image shows woman feeling sad

“Openness doesn’t come from resisting our fears but from getting to know them well.”

Pema Chödrön – Comfortable with Uncertainty

I love that quote. In our expat life, we’re forced to open to our emotions again and again. It’s not always easy to get to know fear, but we do it. We get on the plane, open the door to a new home, stumble through a mishmash of languages. We learn that we have to come face-to-face with our waves of unease no matter what life throws our way.

I’d add that openness also comes from getting to know our other emotions well too. This life teaches us to step into joy just as much as it teaches us to step into fear. Even though one emotion sometimes feels more comfortable, we’ve got a whole lot of stories wrapped up in just about everything we feel – even the “good” stuff.

Paying attention to our emotions is neither optional (no one really wants to be blind to how they feel) nor a requirement (lots of people stay blind anyway)…which can make it difficult to know where to start if you’re ready to do some emotional unpacking. Our emotions are a powerful tool to better understand how we see the world. It’s one thing to know that, another thing all together to begin the process of better understanding them.

There are some really important touchstones to “getting to know our emotions well.” These include: Learning to fully see and feel without becoming overwhelmed. Accepting emotions as neither good nor bad, but as important pieces of information even when they’re uncomfortable. Recognizing the difference between “I am” and “I feel.” Developing an understanding of the potential sources of our feelings, without getting carried away by the stories we play in our minds.

Each of those perspectives comes from our ability to truly attend to our emotions.

What does it mean to attend?

To attend has origins from the French attendre – to wait. Even further back to the Latin attendere – to stretch towards and the Latin tendere – to extend. Beautiful, huh? I love the idea of stretching towards our emotions. What is it like when we step into how we feel? When, instead of shutting down, we embrace whatever comes our way?

That embracing and stretching towards is the choice to accept, to learn and to grow from what’s before us. It’s a call to listen to the turbulence of our journey instead of tuning it out.

We benefit greatly from learning how to feel and to describe our internal experiences. Our ability to develop the vocabulary of our emotions is so important – whether we’re journaling our way out of a difficult mindset or taking a deep look at our mental health with the support of a therapist. When we attend to our emotions, we take up the position of curiosity. We learn to ask – What’s here? – and then stick around for the answers.

What might you find?

What would it look like if you decided to attend to your emotions? Would you cultivate a deeper awareness of the way they show up for you physically? Would you find buried feelings of anger or resentment that are showing up in your relationships in ways you haven’t even noticed? Would you discover a happiness you’ve been holding at bay for fear that it will slip through your fingers?

I invite you this month to hold this word attend in your mind’s eye. Ask yourself how you might mindfully attend to your emotions.

I encourage you to consider the ways in which you already attend. Do you share your feelings with someone you trust? Do you write them down? Do you allow them to wash over you in a long walk or in a heartfelt cry in the shower?

If you don’t already spend time paying attention to your feelings, how might you begin a practice of attending to emotions? What type of practice would feel most comfortable? What might fit your lifestyle? Is it time to get some professional help or is this work you can begin on your own?

Where can you start?

If you feel stuck for ideas on how to get started, I hope you’ll join me throughout the month of April on the World Tree Coaching Facebook page where I’ll be sharing articles, podcasts, inspirational messages and weekly self-coaching questions that can help you better navigate your globally mobile life by learning to better connect with and understand your emotions.

You might also like the free download of my exercise On Thoughts and Emotions from The Expat Activity Book. And, my online course Essential Practices for Life Between Worlds: Mindfulness Skills for Transition & Beyond offers lessons on Attending to Emotions as well as other accessible mindfulness practices for your expat life.

How will you get started? Where will you make the choice to open up to how you feel?

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