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Miriam Greenspan
Renowned Psychotherapist and author of A New Approach to Women and Therapy (bio)

Excerpt from
Healing Through the Dark Emotions: The Wisdom of Grief, Fear, and Despair

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Chapter Ten - Thirty-three Emotional Exercises

The so-called negative emotions have tremendous power. Emotional alchemy’s not about taming or transcending this power but about befriending it and using it for the good of ourselves, others, and the planet. Tapping into the powerful energies of the dark emotions takes skill, patience, and faith. This “home course” in emotional alchemy is designed to help you develop these skills and to cultivate patience and faith in your ability to be a shaman of dark emotional energy.
     These are the words of Brooke Medicine Eagle, a North American Nez Percé Sioux medicine woman:

In the philosophy of the true Indian people, Indian is an attitude, a state of mind . . . a state of being, a place of the heart. To allow the heart to be the distributor of energy on this planet; to allow your heart, your feelings, your emotions to distribute your energy; to pull that energy from the earth, from the sky, to pull it down and distribute it from your heart, the very center of your being—that is our purpose. 1

     These words may appear strange to those who are centered not in the heart but in the head. But the words are a great description of emotional energy, when it is in balance with the world and used for alchemical transformation. Brooke Medicine Eagle describes emotional energy as a palpable force that can circulate, like blood, throughout not only a person, but an entire field or environment.
     We may think of the “place of the heart” as a metaphor for the center of emotion. But recent research indicates that the heart is more than a blood pump; it is a complex organ with biochemical resemblances to the brain. Like the brain, the heart can influence our entire body. Furthermore, it appears that emotions can alter the heart’s electrical field, affecting not only our whole bodies but also the space around us. 2
     Science is affirming what the Sioux Indians and other indigenous peoples long ago knew to be true: emotional energy is real and is centered in the heart. It can be communicated to others, distributed in a transformative alchemical process that is healing for oneself and the world.
     The following program of thirty-three exercises is designed to help you locate and befriend your heart’s emotional energy and use it for transformation. Many blessings on your heart’s alchemical journey!

Emotional exercise is very different from aerobic exercise in one crucial respect: You have to slow down rather than speed up in order to do it right! Relax your mind and body, slow down your thoughts and brain waves. Breathe deeply, find a slow groove, and you’re ready to go!
     This is an entirely fluid, nonlinear, heart-centered process, not a static system or set of standardized steps that you follow in an orderly progression. The seven steps of the emotional alchemy process don’t need to be done in any particular order. Do some, skip others; by all means, play around with them! While it’s helpful to consolidate the right and left hemispheres of the brain and have a map of the journey through dark emotions, fruitful detours are often very rewarding. No one is the final expert on this process but you.
     Remember, your heart will find its own ways of healing through the dark emotions if you set out with a strong intention and cultivate emotional tolerance. Keep an emotional alchemy journal to write down any part of this program you’re practicing and see how your capacity for emotional alchemy grows.

Step 1. Intention: Focusing Your Spiritual Will

What is your best or highest intention with regard to the grief, fear, and despair in your life? Sit and meditate on this question. Listen to what your heart is telling you. Frame your intentions carefully and write them down. Affirm your intention each day as you wake up and as you lie down to sleep.
     If you’re having a hard time with this one, try this: Take a page and divide it in half. On one side of the page, write “Personality” and on the other side write “Spirit.” Now describe the attributes of your personality on one side and the attributes of your spirit on the other. When I do this with clients, there are often striking contrasts in these lists. For instance, your personality might be impulsive, impatient, type A; while your spirit may be patient, loving, tolerant.
     Now think again about the intention question, only this time addressing it to your spirit rather than your personality. What is your spirit’s intention with respect to your grief, despair, or fear? Keep the answer posted in your awareness.

Step 2. Affirmation: Developing an Emotion-Positive Attitude

There are two parts to this step: (1)identifying your beliefs about your dark emotions, and (2)changing your beliefs about your dark emotions.

This is a sentence completion exercise to be done for each of the dark emotions in turn. You can also do this exercise with anger or any other difficult emotion. Write down these sentence fragments and then complete them. The trick is not to think about it too much. Just write whatever comes into your head. Don’t censor or doctor or try to prettify your thoughts—just get them down.

•I think of (grief, fear, despair) as . . .
•What my (grief, fear, despair) says about me is . . .
•If I fully experienced my (grief, fear, despair), I would . . .
•What I’d most like to do with my (grief, fear, despair) is . . .

     Notice the negative beliefs. Also notice the positive beliefs. Try to eliminate the negative and accentuate the positive. By eliminate, I don’t mean hate yourself for thinking this way. Simply notice that you have some negative beliefs and try to replace them with positive ones. (See the next exercise.)

Copyright 2003 by Miriam Greenspan

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