year, I have taken Harvey’s advice and begun a spiritual journal. At Harvey’s recommendation, I began a password protected journal for my eyes only focused on these two areas: What did I react to today? Seek to process the emotions, to understand why I reacted emotionally, and how I can respond in a healthy way.
Frankly, I’m finding it a somewhat perilous journey into uncharted territory. I find my equilibrium has been disturbed. I am dealing with things that I normally try to ignore. I am finding that things are coming up in my time of meditation that I wouldn't normally notice. I am trying to be more aware of the physical sensations of an emotional reaction in my gut. Yet despite the disorienting challenge of this work, much good is coming from the exercise.
I have been keeping the journal for a month now. In the course of reflecting on the emotions I am experiencing, I am creating action steps to deal with the feelings. In January, I created seven action steps and completed five of them. I find this is moving me into a much more proactive posture, and that ideas of how to dissipate the negative energy are coming from my time of reflection. As I have done the action steps, they have each been well accepted by the person who I felt some anger towards.
I realize that I have been reluctant to advocate for myself, to ask for what I need in relationships and situations that arise. But, ignoring what you want does not make it go away. Leaving these issues unresolved seems to just let them fester in the gut. Often what will emerge out of that festering is not positive but negative energy, which can strain relationships further.
From Harvey’s dissertation, I will quote some practical advice from Dr. Hoehne for Spiritual Diary-Writing.
Intention: With Spiritual Diary (SD) writing, we set the intention for a reflective and healing process to nurture spiritual growth. There are several layers to our being and, therefore, to our writing.
Therapeutic Writing (venting): This practice focuses on expression of high affective states. It is a container and witness for the externalization of feelings, which to us are not always socially acceptable. We are making the subjective inner states objective by expressing them in words and putting them on paper. By doing so, we are shedding light on and starting to release what is happening.
Reflective Writing: It includes self-observation and awareness. In such a way, we can become aware of all the factors involved: sensations, feelings, emotions, thoughts, and the outside world. We can realize how they are influencing and affecting each other-how they are interconnected.
Process Writing: Characterized by flow and openness to spontaneous insights and revelations of our underlying motives. It can bring unlived soul life and unprocessed life impressions to awareness, those that might have been avoided and overlooked.
Soul and/or Observer Writing: This is the process of transmutation of challenging emotions into something we can accept and apply in our daily life. This practice gives us the opportunity to integrate insights, revelations, and illuminations and consequently live a more inspired, joyful life.
I wouldn’t begin to say that I have mastered any or all of these four ways of writing. But, in my stumbling attempts, I am seeing insights into my motivations, and finding healthy ways to respond.I am not wired to easily process my emotional life. But, this is a tool that I am already finding quite useful, and I recommend it to others on a spiritual journey.