Last week I wrote to you about the importance of taking care of your emotional well-being during the rocky road of parenting. In the blog I noted how we all experience big, negative emotions and how that doesn’t make us bad people, it makes us human. I ended the blog with Tara Brach’s gentle U-Turn in hopes of sharing a strategy that has held my own bruised heart so many times. I shared this with you with the intention of letting you know that when you experience negative emotions, you are not alone. In our society happiness is so often featured as a gleaming trophy to be won. Happiness, at least from where I’m sitting, isn’t a trophy it’s just part of the human experience the same as each and every one of our emotions; all eighty-seven according to Dr. Brene Brown’s, Atlas of the Heart.
Eight-seven you might say? That’s incredibly overwhelming! I can definitely understand that initial reaction and Dr. Brene Brown is attempting to provide language for our internal world because without language our experience as humans is limited. I knew from my own work as a BCBA the importance of language in decreasing challenging behaviors with my clients. As a young graduate, I didn’t understand the importance of knowing, naming, and accepting the emotions behind our language. It was through her work that I came to understand that we are in fact emotional beings that developed language and then behaved.
Acknowledging Emotions is For Warriors
I also used to believe as a young woman, as so many of us have, that emotions were a sign of weakness. That if I acknowledged my own emotions it meant I wasn’t strong or competent enough to navigate the world. I’m an empathetic person and I feel emotions so deeply that sometimes I feel on fire and frozen all at the same time. I used to believe that if I could control my emotions I would be strong enough to navigate this hellfire. My intention was one of survival and this type of mentality did not make me safer, stronger, or provide the trophy of happiness. Instead, a chapter in my life disconnected me from myself. That disconnection placed me in real danger and through the painful process of witnessing my reality and emotions I am now free.
In coming out on the other side of danger I thought that I would have a wave of peace. That the hard work of feeling my difficult emotions and accepting reality would once again bring me back to happiness; it didn’t. It brought me instead to the foothills of integrity which is far better, I promise (just read Martha Becks’ great work). I’m going to be honest with you. When I started this incredible work and way of living I still thought of happiness as a goal. At the time it was a beacon of light I could hold onto. What I didn’t realize at the time was the dichotomy of both beauty and devastation that life brings to all of us.
Life isn’t made to be happy all of the time because if it was we would all be only accepting one out of eight seven emotional states our minds take us through. We would be shoving down and ignoring our own vast internal landscape and ignoring what makes us gloriously and frighteningly human. It would bar us from celebrating, no basking, in our own joyful landscape of emotions, wrapping our arms around our deep sorrow, and bringing accountability to our own emotions that cause harm either to ourselves or others. Feeling only happy would make us feel empty. Attempting to only feel happy not only disconnects us from ourselves but it disconnects us from our world.
Daring to “Feel Everything?”
I have not educated myself enough on the origin of this tiny mad idea, the idea of only accepting happiness. However, through my own lived experiences as well as beginning to witness what is truly in front of me and our world I know this much; it is dangerous. Pretending like everything is fine to pay the toll for happiness actually does the opposite of what we think we are paying for. Subscribing to only a positive narrative while ignoring reality is where pain and suffering breed.
Somewhere along the way, we were all told we were weak if we allowed ourselves to feel everything. What if I told you that feeling everything allows you to be stronger than you ever thought possible? That feeling everything allows you to not only live a divinely human experience but gives you the strength to challenge and subsequently change the atrocities of the world. That you must tend to your own heart and wounds to find the strength for the battle we must all join. The battle for a more just and loving planet.
This past weekend I watched “Live to Lead,” on Netflix and sat in awe of the young Greta Thunberg who chose to connect to our earth at such a young age. She’s an inspiration for who we can all become when we pay attention to the truth of our own voices and world. I’ll leave you with this quote, “I don’t want you to hope, I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic..and act as if the house is on fire because it is.” Greta Thunberg.