“Emotions, in my experience, aren’t covered by single words. I don’t believe in “sadness,” “joy,” or “regret.” Maybe the best proof that the language is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling. I’d like to have at my disposal complicated hybrid emotions, Germanic train-car constructions like, say, “the happiness that attends disaster.” Or: “the disappointment of sleeping with one’s fantasy.” I’d like to show how “intimations of mortality brought on by aging family members” connects with “the hatred of mirrors that begins in middle age.” I’d like to have a word for “the sadness inspired by failing restaurants” as well as for “the excitement of getting a room with a minibar.” I’ve never had the right words to describe my life, and now that I’ve entered my story, I need them more than ever. ”Jeffrey Eugenides
I had a rotten day yesterday. Lyme herxing, a seizure, mad amounts of pain, and a body that just wouldn’t behave itself. I’ve had many crap days like yesterday in this lifetime, and it’s part of the territory of chronic illness. One of the things that makes it harder to bear is when other people want me to disavow the truth of my suffering, and go all ‘love and light and jolly hockeysticks’ in order to lift myself out of my ‘negative headspace’.
(Just quietly, if you have an ice-pick headache, your skin feels like it is on fire and that someone is stabbing a skewer in your eye, and then chuck in zero sleep, nausea, chest pain and electricity running through your veins instead of blood, I’d say there’s a fair chance you’d be so busy just breathing that you might struggle to muster that Pollyanna rainbows and happiness demeanor too.)
There is a practice that psychologist have named spiritual bypassing. It’s a truth-suppressing tactic that certain people who identity as ‘spiritual’ or ‘new age’ use to avoid facing or dealing with difficult emotions, situations or conversations. Instead of allowing themselves (or you!) to feel ‘negative emotions’ or thoughts such as anger, grief, sadness, depression, helplessness, abandonment, shame, rejection, powerlessness (to name a few) or to have difficult conversations that may cause discomfort, they believe that an enlightened soul will choose to only live from positivity, happiness, gratitude, love and light.
I’d like to call Bullsh*t on that.
It’s not normal to be happy all the time. In fact, I’ll go further than that and say that it is healthy to experience feelings from a full range of emotions, and in feeling them fully we release them from our body so that they do not stay trapped and unexpressed inside us.
I remember vividly the day a dear friend of ours died in a parachuting accident, nearly twenty years ago. The day is seared into my mind. My shock and grief made the world bright, it slowed everything down, and I was exquisitely aware of each moment, each element of the world around me, as I span down into heartbreak. I remember the bitumen melting beneath my sandals in the hot afternoon sun, and the riot of lorikeets in the flowering trees outside the suburban shopping centre where we first received the phone call to tell us John had been in an accident. How could the world still be turning, and people going about their day as if nothing had happened, while our friend lay dying beneath a tree in the middle of a jump zone?
I ached for days afterwards with a peculiar metallic melancholy that created a physical pain in my chest and that rendered me simultaneously apart somehow from everything around me and yet deeply connected to these same things.
When I look back on that time it feels right that I grieved hard for someone I loved and lost.
Should I have ‘chosen to see the good’ in my friend’s untimely death? To move on in a day or two? Should I have chosen to ignore the suffering he went through in his final moments, or that his family went through, shattered by his death? Should I have found a way to put a positive spin on things and instead been happy?
How shallow that would have been. How much that would have made a mockery of the memory of our relationship, and of the loss of his life. Ignoring my true and very normal feelings would have been the ultimate betrayal of my self, and of my capacity to feel and process my emotions in a way and time-frame that was right for me.
One thing I have found, in my own spiritual journey and in guiding the many students who have worked with me as they have sought to connect more deeply with their own knowing and intuition, is that facing our feelings, exploring them and owning them, and being brave enough to go into the darker and more hidden places within ourselves is what heals us, evolves us, and gifts us resilience and wisdom. There have been many days when it has been the pain in my life that has actually shown me peace, compassion and gentle acceptance of what is. And it has made me a better person.
Staying in that happy-all-the-time place is superficial at best, and supremely damaging at worst. Give me real, give me meaning and truth over that, every day of the week.
There is something beautiful about being able to surrender to the currents of human emotion that run through us, and around us. It gives life a lustre and depth I would not trade for anything.
If you want to get all magical-unicorn-new-age-thinking on me and tell me to just chant positive affirmations and that everything will be okay, move on. I’m not interested in your reductionist view of the world. (In fact, I told you how I really feel about this years ago, and I still hold the same view today.)
So, if you are being told to lighten up, that ‘every life matters’, that struggle is beautiful, that it’s your karma, that bad things happen for a reason, that you are solely responsible for all of the sh*t that has ever happened in your life based upon the power of your thoughts, feel free to tell that spiritually bypassing soul to move on.
Your sensitivity and your capacity to feel everything is a blessing – it’s your transformational superpower, and tapping in to your feelings and inner wisdom will guide you in wonderful ways… or maybe it will cause a revolution. Both of those things are good.
All power to you, from your cranky, sore, tired and ever-loving friend, Nicole xx