The Tyranny of Feelings

As passionate as I can be about things, I’ve only just begun to connect with the spectrum of emotions I had buried all my life under the stoicism.

When you reflect on your day as you turn out the lights, you are in fact revisiting how you felt about it, not what you thought about it. I’m seeing that feelings can be so prevailing they can redefine reality. You got word of a promotion – objectively, great news. But if it fills you with anxiety, that will translate a different news like maybe you’re really not competent enough. What if your spouse has little regard for you? His contempt will redefine what is true within the world you share. The final arbiter of our perception is emotion, not cognition.

Chief Justice Sonia Sotomayor in her early days as District Attorney couldn’t figure out where she’d gone wrong in one case. She replayed her presentation for a mentor who “identified the problem instantly: I was appealing to logic, not morality…since it is painful to most jurors to vote ‘guilty’ and send a human being to jail, you couldn’t simply reason with them to do it; you had to make them feel the necessity…put them in the shoes of the accused or the victim: make them feel the cold blade held against their necks, or the pang of unappreciated devotion that might drive someone to steal from a former employer…It was in effect to see that mastery of the law’s cold abstractions was actually incomplete without an understanding of how they affected individual lives.” My Beloved World

In the case of jurors, it is emotion that forges belief which determines conviction and behavior. Because when Sotomayor was arguing her case, she wasn’t feeding algorithms of reason into a machine for a logical verdict. She was appealing to people, people who were filtering the story through their own past, hopes, and fears as surely as they were supposed to aim for impartiality.

Yeonmi Park, who managed a harrowing escape out of North Korea, knows all about the power of feelings:

“In school, we sang a song about Kim Jong Il and how he worked so hard to give our laborers on-the-spot instruction as he traveled around the country, sleeping in his car and eating only small meals of rice balls [a lie]. “Please, please, Dear Leader, take good rest for us!” we sang through our tears. “We are all crying for you.” This worship of the Kims was reinforced in documentaries, movies, and shows broadcast by the single, state-run television station. Whenever the Leaders’ smiling pictures appeared on the screen, stirring sentimental music would build in the background. It made me so emotional every time.

Jang Jin Sung, a famous North Korea defector and former poet laureate who worked in North Korea’s propaganda bureau, calls this phenomenon ’emotional dictatorship’. In North Korea, it’s not enough for the government to control where you go, what you learn, where you work, and what you say. They need to control you through your emotions, making you a slave to the state by destroying your individuality, and your ability to react to situations based on your own experience of the world.” In Order to Live

The government wasn’t satisfied with subjugation of the mind. It wanted the heart because then the leaders had the whole person. And notice that you can create emotion – for someone you haven’t even met and for what is not real. This gives me hope that we can also deconstruct it, not remain enslaved to it.

I’ve always held to an Absolute Truth, ground harder than the sand mound of feelings, that can save us from ourselves. But I am seeing that where I’ve lived is really in the place of emotion, not of beliefs or facts. I have found anger much easier to access than sorrow. Anger allows me to borrow strength from the sheer force of it, as delusional as the sense of power may be, but what do you do with the sadness of inflicted pain except suffer its vulnerability and helplessness? It just hurts too much. Fear is another big one, and has accounted for a lot of my actions over the years. (I’m such a mess. Why in the world are you following?? Stay with me at your own peril.) Now naming is one thing, freeing oneself of it another. And so to face these darker sides of my psyche, I’ve had to enter their deeper waters. Following memory as far back as it would take me, I’ve relived the traumas of childhood that gave way to resentment and fear. But for the first time, I was led to think about my mother, how indignant, fearful, and powerless she must have felt in the face of her husband’s offenses while she was pregnant with me – all that despair I felt in the womb, the energy that pieced me together. I don’t like victim talk, but making sense of my context and beginnings has given me greater compassion for myself. I’ve also known that we hold grief and anxiety in our lungs and while I’ve made the connection easily in others, did not see until recently the chronic bronchitis I had as a child in this startling light.

When I was a kid, I didn’t salt my food. I felt guilty for the flavor, and so denied myself the pleasure. That went for the lettuce as well. No dressing. I took the asceticism to a whole other level in my adult years and only the other day recognized that I had actually invited much of the insane suffering in my life. I had to keep suffering because that is what Korean women do. It is how we show love, it is our lot. And our lot is where we are safe. It is all I saw of my mother, that for me to do and be otherwise would be not only criminal (how dare I enjoy my life?), but something alien and therefore…scary. Oh, how I LOVED my Bible passages on perseverance in affliction, on the cross I was to carry! Some years ago, I took a few lessons in the Alexander Technique, a mindful movement therapy. The instructor taught me how to lie down, really lie down. At one point I couldn’t help laughing out loud on the table. The deep, simple rest felt so good. At 30, I didn’t know I could rest like that, had been holding myself up in bed all those years. I now stand on unchartered terrain, a long but sure road where I am giving myself permission to stop hurting and to take my power back. I have died a hundred deaths. Surely that means a resurrection. Pleasure, comfort, (gasp) joy are within sight. At least I enjoy them every time here with you.

I had learned in my own depression how big an emotion can be, how it can be more real than facts. And I have found that that experience has allowed me to experience positive emotion in a more intense and more focused way. The opposite of depression is not happiness but vitality. I think that while I hated being depressed and would hate to be depressed again, I found a way to love my depression. I love it because it has forced me to find and cling to joy. I love it because each day I decide, sometimes gamely and sometimes against the moment’s reason, to cleave to the reasons for living. And that, I think, is a highly privileged rapture. Psychologist Andrew Solomon, PhD.

Burial

It was a summer sun and autumn wind. He felt both uncomfortable and snug in the sweater as the heat bore through and the air blew in tidal breaths about him. He couldn’t help look up as he made his way down the gully using his spade for a walking stick. The sky, a wash of azure, held out a gorgeous cleanness – a tableau vivant of redemption after the fierce rain.

Reminding himself to breathe with the wind softening above, he followed the redolent trail of conifer to a line of trees tall against the strike of sun. Right there, by the rock. That’s where he’d dig. The clods eventually gave way because they had to. All those years: longing and defeat marked a hundred thousand steps that made a life, and he hadn’t lived. The dirt crumbled under the work of sure hands. When he made his way back out to the deepening sunlight and noise, will people know that his heart had stopped, that in death he had prevailed over beguiling hope? No. They will just believe his depthless smile. The hollow was now big enough. Calloused palms smoothed the bottom and bending, like a father over the cradle, he buried his dreams.

My New Brain

I am not alive or dead. My muscles are wood and my skull is cracking. I swear it’s cracking. Someone’s tightening my heart like it’s a screw and I hear the world from underwater. Sound and images blur, broken like my brain.

In truth, I have no idea how I built this blog sleeping once every four days. That’s on a good month. But I’m not writing to detail the insomnia hell that’s been my life these twenty-five years. In fact, I’d rather not get into it so please respect my wish on the comment board. I write to share a breakthrough I’ve experienced because while I have felt completely alien among the people in my life who look so rested and functional, over 60 million people are supposed to suffer insomnia in America alone. If you happen to be among them, yes, I’ve read your posts. I’ve plenty understood. You might find freedom from your living nightmare here. Or maybe you can share this treasure with someone who is suffering.

pregnantearth.com

pregnantearth.com

I heard about Sleep Tracks from a doctor over the summer. Familiar with neurofeedback and the fact that our alpha, beta, theta brain waves are supposed to be running in a certain pattern, I saw the validity of what I was reading and got the tracks right away. Yan, the mastermind behind these audios that reset your waves, offers a selection of tracks to help you find what is suitable for you. There are sounds for those who can’t shut down and for those who can’t stay asleep. Pulses to help you nap while enhancing your night sleep, pulses that ease anxiety. There was some stop-and-go while I experimented but I clocked in more sleep in July than I had the whole year up ’til then. I was off and running, able to attend the homeschool conferences and work on a music project – so productive that I couldn’t blog. After a little over a month, I had trouble sleeping with the tracks; my body was telling me I didn’t need them anymore. It was unreal. I could…just sleep. Life then threw a curveball and I’ve been in the process of disentangling from some unexpected challenges, but the tracks have been helpful again most nights. I can’t tell you the things I have tried and were willing to try over the maddening years. What works wonders for others would only aggravate my pains. But these audios have given me a taste of life beyond mere existence and survival.

If you get the audios, you are privy to an online sleep course with practical, useful guides and information that help you take ownership and regain control of your sleep issues. (I love Yan’s French accent.) If you want to talk to the man, he may take a day or two to get back to you but will provide knowledgeable guidance. As for those of you who’ve never had trouble sleeping, I think you’re weird. I find you very difficult to understand. (Wanna trade bodies for a day? A day in the !@#! life of Holistic Wayfarer. Will give you post ideas.)

Witness

I was chopping vegetables for dinner, silent tears running down my face.

I had just gotten off the phone with my sister. It was cancer.

She was terrified and feeling alone, despite the love I tried to pour through the phone. All I could do was listen and witness her pain. Be a witness to her strength. To the woman she was before this label she was already chafing against: cancer patient. I had held it together for her but after hanging up, broke down. All that was left now were tears and the sound of the knife on the cutting board.

My husband came home. He walked in, set down his backpack, glanced at me and went about his business.

As I cried, he checked his voicemail. Got himself a drink. Went through the mail. When the tears did not stop after 20 minutes, he asked me what was wrong. He stood about five feet away, as if my grief might be contagious. When I told him Anne had cancer, he said with a very distinct remoteness, “Oh. I’m sorry to hear that.” And walked out of the room into the office, shutting the door.

Something in me clicked.

I had, of late, become somewhat resigned to feeling lonely in my marriage. I had struggled for years over the right thing to do. I stayed mainly for my kids and if I am completely honest, also because I was terrified of being in the world again without financial support. But that night, I knew I deserved more. More respect. More love. More understanding. More dignity.

And so I followed him into the office and asked quietly, “Do you still love me?” His answer was no. He thought our marriage was damaged beyond repair.

My Before had just ended, and at my own hands. And the first of many Afters had begun.

 

Kristine at candidkay

Maybe We Don’t Want to Listen To Your Story

I had my feet up on the couch, willing the bleeding to stop. I couldn’t find any pads last night but remembered the spare diapers I kept for my nephew’s sleepovers. They were perfect. What a word. Perfect. I suppose I should have this down by now. I changed out the diapers every hour, at times faster. The empty trash bin had filled, blood-sodden, overnight. Today my back yearned for something soft underneath as the pelvic ache grew louder.

The doorbell rang.

My body refused to move but I was waiting for a package to sign for. I had to get the gift to Dad. I tried not to think about the rush in my pants when I got up and shuffled, exhausted, to the door. Outside the window stood a man with a pen behind an ear, clipboard in hand. Damn solicitors. He waved hopefully when he caught sight of me. I waved back an angry dismissal and slapped the blinds back against the pane. I was losing my baby, my life a promise of barren existence, and he just wanted my money.
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I can do this. It’s a numbers game. Hit 20 homes – that’s at least three sales. 30% commission. Everyday and I’ll get us a two-bedroom and move Janie to a better school. When Laura gets her raise I can go back to one job.

This one looks good. The biggest house on the block. Car in the driveway but no answer. Man, I wanna get home for dinner. Try it again. There you go, I knew you were home. Oh, come on. At least give me a minute. Some people are so rude.

Houses2

I recently heard a playwright on NPR who, in reference to racial conflict, said we walk into one another’s story everyday. Black people often find themselves trapped in the white imagination when they stumble into fear and ignorance. But it isn’t only across race and color lines that we do this. Every house, every apartment is a story box. We don’t know what just happened behind those closed doors, don’t know who is dying behind that smile. As you read this, a couple is exchanging wedding vows. Some bloggers are cracking jokes. A child’s stomach knots in hunger. A man tosses dirt over his wife’s casket. A girl just landed her dream job. A father of four lost his. Not only was the salesman clueless about the woman’s situation, she was in no position to come out. She didn’t have the wherewithal to step out into his story. We ask and sometimes the answer is no. And it has nothing to do with us.