At some point in mid-adulthood, most of us recognize that some life wounds will never completely disappear and we consider the possibility that they may be part of a life design that is greater than our own personal intentions. We begin to accept life on its own terms and, by doing so, we may well open up to the will of something greater than ourselves.
Our challenge, then, is to take out those piles of emotional garbage that either regularly overflow or constantly clutter our thinking — the walls of garbage that isolate us from others or that drive us to overeat or over drink, overwork or overspend. Many of us call upon prayer, psychotherapy, or meditation to heal these hurts — and such practices do help. However, in my work at the University of Hull (England) developing a weight loss program called The Solution, I discovered two simple tools that enable us to more quickly clear the garbage from the past. These tools and The Solution program have been adopted by 27 hospitals nationwide because they bring balance within and turn off the drive to go to excess with food, weight, activity, and other issues. Our research at the University of Hull shows that the changes the program brings are lasting; people using it keep off the weight they lose, an outcome that even high-risk treatments such as fasts and surgery have never shown.
Let me share these tools with you so you can experiment for yourself.
The Thinking Journal
When you become aware of a past hurt, loss, or change, take out a piece of paper or create a new file in your computer and write a very clear description of precisely what happened. Tell the story by stating the facts clearly and simply without any apparent emotion. You’ll notice that by being absolutely factual and keeping at bay any expression of anger, sadness, fear, or guilt, those feelings mushroom inside. Then, when the cognitive part of this process is relatively complete, we can fully express the feelings.
The Feelings Letter:
The next step after stating the facts is to express the feelings they arouse in a letter you don’t intend to send. In Solution training, we’ve found that these feelings do not come randomly, but in a natural flow and order. It may help you to look for this progression: anger, sadness, fear, and guilt. What is important is that you reach inside yourself as you consider each feeling, wait for that feeling to appear red-hot within your physical being, then express it in the most raw, primitive, and uncensored fashion — as if you were four years old. It sometimes helps to shout and cry each feeling verbally. Then pause and wait fo r the next feeling to appear, which it will. Again, feel it in your body, then throw it out the way a modern artist would throw paint on a canvas.
A Crowbar For The Deep Stuff:
The letter should make you feel a lot better, but if they don’t — if you’ve got some deeply wedged garbage that won’t come out — you may need to take a crowbar to it. What you do is to move from your heart to your head and, like an archeologist, examine the garbage you’ve thrown so far. Chances are that what anchors the garbage is an expectation. So write it down. Now ask yourself, is my expectation reasonable? If you’re like many people, you’ll look at your expectation, realize that is actually ridiculous or impossible, and you’ll burst out laughing. Then write down some expectations that are reasonable, and the rewards you’ll get from them. You’ll be back in balance and on the path to joy.
Go ahead and try these tools the next time you’re overwhelmed by your own emotional garbage. A couple of letters will not empty a lifetime accumulation of emotional garbage, but you will find that you can bring yourself back into balance. Even a few letters and a bit of prying can move a lot of garbage.