Difficult feelings

Sad GirlI was wrestling with some difficult feelings yesterday–the kind that good, spiritual people aren’t supposed to have. You know what I’m talking about? In this day and age, we’re all supposed to be enlightened and know that our circumstances aren’t responsible for how we feel–we are. And yet…that’s not how life is all the time. We can summon all the willpower in the world, but there are some feelings that seem to resist everything we throw at them. And we end up feeling down on ourselves because we’re not “spiritual” enough to overcome them.

Well, as I was feeling down on myself last night for having these not-so-praiseworthy feelings, I had a minor epiphany. I felt like God, or my Higher Self, or some Wisdom greater than I, whispered to me, “I love those feelings. And I love you when you have those feelings. You’re adorable when you feel that way.”

And I thought to myself, What? Really? But I thought about the people I love. And I thought about when they feel those not-so-pretty feelings: anger, jealousy, sadness. And I felt a huge amount of love welling up inside me. Thinking of my loved ones having those feelings didn’t make me want to judge them for not being spiritual enough to be beyond such things. It made me want to love them more. And I realized it was so silly for me to feel bad about having negative feelings when they just made God and all the people who love me want to love me more. Why not let myself love me more when I felt those things?

It’s easy for us ambitiously spiritual people to view our chaotic emotional lives as not living up to the standard of equanimity we for some reason set for ourselves.  And yet what I heard last night was that the difficult, seemingly “bad” emotions are actually a beautiful gift. If God didn’t want us to have them, God wouldn’t have made us human to begin with. Those bad emotions are part of why we’re here. As difficult as that may be to understand sometimes.

Rising StrongA funny thing happened after I realized all this. I sat down to read a new book: Brené Brown’s Rising Strong. And the second chapter is about just this sort of thing. Or at least it seemed to me to fit right in with my thoughts. She talked about how, no matter how much people learn about the process of growing–creatively, spiritually, however–it never exempts them from going through a dark period before the dawn. Anytime we decide to go out on a limb and attempt something new, after a period of initial excitement and conviction that we’re on the right path, we’ll hit a dark night of the soul. Or, as she calls it, “Day 2” of the metaphorical 3-day journey. It doesn’t matter who you are, how experienced you are, you will always hit a period where you feel lost, fearful, uncertain, and generally miserable. Until eventually you come out on the other side and see the magnificence that your willingness to sit in the discomfort has wrought.

Imagine for a moment what it would be like to watch a movie in which nothing bad ever happened to any of the characters and none of them ever had any feelings of fear or anger or conflict. Pretty boring, right? And yet that’s how we expect our lives to be. And we expect to be happy about it?

The tension between joy and suffering, good and evil, is a great mystery of the universe, and this doesn’t solve it. But I think the kind of stories that we love to see on the big screen are some small clue as to why our lives are the way they are. Some people believe that we actually choose our lives before we live them. That God gives us a choice about what challenges we want to face and who we want to face them with. If that’s true, it makes a whole lot of sense to me that we wouldn’t choose lives with no hurdles, lives with no low points, lives with no opportunities to prove ourselves. I think we’d choose lives a lot like what we have: just to see if we can make it. Or just to experience the glorious feeling of having persevered through tough, tough times and come out on the other side.

I guess what I’m getting at is this: the difficult emotions are part of the journey. They’re part of the fun! They’re not just obstacles to being more “spiritual” or “enlightened.” They’re part of what being human is all about, and when viewed with just an ounce of detachment, they can actually be endearing. No need to feel down on ourselves. Anger, sadness, frustration–they’re all integral parts of the great gift of life.

3 responses to “Difficult feelings”

  1. I’ve heard a podcast with Brené Brown, but I haven’t read her book yet. It is on my list now. It sounds helpful. I know exactly what you are describing…. and authenticity has always made more of an impression on me than those who project a sense of having it all together/being enlightened at all times. There are days, weeks, even months sometimes when life is glorious and flowing exactly how I want things to flow. I’m grateful, happy, joyous, and free. Then, there is today…after two cups of coffee all I want is more sleep and for all of the loose ends to make sense. Anyway, great post…

    • I hear you. I think I can date most of my friendships to that first moment when somebody let their guard down and talked about how they were REALLY feeling about something, not how they were supposed to feel. That’s the moment when you can really connect. When you really start to feel less alone.

      • We are more of a community than we realize. I’m amazed everyday when I encounter people who struggle with similar things. I’m so grateful for those who open up to me. Thanks for this beautiful article.

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