Whatever name we attach to our emotions, whether anger, fear, grief, or sadness, we need to move this energy through our bodies so that it doesn’t set up residence and start colonizing our hearts and minds. It’s imperative for us to scream, shout, cry, create art, lift our voices, and most importantly, to rest, so that we can feel our hearts again.
In this webinar, master teacher Leslie Booker led members of the Garrison Institute community through a guided meditation and shared how we can navigate our emotions and connect with our hearts and bodies during these times of change.
This webinar also serves an introduction to Booker’s one-day Virtual Retreat on Saturday, August 1, in which she will help participants connect deeply and lovingly with their emotional bodies through meditation and embodied wisdom practices. Learn more and register for the retreat here.
Booker began the webinar by acknowledging how intense, vulnerable, and tender these times are. There is a multitude of challenges that come from living through a global pandemic and racial uprisings, on top of the new realities of our lives—homeschooling, quarantining, caring for loved ones, working multiple jobs or experiencing unemployment, and more.
“We’re living with 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows.”
She recalled how, early on in the pandemic, she often felt numb. “That felt sense of numbness, of feeling nothing, is our bodies way of protecting us… of saying that this is too much to handle right now,” she explained.
To begin working through the numbness, Booker took the small steps of feeling the sensation of her feet on the ground, her heartbeat under her hand, and the breath in her belly. “With these baby steps, I began to open up to the felt sense of the body, which allowed me to feel the emotional body begin to come alive and give me information of where to go next.”
Booker encouraged others who are experiencing numbness to notice when there is an absence of it, like when you burst into laughter, cry, or feel enraged. Those moments help us realize that numbness may be our predominant emotion, but it is not the only one that is arising.
Whether encountering numbness or another emotion or sensation, Booker explained that in every moment, we have the opportunity to deepen our compassion and turn towards what is true. In doing so, the Pali concept of “citta” can be helpful. Citta represents the momentary combination of our emotions and mental activity, the combination of which makes up the momentary experience of one’s life. Citta presents an opportunity to pause, be curious about what we are feeling, and lean in.
To begin connecting with citta, we can ask: How is my heart today? How is my mental state right now? How is my emotional body? Then, we listen deeply.
When strong emotions such as fear, rage, or grief arise in the body, they are asking us to pay attention to them, nurture them, and provide support in moving through them. They provide information and wisdom, so we must try to listen to what they are telling us and what they want to teach us. However, Booker cautions:
“It’s really easy for us to get stuck in whatever emotion we’re in right now, and when we get stuck in that emotion, we allow it to begin to colonize our minds, our hearts, and our bodies.”
To avoid getting stuck, we can move through our emotions and take the actions they are calling us to, such as pausing, resting, moving our bodies, writing, or talking with others. Booker shared a favorite quote from Maya Angelou that speaks to this:
“If you’re not angry, you’re either a stone, or you’re too sick to be angry. You should be angry. You must not be bitter. Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. It doesn’t do anything to the object of its displeasure. So use that anger, yes. You write it. You paint it. You dance it. You march it. You vote it. You do everything about it.”
Booker also acknowledged that we may not all have the luxury to pause and move through our emotions. “So, we do what we can,” she encouraged. It can be as simple as bringing a hand to the heart and taking a breath.
To help us connect with our emotional bodies, Booker led the webinar participants through a meditation practice, sharing that:
“It is the nature of the emotional body to arise, to hang out for a moment, and then to fade and perhaps a new emotion arises to take its place… and we allow it to pass through the body and we release it. We don’t cling or grasp on to these emotions. We know and see them as impermanent. We don’t let them colonize our hearts and minds. We move at the speed of trust.”
Throughout the practice, Booker invited participants to continue to check in with their heart; notice how their breath responds to their body; and explore what is moving through their bodies and how their mind is responding to it. Once we move towards our emotions, then we can move back towards our anchor—our body at homeostasis, stillness, and equanimity.
In closing, Booker shared more about her upcoming Virtual Retreat on “Tending to the Emotional Body” that she is hosting at the Garrison Institute on Saturday, August 1. The retreat will dive deeper into citta, the emotional body, and will include meditation and embodied movement practices. It will also be very interactive, with several large and small group conversations, and a spacious two-hour lunch break.
Click here to register for the upcoming Virtual Retreat and visit Booker’s website to view other upcoming events, read her written contemplations, and learn more about her work.
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Leslie Booker is a practitioner, master teacher, and national lecturer who engages the intersection of Dharma, embodied wisdom, and social justice. She is a co-founder of the Yoga Service Council and the Meditation Working Group of Occupy Wall Street. From 2005-2015, Booker served as the senior teacher and Director of Teacher Trainings with Lineage Project, where she worked with incarcerated and vulnerable youth. During this time, she also facilitated a mindfulness and cognitive-based therapy intervention on Riker’s Island. Booker is a contributor to Best Practices for Yoga in a Criminal Justice Setting, Gender & Trauma—Somatic Interventions for Girls in Juvenile Justice, and other publications. She is a graduate of Spirit Rock’s Mindful Yoga and Meditation Training and Community Dharma Leaders’ Training.
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