Long blog, long title.
Ok, so I feel pressure to get this right because people have been asking me about it. Maybe I should have Lose Yourself playing in the background.
There is this idea in our current culture that you have a right to your emotions no matter what they are, and that others have an obligation to respect them and make changes in their own behavior to accommodate them.
I see this as being like the pedestrian right of way. Pedestrians have the right of way, and they are allowed to step out into the crosswalk whenever they choose, but if they do this without giving a bus sufficient time to stop, they get squashed.
Rights are conferred by humans, consequences are often simply built into the situations and do not care about the supposed rights one was exercising. No amount of postmodern ideology can circumvent this.
I am not sure I get to define what is appropriate and what is not appropriate here, any more than I get the final say on what is good weather and what is bad weather. I don’t even tend to look at things as good or bad or right or wrong anyway, but as skillful versus unskillful or healthy versus unhealthy.
So let’s start there.
Emotions make us human; they help color the present with more than just a logical or calculated assessment.
When I say they make us human, I mean that they provide us with the means to address everything in the human condition. Joy, sorrow, pain, excitement, grief, etc. All of that fun stuff. They are the music that tells us what kind of scene we are in.
They can also lock us into a set of actions that are not beneficial. Emotions do not assess the situation, they do not make future plans, they simply exist. They can paralyze us when we need to move and tell us to make a quick decision when we need to sit for a moment. They tell us that the way we are feeling is the Truth, that it is an accurate reflection of the reality in front of us. This is not always the case. For many, it is rarely the case.
So, do we have to choose between living like a three-year-old with a sugar high and chainsaw or Spock?
I don’t think so, and the healthiest people I know have a found a sort of middle path, where they experience their emotions, but do not expect them to be clear guides to situations.
Maybe examples will help.
A man wakes up with overwhelming anxiety. Pounding heart, sick stomach, maybe even sweating a little. His mind tells him a story about everything that is going to go wrong that day, about all the impending doom headed his direction. He is certainly allowed to feel all of this, he probably has no choice, but he can do so with an awareness that these feelings have not altered the reality that exists outside his body. His feelings of anxiety are not necessarily a reflection of anything in reality. He can maintain an awareness of this, and still feel his feelings. He can still be compassionate toward himself and maybe even take the day off to deal with things. We can be aware of our emotions as emotions, without slipping into being John Wayne refusing to get help with a broken leg.
A woman wakes up feeling very down, maybe even somewhat depressed. The world looks dark, and many of the things and people she sees everyday have a sinister undertone to them. Nothing seems safe, nothing seems interesting and nothing really feels like it matters right now. This does not mean that the value of things in her life has actually changed, or that she really doesn’t care about the things she has worked hard to cultivate in her life. She probably needs some kind of help, whether coffee with a friend, some time off, or a trip to the doctor, but she doesn’t have to invest in the idea that everything is bleak and menacing. I see people push through this all the time, and they have a much better chance of pulling up out of the depression than others.
A happier example. Two people meet, and fall in love. They can only think of each other, only want to be with each other, don’t care about anything except the person who they are in love with. This is a cool time in life, and it doesn’t come around very often, but this also means it is probably not the time to make huge decisions. And this is coming from a guy who told a certain someone that he was going to marry her on their second date. I got lucky on that one. However, this is not the time to quit a job, move in together, have a baby or get matching tattoos. It is certainly something to revel in and enjoy because it is temporary, but this temporariness makes it a bad time to make big decisions.
That’s the primary thing about emotions: they are always temporary, and won’t last more than a minute or so if you don’t feed them.
Experience them, enjoy them, let them teach you something, but remember, they come and go. You wouldn’t sell your motorcycle because of one day of rain or get rid of your shorts and skirts because of a cold snap, this isn’t much different.
As always, this is just me writing, Weigh it out and see where you stand. See what works for you. Ask yourself if your current level of emotional engagement or detachment is serving you. Then ask yourself again, is it really serving me, or just protecting me? Is it keeping me from experiencing new things? Is it running me ragged and bringing negative consequences?
Look at all of these things and make a skillful decision. You can do it.
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I write, podcast and make videos about living in freedom through mindfulness, intentionality, compassion, and equanimity.
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