A safe space for dangerous emotions

“Ritual. It’s an interesting word. It has a certain flavour to it, heady and dangerous.” - from Ritual Toolkit

Our culture, and as a consequence most of us, are a bit funny about emotions. We don’t quite know what to do with them. We are afraid of them, scared that they will get someone hurt. So we end up hiding them, denying them, and trying to escape from them. We seem to never learn that they will catch up with us eventually.

Negative emotions are definitely taboo. We’re not allowed to be angry, sad, or anxious in public. Even in sacred circles, among like minded souls, I’ve witnessed people routinely apologise for having a negative emotion. And expressing them is something that is definitely relegated to very close relationships – and even then. In my family, anger is so taboo I didn’t know I ever felt it until I was nearly 40.

At the moment, history seems to be taking daily turns for the worse. Extremist factions are perpetrating horrible atrocities in the Middle East. One European country is doing everything short of invading another. Fossil fuel corporations are poisoning the land beneath our feet and the water we need to live. The list goes on. We all feel these stresses of our planet and our fellow humans. They come on top of our own life challenges. Just coping day by day seems to get harder all the time for so many of my friends.

Positive emotions can be awkward too. How many people do you genuinely love? And how many of those would you be comfortable expressing that love to? We tend to feel that the expression of love comes with a huge backpack of demands and vulnerabilities that we would rather avoid.

In our culture, emotions are dangerous things. So many of us constantly live on the edge of being overwhelmed by them. And because we are so bad at handling them on a day to day basis, they tend to pop up at the most inconvenient moments. I know that I can get stressed and anxious. I also know that often I won’t notice that it’s happening until I burst into tears about next to nothing. Surely there is a better way?

Creating sacred space

In the security of the sacred circle, you can learn to work with youremotions constructively. Within its protective embrace, you are free to express yourself any way you like. Here, you can rage and howl, shout and weep as much as you like. And when the wave of your emotion subsides – as it always does – it is the ideal place to look for new hope and a new way of relating to the issue that triggered it.

Over the years, I have done this in a few different ways. Within a formally cast circle, I have sat still and just allowed the emotion to flow through me, following their sensations in my body. At other times, I have walked with my emotions around the circle, letting them lead me to the various directions and their associations with the cycles of life, death, and rebirth. And when I feel like it, I take my rattles into the circle with me and go on a chanting journey, travelling through otherworldly landscapes with my emotions and my guides.

I can’t claim any of these processes are comfortable. Sometimes they do have a sense of danger. You never know where exactly they may lead. But in the end, they take me towards clarity about what I am feeling and open gateways to new possibilities of living and relating.

This is the beauty of ritual. Securely held in the save space between the casting and the unwinding of the circle, anything can happen. You are held. You can drum under the stars or fall asleep in the healing sight of the Sun. You can safely travel to the edge of your emotion and meet it face to face. You can do battle with it and learn what it is you are battling. But at all times you are protected.

If you would like to work with your emotions in this way, here are a few suggestions.

Your body is a map of the world

Allowing yourself to feel

Let your sorrow flow into creativity

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My new course, Ritual Toolkit, teaches the basic procedures of ritual. It comes from a Druid perspective, but it is open to people from any spiritual path. Putting it together, I drew from my 20 years of experience as a qualified teacher in adult education.
The Magic of Connection, my free meditation course, is a perfect introduction to my way of working and my teaching. People who stick with it to the end also get substantial discounts on my other courses.

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