A Ritual for Naming Difficult Emotions

by Terri Stewart

Ritual creates a movement and an opening. Scientific American summarized research on ritual and pointed out an experiment on losing the lottery. In this experiment, they offered a winning stake of $200. They asked people how they would spend the money if they won. They drew a winner and that person left the room. Then they divided into two groups. One group was asked to “draw about how they felt.” The other group was asked to perform a ritual of drawing, then sprinkling the drawing with salt, tear up the piece of paper, and then count to ten, in their head, five times. After this, all folks had to do a survey on how they felt after their loss (angry, sad, etc.). The ritual group was found to be calmer than the non-ritual group.

All that is to say, ritual helps create calm, inner peace, and strengthens our existing spiritual practices.

A ritual around naming negative feelings might be aided by the article in Scientific American! And those items are easy to acquire. You will need paper, pencil, salt (or other herby thing that might burn pleasantly), and a place to do fire. If you can’t do the fire thing, then I might suggest acquiring dissolving paper from any magic store.

The ritual might look like this

  1. burningbowlForm a sacred space. For this, I am going to use the little bowl I use to set my lavender/sage smudge stick into. It is a little tiny souffle dish with sand in it. This might take preparation! But you don’t necessarily need the sand. If you get the dissolving paper, then a bowl with water. I am using this bowl because it is already a ritual point for me when I use it for smudging.
  2. I say, in my head or out loud, “I am here to learn from my feeling of ____________.” Insert negative feeling here. Note that it is a socially negative feeling. Feelings aren’t really negative, they serve a purpose. Anger, anxiety, sadness–they all deserve to be named and they will teach us. If you have a difficult time naming your feelings, then a feeling wheel might be helpful. I am wondering about naming anxiety about the electoral process and symbolically burning the entire RNC and DNC conventions. This may be the only way I make it through the US elections.
  3. Write your feeling onto the paper. Listen to what the feeling is saying to your body (are you amped up? is it saying run?). Acknowledge the wisdom of the feeling letting your body know you are not controlled by your feelings but you definitely take into consideration the wisdom there. Sprinkle a little salt onto the paper or a dried herb. Salt is good as it has been symbolically used in the past to do rituals of clearing energy. Tear up the paper into little pieces and burn the paper. (or dissolve it in water).
  4. Closing: May I remember to love and embrace all my feelings as the wisdom of my body. Let it be so.

That’s not too difficult! A ritual that would work to help name difficult emotions.

How would you make this ritual your own?

© 2016, words and photograph, Terri Stewart, All rights reserved


The focus of "The BeZine," a publication of The Bardo Group Beguines, is on sacred space (common ground) as it is expressed through the arts. Our work covers a range of topics: spirituality, life, death, personal experience, culture, current events, history, art, and photography and film. We share work here that is representative of universal human values however differently they might be expressed in our varied religions and cultures. We feel that our art and our Internet-facilitated social connection offer a means to see one another in our simple humanity, as brothers and sisters, and not as “other.” This is a space where we hope you’ll delight in learning how much you have in common with “other” peoples. We hope that your visits here will help you to love (respect) not fear. For more see our Info/Mission Statement Page.

One thought on “A Ritual for Naming Difficult Emotions

  1. I like your idea of symbolically burning the DNC and RNC Conventions. I also like the idea of using salt for clearing the negative energy. Working the 12 Step program enabled me to realize that emotions and feelings are neither good nor bad, they simply “are”. It is the connotations attached to the emotions/feelings that are positive or negative. This realization was a tremendous tool in learning to not be ‘run’ by my emotions. There is so much that we can learn from our emotions. Thanks for sharing this ritual, Terri!


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