Sunday, January 2, 2011

Seeking the Source & Nodding to it

Reactions come so fast that it is easy to mistake them for reality. Feelings definitely are real in their effects - coloring everything around them and can even change the idea of who we are while they're at it. Responsiveness is something we all share to varying degrees. Without that our lives would not be of much interest, too monotonous and dull. But feelings can sideswipe us too, taking our breath away and leaving us gasping for air; and at times pump us so full of excitement, anger or other strong emotion that we are practically blind to what is going on around us or even in us.

It can be hard to let go of a mood of melancholy that taints everything with regret; or to hold on to a feeling of happiness that saturated a time shared. Sometimes we feel the whole world turns in one moment, happy and going along until WHAM something changes in the way things are said, or done, or the events take a turn in unexpected directions and then everything feels different.

Some describe emotional twists like changes in the weather, sunny and pleasant, and warm enough until the wind kicks up and as though standing in a shadow or out in a wide field, the chill cuts deep and nothing can be done to protect us. But in fact, this is not quite the way it feels. It is not an outside influence like the wind, but an internal one that changes the way feelings take hold. Then everything changes because of the way we respond to those feelings.

Recently I was traveling and visiting family and friends. The sequence of activities and moving from this place to that was remarkably easy. Though there were twinges of sadness upon parting one, there were thrills of happiness at the next stop. Getting out of the routine was remarkable, and the landscape around me was quite different and entirely provocative. I didn't have much of an agenda beyond the going and doing together with people, trying to make fun out of daily stuff like meals and such, catering to various interests among us, and offering opportunities for visiting. But after going along for a few days, a comment was made to me and it was if something shifted and what had been a happy time turned tumultuous, brooding and rife with hidden hazards.

I had been reading "Radical Acceptance" by Tara Brach, Ph.D., and was able to use her powerful tool of taking a pause, literally, and relaxing my body, to seek within myself where the pain or sorrow or tension was held. Going deeper, beyond the tightness in the stomach or the clenching of the throat, the racing heartbeat, I was able to find a more embedded source for the reactions that I was feeling. The deepest level of feeling was that of being a failure, that of being unlovable or unworthy, the response way down under what seemed like frustration or uncertainty. It can be set off by any type of rejection or criticism, and start a cascade of justifications or defenses. I have seen this pattern before in myself and in others. It is not uncommon to have these deep feelings, and to be ruled by them. But it is not required that we react and react from that same wounded place from long ago.

Obviously no one is perfect, and holding oneself to that kind of standard in all things -- especially emotional and connective aspects of relationships -- is really a waste of energy. But it is important to see where the feeling of "less than" or "unworthy" come from. Perhaps that urge to be loved and accepted went unanswered long ago, or we judged ourselves like objects rather than living beings and put a shameful stamp across our foreheads for all time because of a behavior or reactive moment in the past. When we do this, any little thing can refer straight back to those feelings.

Seeking out that source of the deeper feeling makes it possible to nod at the whole self in which the emotional response rose. Then we might be able to deal with the situation at hand in the moment just as it is, rather than attaching it to everything that has ever felt bad or gone wrong before. (Oh that sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach will take us right back there to that awfulness...whatever it was.) Each of these reactions is just that -- a reaction. Events change continuously offering the possibility that with a fresh and open mind I might be able to feel the current feeling and go on, being authentically myself without all that 1) baggage, 2) self-abnegation and 3) fear of disaster!

What a relief it is to see each response as a response. Not that there is erasure of responsibility for the actions I take, or the effects of those actions. I can recoil and in that instant see myself begin to entrench in a defensive reaction. It is at that moment that I nod at the deep sorrow that underlies the response, and can put down the defense in favor of being present in that moment rather than holding on tight to relive an imagined moment of the past.

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