The path to emotional freedom: beginning to learn to love
Your life is about to get better.
I see great things in your future, a time when wishes come true.
All the notes you put in a bottle were found.
Right here, right now, consider: what do you wish for most? Is it happiness? Love? Less struggle? An unbumpable ticket to stress relief? As you’ll soon learn, the power is within you to achieve these. Or maybe you’ve completely sworn off wishing in response to a pile-up of disappointments. Of course, I’ve known that sentiment: “What’s the use?” Right? Wrong! Such woe-is-me resignation corners you in some godforsaken dead-end unfit for serenity. My determined hope is that you’ll give wishing for what’s wonderful another chance. There are moments when opportunities arise. This is one, the staking out of your emotional freedom. Freshly fallen snow, not a single footprint—the path of new beginnings. Your first steps are truly memorable. Don’t ever forget them. Let me tell you about mine.
The door to emotional freedom cracked open for me as a teenager in southern California. It was 1968. I was sixteen, a flower child in paisley crop tops, holey jeans, and leather combat boots or barefoot, heavily into the drug scene. My parents were frantic. They kept trying to get through to me, but I made that impossible. My rebellion wasn’t just against them but to save myself. Though Mother and Dad couldn’t have loved me more, I felt suffocated by their mainstream vision of who they thought I should be, what would make me happy. Jewish country clubs, “presentable” clothes, conservative friends . . . I didn’t think so. Some nights, I even slept in my beloved jeans (my mother despised them) to feel more free. At the same time, I didn’t want to be who I was—so sensitive, not quite of this world. Since childhood I’d experienced many intuitions and dreams that came true, like the times I predicted my grandfather’s death and my parents’ friends’ divorce, when no one else saw either coming. These and other similar incidents unsettled and confused me. To make matters worse, my parents became so unnerved that I was forbidden to talk to them about my intuitions. Then I was sure there was something really wrong with me, a dread I was totally alone with. I didn’t choose to predict these things. They just kept happening. I had huge forces churning inside and no way of reconciling them.
Finally, one night, my parents became hell-bent on ending my flirtation with disaster. In a show of gutsy unity, they packed my things, marched me into the car, and checked their only child into a private locked adolescent substance abuse unit of Westwood Psychiatric Hospital. I felt set up, betrayed, and howled my indignation. I did everything in my power to hide my fear. This was where my path to emotional freedom began.
Every moment in that hospital seems so alive to me now. How I fought the kindness I was offered. Initially I felt like a prisoner. Cooperate? Not a chance. I tried everyone’s patience. In daily group therapy sessions I refused to talk. The leader, a tough-love former biker babe in denim, would confront me: “Judi [my nickname then], why are you so angry?” “Huh? I’m fine,” I’d snap, tight-lipped and seething. The more she’d probe, the more I’d clam up, pretending to everyone, including myself, just how fine I was. I’d be equally forthcoming with my psychiatrist. At meals twenty of us teenagers would sit in a beige cafeteria with plastic utensils (silverware can become weapons) eating some rubberized version of food. I fully intended to isolate myself, until Windy, a fellow hippie patient who lived in her long-fringed brown suede jacket, befriended me. My prickly exterior didn’t seem to faze her. Windy’s innocent nature quickly won me over; we became inseparable.
Comrades in captivity, during downtime we’d huddle in my room with its barred windows, plotting our escape. How we’d slip past the night cleaning crew after they wheeled their mops and brooms through the entrance of our locked unit. Then we’d hitch a ride to the coast highway, a few miles away, and head to parts unknown. No parents. No authorities. Just free. Though our great escape never came to fruition, all our scheming, giggling, and singing to the Stones (“You can’t always get what you want . . . but you just might find you get what you need”) made confinement more palatable.
Still, I loathed being locked up, and saw no reason to examine my life or change. But other mysterious influences beyond my control seemed to be operating too. I remember there was a door at the end of our green linoleum hall. It stood between us and a fenced yard where we played volleyball. The most brilliant light would shine through its wired panes. I couldn’t take my eyes off the light. Something loving within that brilliance quieted my snarl, soothed me when words couldn’t. Ever since I was a child, I’d felt a loving presence keeping track of me, an invisible friend offering comfort. Usually it stayed in the background, but now it was stepping forward. There was a change wanting to happen within me, and despite my protests, it began with a velocity all its own. Slowly, miraculously, I softened during my fourteen days in this unit.
With the guidance of a wise psychiatrist who understood me and knew how to intervene, I started to realize that I hadn’t been free in my life before being confined here. I was rebelling against my parents, but without clarity or focus. I was reactive, not proactive. Rebellion and living on the margins were how I’d survived, yet they weren’t the endpoint. Over the next few years, this angel of a man showed me how to better deal with my emotions so I could come from a place that was truer for me. He also helped me begin to embrace my intuitive side, so vital to knowing my soul. Our work together set into motion my calling to become a physician and bring intuition into medicine—a genuinely unexpected destiny. Though both my parents were physicians and there were twenty-five physicians in my extended family, given my artistic nature, they’d never urged this career on me. Getting an M.D. was the last thing I thought I wanted.
Life went on. Two decades later I was a psychiatrist seeing patients in that same hospital. In my case, the (former) inmate truly was running the institution! I felt deliciously subversive. How enlightening to have been a patient on the inside with a bird’s-eye view of being incarcerated and at the mercy of strangers. What better way to develop compassion for people in the same position . . . and to learn how to risk receiving the compassion the staff had once shown me? These are some of the jewels I’ve taken with me in my search for emotional freedom.
The hospital was flattened by the Northridge earthquake in 1994, and I must admit, I miss not seeing it when I drive by the site. Mother and Dad shared none of my nostalgia. My teenage self was a nightmare from which they never quite recovered. Incredibly, even in their elder years, they occasionally felt obliged to set the record straight. Summoning up looks of horror I knew so well, they’d half jokingly say to me—a grown woman, for decades a doctor of whom they were extremely proud—“Judith, we’ve never gotten over your adolescence.”
the basics of emotional freedom: the start of your liberation
Your life is brimming with opportunities to learn about emotional freedom. Every success. Every heartbreak. Every loss. Every gain. How you transport yourself through these portals determines how free you can be. I want you to start viewing your emotions in a nonordinary way: as vehicles for transformation (the word emotion comes from the Latin meaning “to move”) rather than simply as feelings that make you happy or miserable. Expect them to test your heart; that’s the point. What you go through—what we all go through—has a greater purpose. Always, the imperative of emotional freedom is for the love in us to evolve. Albert Camus says, “Freedom is nothing else but a chance to be better.” To make this a reality, you must begin to see each event of your life, uplifting or hurtful, earthshaking or mundane, as a chance to grow stronger, smarter, more light-bearing.
But here’s where many of us hit a wall. We’re ashamed of feeling afraid, inadequate, lonely, as if we’ve failed or done something wrong. None of these conclusions are true. It’s a misguided expectation that we’re supposed to be serene all the time. A depressed patient once apologized, “I wish I could be coming to you for something more spiritual.” I felt for him, but like so many people in pain with that commonly held perception, he was mistaken. Facing emotions—all of them—is a courageous, spiritually transformative act.
As you look into yourself, this is a failproof formula for liberation: dare to keep expanding your heart even if you’ve been justifiably wounded by pain or disappointment. The effort is never wasted. As you do, ferociously resist selling out by becoming cynical or shutting down (claustrophobic states worse than death to me). No matter what you’ve experienced, there is always hope for change and healing. It’s a miracle within reach. Don’t be afraid to want it.
The way to start is to understand the basics of emotional freedom. Here’s a mission statement that summarizes the process. To stay clear about your purpose and goals, you can refer to it while exploring the principles of this book.
What does emotional freedom mean?
It’s the capacity to give and receive more love. Getting there entails building positive emotions as well as facing and releasing negative ones. Instead of spinning out with, say, anger after you’ve been hurt, you’ll respond from a centered, more empathic place. Emotional freedom includes both personal and spiritual evolution. Learning to work with negative emotions, rather than collapsing into them, helps you grow spiritually and rise above what is small within you. Becoming free means removing counterproductive emotional patterns and viewing yourself and others through the lens of the heart.
Why do I need it?
To liberate yourself from the quicksand of negative emotions. When these accumulate, they disrupt your calmness and compassion, destroy relationships, and ultimately distance you from the joy and wonder of the world.
How do I achieve it?
Emotions become a springboard for higher consciousness once you see that each one has a lesson to impart. I’ll show you, for instance, how to build patience to counter frustration. Sometimes, though, as with acute grief, you’ll learn that you need to just be with the feelings, whereas you can aim to heal and transform envy. There are two stages of processing emotions. First is healthily acknowledging the raw feeling rather than stuffing or airbrushing it. The second is transforming negativity. I’ll explain many methods to do this with a variety of emotions.
You’ll feel happier, more flexible and alive; you’ll also be kinder to yourself, your friends, and family. You’ll have increased patience with coworkers and be able to effectively resolve conflicts. You’ll connect with your deepest instincts and the power of the heart to surmount even the most disappointing situations. You’ll feel nurtured and protected by a spiritual force that will let you know you’re never alone.
I savor this Native American story because it speaks to the essence of emotional freedom:
A chief is talking to his tribe about two dogs inside his mind: one a white dog that is good and courageous, the other a black dog that is vengeful and angry. Both dogs are fighting to the death. A young brave, unable to wait for the end of the story, asks, “Which one will win?” The chief responds, “The one I feed.”
Remembering this dynamic, set your intention to feed what’s best and most beautiful within you, a stance that will impel your liberation.
The goal of emotional freedom is balance. Although in Western culture, being in touch with emotions has become a pop religion— making the expression of feelings an end in itself—the point here isn’t to self-indulgently emote or to wall off your feelings. Rather it’s to become a more caring, aware person. Another goal is to reconnect with your vital essence, which thrives if it’s not pulverized by stress and pessimism. What a gorgeous feeling when you’re tapped into it!
You can’t just think your way to emotional freedom. Throughout this book I’ll keep underscoring that it grows from a linear understanding of biology and behavior, as well as an intuitively sparked transformation in your soul. To create the positive change you desire, get ready to fire up all of your perceptual capacities, even those you never realized you had. You want to see more than a sliver of what’s possible for yourself.
evolving beyond conventional medicine: integrating intuition to better grasp emotions
A gift of being a psychiatrist is that others entrust me with their deepest feelings and confidences. Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to help countless patients and workshop participants mired in fear, worry, or depression fight to be free. I’m no stranger to such predicaments, having endured my own share of emotional trials by fire. We’ve all done our time in anguished places. But, as I’ll describe, there’s a way out, sooner rather than later. My role with patients and with you is to be a midwife to the emergence of your finest, freest selves.
Along with my conventional medical training, today I utilize intuition to help my patients achieve emotional freedom. In psychotherapy sessions, I combine nonlinear messages from images, knowings, energy, and dreams with insights provided by my analytic mind. This organic blending of sensibilities lets me make the most of my traditional education and also listen to what emerges from my intuition—the knower behind the thinker. Intuition provides access to the psyche’s deep recesses, which don’t speak in sentences or paragraphs and are where unexpected connections are made. Further, I teach patients to access their own intuitive abilities to gain greater emotional knowledge of themselves and others and so their lives aren’t marred by false notes. But this integration hasn’t always felt so natural, nor have I always practiced psychotherapy in this way.
I received my basic training in emotions as a fledgling psychiatric resident in the early 1980s. I was working in the emergency room every third night at UCLA and the Veterans Administration hospitals. I learned volumes about emotions in these cauldrons of intensity. I was riveted and heartbroken by the in-your-face hard truths of this deeply human experience. The work asked everything of me. But it was good work and it was real. During those endless nights, I saw it all. A stick-thin anorexic girl (who thought she was fat) with a ruptured esophagus from vomiting repeatedly to lose weight.
From the Hardcover edition.