Nothing More Than Feelings
“How are you Inventing Your Life Today?” – the lead story from my last issue of Power & Presence – drew comments from several readers. Most of the comments went something like: “I wish I could have the degree of control over my life that you apparently do.”
I want to say, I wish I had the degree of control over my life that it apparently looks like I have.
Earlier this summer, several of my 20-something neighbors who live in the apartments next door had a long and lively conversation in their back yard, which lies just beneath our bedroom window – wide open on this particular warmish night. The conversation included beverages of one type or another (I hazarded some guesses), the containers for which, when drained, got thrown (loudly) into a recycle container. These antics took place between 2:30 and 3:30 A.M.
I debated for a while whether I should get up, dress, go next door, and have a conversation of my own. After tossing and turning for about 15 minutes, I decided to communicate through my open window. I got up, and – I believe in a fairly centered way – called out: “Quiet, please.” They heard me, I think, since their voices quieted a bit. And while the cans continued to go into the recycles, they did so with perhaps a bit less energy.
But the damage was done, the horse out of the barn. What were my chances of getting back to sleep? I tossed and turned for another half-hour but couldn’t find my way back. I got up, walked the house, muttered oaths to myself, and finally began to notice light dawning and birds chirping around 4:45. I lay down again and dozed intermittently between 5 and 8, and eventually got out of bed to face the day, tired, depleted, and still angry.
I remembered my story about “Inventing Your Life,” and its theme about the meta-communicator being the padding between my feelings and me. There wasn’t much padding after a sleepless night. I talked to my husband. I honored my feelings. I even appreciated my neighbors’ cluelessness. I mean they’re young adults having a summer outdoor party. Okay, it IS the middle of the night, but I may have done similar stuff at that age. But in spite of my best efforts at reclaiming equanimity, I mostly gave myself a pretty hard time about the fact that I’d written that story. Here I was having FEELINGS. I can help others better manage their emotions, so why couldn’t I manage my own? Why couldn’t I make them go away?
I re-read my story. It helped. I didn’t say I wasn’t supposed to HAVE feelings, I said I was supposed to be able to be aware enough to notice them and ride their waves. I said I wanted to make behavior choices based on my better instincts instead of acting out the emotion in unconstructive ways. I guessed that I had done that with my partying neighbors. I hadn’t been mean-spirited or behaved reactively.
Then I understood that I wasn’t upset with my neighbors any more; I was mad at myself for having such strong feelings. Like somehow I was supposed to be “beyond that.” Because I teach and write about centering, I should be above these tiresome emotions.
In those moments of upset, I comprehended experientially that centering doesn’t take emotions away. On the mat of life, as in aikido, the attack will come. It may come from the outside (my noisy neighbors) or the inside (strong feelings). How will I manage the energy? Will I freeze, fight, fall over, or move in toward the energy and use it wisely? I can be centered and upset. I hope, in fact, I am centered when I’m upset. When I’m centered I will hold the emotional energy differently.
In time, as they always do, the feelings died down and transformed, much like the thunderstorm that also passed through that night. By afternoon I was on the actual aikido mat and back to feelings I enjoy having in my body. “Inventing Your Life” is pretty accurate. The option to have or not have feelings is not under my control (at least not yet). The ones I had that night and early morning were not pleasant or wanted, and I could not MAKE them go away. All I could do was sit with them, watch them move through body, mind, and spirit, talk about them to caring friends, and care for myself while I was having them.
Soon I will be laughing about that night. (I already am.)
And soon I will have a longer conversation with my neighbors – in the daylight, when we’re all centered, open to dialogue, and able to talk about how we want to live next door to one another.
Center does not equal an absence of emotion. Center equals presence with emotion. I am not a bad person because I have strong feelings. Feelings just are; they can in fact control us, or with some watching, waiting and positive intention, we can engage and direct their energy with awareness and purpose.