Monday, April 25, 2011

Befriending Our Emotions And Stuff To Do With That

The following is an excerpt from Henri Nouwen's journal/book The Inner Voice of Love, which he wrote during a time of great depression for him.

Afterward I will make some comments.

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"It can be discouraging to discover how quickly you lose your inner peace. Someone who happens to enter your life can suddenly create restlessness and anxiety in you. Sometimes this feeling is there before you fully realize it. You thought you were centered; you thought you could trust yourself; you thought you could stay with God. But then someone you do not even know intimately makes you feel insecure. You ask yourself whether you are loved or not, and that stranger becomes the criterion. Thus you start feeling disillusioned by your own reaction.

Don't whip yourself for your lack of spiritual progress. If you do, you will easily be pulled even further away from your center. You will damage yourself and make it more difficult to come home again. It is obviously good not to act on your sudden emotions. But you don't have to repress them, either. You can acknowledge them and let them pass by. In a certain sense, you have to befriend them so that you do not become their victim.

The way to "victory" is not in trying to overcome your dispiriting emotions directly but in building a deeper sense of safety and at-homeness and a more incarnate knowledge that you are deeply loved. Then, little by little, you will stop giving so much power to strangers.

Do not be discouraged. Be sure that God will truly fulfill all your needs. Keep remembering that. It will help you not to expect that fulfillment from people who you know are incapable of giving it."

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Where to begin. I think that most of us who are on the spiritual journey (I think all of us are, regardless of if we are aware of it or not) go through times when we lose our bearings, get knocked away from our center and seemingly get kicked around by our emotions. We may do our best to pray, to meditate, to be positive, but still an event will happen, that person will call, that outcome we anticipated won't occur, and we're left spinning like a top. Here, Nouwen comforts us in saying "Relax, it happens. You're human, don't beat yourself up."

He follows that by saying, "It is obviously good not to act on your sudden emotions. But you don't have to repress them, either. You can acknowledge them and let them pass by."

First of all, while I agree that at times it is not good to act on your sudden emotions, at other times it is perfectly alright to trust them. One of the things I learned, one way or another growing up is that I couldn't trust myself. The things I felt in my heart and that bubbled up near the surface weren't trustworthy, they weren't really valid. And I suppressed them. I think that to a large degree I became suspicious of happiness. So in many ways now I believe you can trust your emotions. Dance when you hear a good song on the radio. Laugh when you hear something hilarious. Pounce on your lover when you're both feeling the urge. We can learn that many times our emotions can be trusted. Of course there are times when this is not the case, like when you want to choke the guy in front of you who just cut you off in traffic, or when you feel like smacking the gaggle of toddlers that the lady brought into Starbucks with her (WhyTF do people do that, seriously it drives me fucking crazy - take them to the library, or the park, or the kennel!)

Hmm, what else. It's just important to me to recognize my emotions and give them some room to breathe rather than repressing them. Now, I have to watch this, particularly since I currently live with bi-polar II, major depression, and anxiety. I'll let myself feel sad and depressed sometimes; there's just times when to not do so would be completely disingenuous. During those times, I'll grab a coffee, put on my pajamas, lay on the couch and watch a movie or a TV drama.

Also, the question should be asked, "Do I have to be completely centered in order to be in relationship with others?" It's here that I hear one of the mantras that often rise from within me: "Be easy on yourself," and another one, "You don't have to be alone." For some reason perhaps we have learned to be our own worst enemy or overly harsh with ourselves, much more harsh than we'd ever treat a friend. And at least for me I think that I have to be alone. I have to be somewhat of a secluded hermit in order to be holy. But guess what?! Relationships aren't blissful, Hollywood-esque, flower-petalled entities all the time as much as they are loving, committed, realistic ones. Do you want someone to love you for the centred, calm, happy person you try to be? Or do you want someone to love you for the centred, calm, happy, sometimes bitchy, annoying, sad person that in reality you sometimes are? I know what my preference is. Now of course this doesn't mean we then have license to just act like a prick all the time, no. We still strive to be that centered, calm soul and to treat our partner like the precious gift that they are. But in an honest relationship, we know that if we do have a bad moment/day, that person will not go riding off into the sunset.

Wow, I'm going on here. Let's conclude with this from Nouwen: "The way to "victory" is not in trying to overcome your dispiriting emotions directly but in building a deeper sense of safety and at-homeness and a more incarnate knowledge that you are deeply loved. Then, little by little, you will stop giving so much power to strangers (and events might i add)."

To me that's what it all comes down to. Building up knowledge that you are deeply loved. You are loved when you're centred (something we should all spend time trying to attain). And you are just as deeply loved when you're so very sad or angry.

Blessings,

Mark Andrew