Feelings are really your GPS system for life. When you’re supposed to do something, or not supposed to do something your emotional guidance system lets you know.
Several years ago on a road trip with my family, we stopped at a rest area for that necessary bio break. Because I had been driving, I got out to do yoga postures, to stretch and relax my body. I looked over. An adult male got out of a minivan a few yards away roaring like an angry bear at three boys. The youngest boy wailed as (I assumed) his father held his arm in a twisted, painful-looking vice grip which almost lifted the little boy, probably four years old, off the ground as they walked over to a grassy area. “Get on the ground and give me 100 push-ups, NOW!” he hollered. The two older boys immediately complied. The father continued to hold the youngest in that twisted grip. As the dad yelled angry, awful words at the boys, the youngest continued to wail in fear and pain.
With a pounding heart and a passionate commitment, I walked over and joined the two older boys on the ground. I did the push-ups, the sit-ups while whispering quietly to the boys. “You’ve got this. I’m doing this with you. I know he’s angry, but you don’t have to believe his cruel words.” While doing the sit-ups, I noticed that the four-year-old now hiccupped with a tear-stained face. His round, saucer eyes stared dumbfounded at me. The dad had released his vice grip and stared at me, also. He stopped verbally vomiting the cruel words about the boys. While he continued to call out a few more exercises, I noticed his body posture had softened a bit. After a few more minutes, I popped up on my feet, calmly looked at the dad, and told the boys to take good care of themselves. I turned and jogged back to our minivan.
When I returned and climbed into the driver’s seat, I heard both of my children, son in middle school, daughter in high school, excitedly talk over each other. “Mom, I cannot believe you did that! That was so amazing! Weren’t you scared? Wow, that dad was really angry, but he stopped yelling and hurting the littlest boy! Wow!”
“Yeah, that dad was really angry. I trusted that my presence could be a pattern interruption. I cannot bear to watch children being abused.” I’m certain neither of my children has ever forgotten what they witnessed.
A few days ago I had a fascinating conversation with my now-adult son, who works with young men who have multiple challenges. His passion to deescalate emotional tensions through body language, facial expressions, energy presence excited me. He offered how our body postures can send powerful messages to other human beings when we aren’t speaking any words. He shared about pattern interruptions including his ability to be comical in certain situations, how his humor consistently de-escalated what might have been a tense interaction.
My son also talked about the benefits of being able to notice his thoughts and emotional states, to notice his body sensations, and to keep himself in a place of dynamic equanimity.
We discussed positive reinforcement for calm states rather than resisting or clashing with explosive or self-harming states of another human being. He observed that the young men he works with are often using bad behavior as a way to get attention. If the negative behaviors get someone’s attention, people will often persist in the negative behavior. However, if the healthier behaviors get reinforced (I see you being calm in your body—even if at first, it’s for 15 seconds-), the underlying yearning or need for attention begins to be met. Further discussions can take place about additional needs and challenges as the individual’s bandwidth for the healthier behavior expands.
What you resist persists. What you look at disappears.
—Neale Donald Walsch
If at our core, even as adults, we yearn to be “gotten” emotionally and energetically with empathy, noticed for the human beings that we are, and “heard” from an entire body language perspective as well as our words, then what a rich gift to hold space, to discern with empathy, to deeply listen with our whole bodies and hearts to another human being. When we can emotionally regulate ourselves from the inside out, we become an energy presence, modeling, guiding other people to see their way through their own internal processes.
If the experience of trust got ruptured along the way to adulthood, then the work of restoring trust in interactions with people becomes essential to our growth and evolution. Learning ways to feel all our feelings without hurting ourselves or other people, connecting with that centered, neutral place deep inside ourselves, and compassionately modeling this in our interactions can be a profound pathway.
A centered, loving, open emotional energy presence can be felt before we even open our mouths to speak. Through receptive, non-threatening body posture, soft eyes, and welcoming facial expressions we communicate volumes. Our whole bodies can be instruments by which we communicate dignity, courage, empathy, love, and compassion in our noisy, sometimes volatile, ever-changing world.