Forty Things I Learnt Before Turning 40: Lesson Thirty-Three
I have learned to acknowledge and embrace all emotions. It’s unrealistic to expect to go through life only experiencing positive, happy and wanted emptions. The brain operates in a fight or flight response any time it senses something threatening and dangerous, but it’s healthier and more productive to freeze. We should pause in these tough moments to feel and listen to these emotions, looking inward to what we can learn, rather than suppress or avoid unwanted emotions. Our feelings, whether good or bad, positive or negative, come and go; and when you realise that, life gets easier.
Prince EA says “You can’t calm the storm, so stop trying. What you can do is calm yourself. The storm will pass.” You can’t control certain situations in life, but you can control your response to it and the best thing to often do, is resist the urge to fight back negative emotions, calm yourself and wait for the moment to pass. Feelings are like oceans; the waves come and go. Things may get washed up on the beach, just like thoughts and emotions that you thought were buried deep, may resurface unexpectedly. It’ best not to fight them, rather feel them, bathe in them, but just don’t drown in them. Sometimes you don’t have control over it. So let them come, let them wash over you. Recognise how they make you feel IN THAT MOMENT, then let them pass. Sometimes you’ll bathe in them longer than others, depending on the power and ferocity of the wave. But it’s never forever. Slowly but surely, everything will eventually be okay.
Sometimes we just need to sit in it. This is a concept that HAIM explore in their song ‘Now I’m In It.’
Something in the way that I felt when I woke up
Told me that I shouldn’t give in, give up hope
Told me that I shouldn’t fight what I felt
Told me I should not let go ‘cause
We cannot be friends
That it makes sense
’Cause now I’m in it
But I’ve been trying to find my way back for a minute
Damn, I’m in it
Danielle Haim explains that the song is about experiencing depression. “I think it’s just the darkest place you could ever be in. It think it’s just going through it. Just being in a really dark place and that’s kind of what being ‘in it’ is and trying to find yourself. It takes time to kind of get our of this dark place.”
In ‘Untamed,’ Glennon Doyle talks about the need to “stop doing, [so] you’ll start knowing. StopMovingStopTalkingStopSearchingStopPanickingStopFlailing.” For me, this evokes imagery of floating peacefully in the great expanse of the ocean, despite tumultuous waves rolling by. She talks of her own process of stopping to help seek clarity, saying “what I really needed to do to save myself was let myself sink. Because beneath the noise of the pounding, swirling surf is a place where all is quiet and clear. There, in the deep, I could sense something circulating inside me. It was Knowing.” A quote I have in my phone, (which I unfortunately didn’t write where I discovered it, so can’t credit it here) reminds me of the role feelings play in helping us grow.
We could make it in this life without our wildest delights…but we would certainly be no one without our deepest struggles…I fight to learn meanings, not to change feelings.
‘The Guest House’ by Rumi, is one of the most celebrated poems in mindfulness and a nice reminder of embracing the many different emotions that may come our way.
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
By ignoring or pushing away negative emotions, we run the risk of not learning valuable lessons about life and ourselves. Glennon Doyle says in ‘Untamed,’ “It turned out that what I needed most was inside the one place I’d been running from my entire life; pain. Everything I needed to know next was inside the discomfort of now. As I practiced allowing my hard feelings to come and stay as long as they needed to, I got to know myself. The reward for enduring hard feelings was finding my potential, my purpose, and my people.”
The Disney Pixar film ‘Inside Out’ has some incredibly valuable lessons about our emotions and the way that they all play an important part in our life. Sadness, who for the most part of the film is considered to be detrimental to the emotional growth of Riley, says at one point, “Crying helps me slow down and obsess over the weight of life’s problems.” It reminds us that crying can be a useful means to let go of things that are troubling us, and use the time to reflect on the sometimes darker aspects of human existence. Towards the end of the film, Joy begins to accept Sadness for who she is, rather than avoiding or denying the role she plays. Joy understands that Sadness too, is an important part of Riley’s emotional life. This is what emotion experts call ‘mindfully embracing’ emotions, where you kindly observe the emotion without judging it as right or wrong, rather than getting caught up in the drama of an emotional reaction. This allows us to create space to choose a healthy response.
Glennon Doyle reminds us that being human is about feeling everything. She says “It’s okay to feel all of the stuff you’re feeling. If there’s any secret you’re missing, it’s that doing it right is just really hard. Feeling all our feelings is hard, but that’s what they’re for. Feelings are for feeling. All of them. Even the hard ones.”
Kacey Musgraves explores the juxtaposition of emotions in her song ‘Happy and Sad.’
Is there a word for the way that I’m feeling tonight?
Happy and sad at the same time
You got me smilin’ with tears in my eyes
I never felt so high
No, I’ve never been this far off of the ground
And they say everything that goes up must come down
But I don’t wanna come down
At times, it’s okay to be feeling more than one thing at once. What’s hard is learning to trust which to follow. When we get better at being able to identify our emotions (and Professor Marc Brackett has an amazing book called ‘Permission To Feel’ that is transformational in the way it helps unlock the power of emotions to help yourself thrive) we are able to make better decisions. In some situations, we need to acknowledge the way we feel and allow our intuition and gut instinct to be the compass that guides our decisions when the head and heart are in conflict; trusting that feeling within our body, of knowing what to do.
From my visit to a psychic medium in my late twenties, I was given one piece of advice and I’ve carried it with me ever since. She told me to “FEEL my way through. Your head can only take you so far.” It reminded me of Natalie Imbruglia’s song ‘Intuition,’ which I often use as a mantra to remind myself of how to move forward during uncertain times.
’Cause intuition tells me that I’m doin’ fine
Intuition tells me when to draw the line
Could have turned left
Could have turned right
But I ended up here
Bang in the middle of real life
should have turned left
But I turned right
And I ended up here
And I fell alright
All emotions that you feel, good or bad, ultimately remind you that you are alive. When we learn to harness their potential to help us, rather than fear them, we are able to thrive.