Most of us at some level assume or believe that we ‘should’ feel joyful. On the other side of this we probably believe that we ‘should not’ feel fearful. I am most interested when talking about feelings or emotions, such as joy or fear, in looking at the bodily sensations that make up this feeling in the body. You might experiment with this by recalling a time when you felt joyful. Bringing this memory in all its technicolor detail into your mind. Then drop into your body, particularly paying attention to the jaw, throat, chest, stomach, pelvis and notice what sensations are occurring. For me it is expansion in the chest a freedom and looseness in the jaw and throat – that is what I notice most. What do you notice most? Identify that – this is your body’s experience of joy – this i what the mind categorizes as joy when it occurs in the body.
We can do the same with fear. Bring up a memory in which you experienced a fearful time. Again noticing the body – I feel tension in the jaw and a general sense of constriction and tension in my chest and stomach. Notice what your experience is in the body.
Our ‘normal’ or homeostatic state is most likely mid way between these two extreme poles of feeling/emotion. As dynamic beings we need to understand we may move through these sensations, but they will arise and fall away, leaving us somewhere in the middle. We can welcome both of thes states and the dynamic rising and falling, contraction and release, of bodily sensations that leads us there. We don’t really need to strive for either state and we will experience both, if we allow the full spectrum of these sensations. Giving ourselves the permission to feel both poles of emotion and to let go of striving for any idealized state is the key.
Pema Chodron, a revered teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist tradition refers to this as letting in all unwanted guests (and the wanted ones such as joy, happiness, hope, etc.) In the end it is just our experience, our life – by allowing joy we allow fear and by allowing fear we allow a full experience of joy.