Image: Stock Image, Colourbox.
This image right below, is of the Hoover Dam. An engineering marvel bordering Arizona and Nevada. It is a powerful visual for today’s post. Hold it in your mind, it will make sense in a few minutes.
Its concrete base is more than 600 ft thick. Why? The Hoover Dam holds back 45,000 lb of water pressure per square foot. Behind this massive concrete wall lies 247 square miles of water. That water is carefully controlled and flows through the dam. A tiny, restricted flow of water generates enough energy in the plant’s turbines, to power the lives of 1.3 million people for a year.
Side note: If you have attempted to keep bath water in the bath with a toddler, you will have an appreciation for the scale of this dam and water pressure, because with a toddler bath, you (the parent) with 5 or 6 feet of body, are trying to withstand approximately 100 gallons of water. lol. Anyways…
The water’s potential energy held behind that wall, is staggering. It is there, bound up, waiting to be let through that dam. The water that gets through, explodes with energy, transferring to kinetic energy, and eventually into electric energy for hundreds of thousands of homes.
If you remember back to your high school classes in physics, (assuming you actually attended those classes – I can’t say I did) you may remember the first law of thermodynamics, the Law of Conservation of Energy: Energy can neither be created nor destroyed; energy can only be transferred or changed from one form to another.
I think about this all the time with parenthood – we all witness a huge range of energies & emotional states that children move through. They are incredibly dynamic. Toddler kinetic energy (racing down the hall) can flash over to emotional energy in a heart beat! They will pick up any energy in the room like a sponge. Even your baby does. Trying to put your baby down quickly and easily when you are agitated and restless? Yeah, good luck with that…
So, back to my point with energy only transfers. The human body experiences many forms of energy. Kinetic energy, chemical energy, thermal energy and electrical energy are all examples. Energy is flowing within us and through us. It leaves us, and comes to us. It is a constant interplay between us and our environments.We’re in one giant circle of energy exchange.
Though we haven’t gotten a good handle on it yet, there are other forms of energy flowing in our body, too. This energy is described in Eastern Medicine as Qi, but in the west we don’t really have a proper name for it yet other than the very loosey goosey description of someone’s “vibe.”
We have good days and bad days, on days and off days. We feel the vibes of other people and we can’t help but raise to their level, or sink to their level, depending on where they are. When our babies or children are in a different energy state from us, we are left trying to stay grounded while helping them move through their various states of being.
If you are super fascinated by energy states of children, I truly recommend Carol Tuttle’s book which describes different energy dispositions and how to work with them in children. It has been hugely influential in my life and parenting.
Here we, are trying our best to manage our children’s energy and how we react to it, thinking we are the knowledgeable ones… BUT… children have something very, very important to teach us. Children live in the present moment, and healthily process emotions. They let themselves experience everything in full technicolour. Then, as quickly as an emotion arrives, it passes. Maybe 5 minutes later, maybe 2 weeks later. It moves on.
Granted, we don’t want to go into full toddler style technicolour ranges of emotion and energy. We are adults and self-regulation is important in environments like oh, say, our jobs? Extended family dinners?
BUT you know what we adults do? We repress our emotions and deny them. We are like the wall of the hoover dam, except we are not 600+ feet thick concrete. We’re made of tissue, and bone, and organic materials that are constantly shifting and changing. I fully believe whatever emotions are being held back, the pressure of those is felt in our bodily structures.
We swallow emotions down and instead of letting them go through us and out of us. We push them deep into our subconscious and consequently, into our bodies. They eventually show up, becuase energy changes state. Perhaps bad dreams, or unconscious behaviours, or even chronic pain and illness.
In my own healing journey toward vitality and away from chronic pain and depressive symptoms and nightmares, I’ve come to understand that many of my own emotions have been repressed over the years, for various reasons. From family, social and cultural pressure to have a stiff upper lip, to simply needing to get sh*t done in crisis situations and saving the emotions for later.
And here, is the main point of this article. It turns out that having small children can be one of the most liberating things for your body, mind, spirit and soul, because they get our emotions back into free-flow mode.
Full disclosure, pre-kids, I used to see being emotional and crying as a trait of weakness and extremely undesirable. If I went to a movie with a friend or family, I’d inwardly roll my eyes if they were sobbing, and judge them – yet I’d be picking at my lip or fighting my own battle not to cry, staring at the back of people’s heads and trying to disconnect from the movie.
I took pride in being logical, un-emotional, stoic, etc. I was simply modelling what I saw around me. And you know what, for a long time it did truly serve me. Locking down and getting stuff done and facing challenges was something I had to do for almost all of my teens and twenties. It’s what I had to do then, and I honour it. That’s why we keep beliefs around, right? At some point they were useful.
In 2013 I took care of my mum with stage IV lung cancer and I was pregnant at the same time. It was an honour to be in that role. I was locked down, efficient, stoic as F**** while so many people around me fell apart from grief. I am careful not to judge it as a good thing or a bad thing – I have no regrets about how I handled my cancer caregiver role, however, keeping things on lock down did catch up with me, because those beliefs became more deeply embedded and my emotional range deeply decreased.
When old beliefs begin impacting your current quality of life, it is time to say:
“you know what? You served me once upon a time but you are not serving me anymore. In fact, you are keeping me from moving forward and getting where I want to go in my life. It is time for you to go!”
After the ultimate application of my ability to remain stoic and unemotional, I was thrown into motherhood, where my old beliefs about repressing emotion began to really backfire. When my daughter was 3 months old, I was struggling to feel anything. Joy, happiness, connection. I realized that I had to get things flowing again, and feel something. I began counseling, reading, keeping a dream journal and some deep somatic work.
In order to let the good stuff flow, I learnt that I had to let the sad stuff flow, too. The earliest hints of this were in my dreams which were really quite tortured and tragic. Emotion was showing up in my dreams and my chronic pain was intense.
From 2013 to 2018 I embarked on a journey to create non-self-judgemental space in my life let my emotions flow. It was terrifying. It was really hard, too.
I believe that for any “logical” person, letting yourself finally connect with your emotional states and acknowledge that you are an emotional being, is the ultimate act of courage. Nobody wants to feel the hard stuff. It’s why people get addicted to things. We want to avoid it. But in order to get to the other side (happiness and the good feels) you have to be brave enough to go through the hard feels.
One of the practices I took on, was to cry in public. This was one of the most intense forms of self-regulation and repression that I used to do as a child and it was one of my most stubbornly held beliefs. I knew this was a stubborn belief, because the thought of crying in public or around friends instantly made me recoil.
It was a hugely difficult practice at first to let myself cry publicly, but after some months of work, I did it! One of the first times I was able to truly let myself be and allow emotions to flow, was on an overnight flight to London Heathrow with my daughter who was 6 months old at that point. The moment that plane flew over the twinkling Calgary skyline, I lost it. My mum and I had so many special memories of flying on that exact Air Canada flight back over to the UK to see our family (and when she lived there, me flying out to see her.) I was tired, and snuggling a baby and just feeling very, very lonely at that point of my life. I let myself sob. It let it out, and let it go. When people asked if I was okay, I said “not really.” I opened up. That first time crying in front of a plane of concerned strangers was huge, and slowly I was able to do it in scarier situations – in front of my husband and friends.
I would have NEVER done that pre-baby. Not. In. A. Million. Years. Honestly, not even for $1000. Even 5 years later after tons of work, I find it hard to be emotional. I don’t think you can just simply decide to let deeply held beliefs go. It’s a journey and you will move forward and sometimes backward.
Rewinding back to 2013. Once I had let myself experience tears, there was plenty of room for the good stuff. Over the next five years, I was able to truly access joy again. The water pressure against the dam released as I let some water (emotions) through the turbines.
By letting water flow through the dam’s power plant and turbines, energy is created. I found that analogy so true to my own life. By letting emotions finally flow through, the trickle of water became a huge flow. That emotional energy hit the turbines and converted to a different form. The energy of growth, happiness and engagement. It released more energy to continue working toward the life I wanted, and more energy to access the good emotions.
I can also say that it (has) helped relieve some of my chronic pain, though this has been something that has really come along in the last year (2017-2018)
I truly think that when you have emotional pressure pushing against that wall (by the way that concrete wall is your own fear of emotions and “lockdown” mode) some of that pressure has to transfer to parts of your body. Headaches, back pain, maybe inflammation and illness or a bad digestive system? Depends on you.
Energy is neither created nor destroyed, simply transferred elsewhere in different forms, right?
In 2018 as I write this with far more emotional range, a gentler, kinder and more accepting attitude toward emotion, I can say that my pain is less, in all senses of the word. I am more willing and able to express myself, embrace vulnerability and with those things has come a beautiful life, greater happiness and the confidence and faith to embrace highest visions for the life of myself and my family. I am a better friend, wife, mother for being gentle not only with others in their emotional times, but also myself, and I wouldn’t take that back for the world.
I hope the dam visual lands with you, and that perhaps this causes some reflection on your own emotions, energy management, and the gift that your children have given you.