Offering Okayness

Some folks who struggle have been convinced they are broken and need fixing. This often appears to come from the rational mind, completely lost amidst overwhelming and conflicting feelings and striving for order.

Emotions are not rational. They have reasons to exist, but not ones that the rational mind grasps. We have to learn to relate to the nonrational world on its own terms, not to demand it work on the mind’s terms.

I am exploring the process of validating, or offering “okayness”, to my emotions. This is in many ways the opposite of “fixing,” and closer to Tara Brach’s process of Radical Acceptance.

In a practice of offering okayness, we turn toward all the feelings and offer them acceptance and safety. This is harder than it sounds, and some of my readers have already tuned out. For the rest of us—instead of trying to understand “why I feel this way,” or trying to decide which of my conflicting feelings are the right ones, or making feeling-based choices while in upheaval, it’s a process of sitting with the storm of emotion.

As always, I like to start by connecting my feet to the ground and sinking my awareness into my body. Some of us struggle to feel anything, but if you’re in a state of emotional overwhelm, you probably have some contact with the physical layer of your emotion.

Here is my current map of mental-emotional anatomy: At bottom is the emotion, the physiological experience that we codify with one word: “sadness,” “fear,” “anger.” We access that through what’s happening in the body—tightness in the heart? Heaviness? Tension in the back? Flushed cheeks and clenching hands?

Then there is the layer where emotion meets mind in an interpretation, commonly called a feeling: “I feel I want to run away,” “I feel threatened.” In the past I would discourage people from using feeling language, but that is a losing and perhaps unnecessary battle. What is important is to recognize that “I feel” is an interpretive strategy that makes sense of the emotion, not necessarily the truth of what’s happening.

Then there is the mental layer, which is often about analysis and planning: “There is no reason to feel this way,” or “What am I supposed to do about this feeling?” or strategizing, thinking, thinking, thinking.

Image of a white man who seems pretty okay, sitting on a rock outcropping overlooking a river valley and a mountainous horizon at sunset. Photo by Kalen Emsley.
Image of a white man who seems pretty okay, sitting on a rock outcropping overlooking a river valley and a mountainous horizon at sunset. Photo by Kalen Emsley.

So first notice yourself in the mental layer, and with every deep breath in and out, invite your awareness to drop a layer deeper. Instead of trying to solve the feeling, allow the feeling to be articulated. “I feel I’m in danger.” Then, as best you can, let that feeling know that it is okay.

“It is okay that I feel this way.” or “It is okay for this feeling to be here.”

Then notice another feeling, and offer okayness to that one.

After a few minutes, you might be able to drop even deeper to offer okayness to the emotion itself. “It’s okay that I feel scared.”

Spend at least a minute to five minutes doing this. What I experience is both relaxation of intensity and a sense of warm expansion. The emotions do not go away so much as they shift energy in a way that feels easier.

Notice, too, how this offering of okayness differs in experience from the attitude of “fixing” and “figuring out,” which often increases my feelings of tension, constriction, and irritability.

When the feelings have settled, then you might decide the next step.