Feel your feels

My daughter has epic temper tantrums. They are developmentally age appropriate, but they are very uncomfortable to sit through as a parent. I witness with a mix of emotions–awe, envy, and irritation as she rages on. I must clasp my hands together, as if in prayer, and remain across the room for fear that I will grab her or hold my hand to her mouth, or worse. Sometimes I see my child self, and then my adult self, in her unrestrained volcanic eruption, and I think of my own parents, how they may have been raised, how they were so ill-equipped to understand a child’s mind, which is empty of words but full of raw emotion, how they would not allow or make space for my feelings, how everything was personal. I wonder if those feelings are lodged somewhere deep in my psyche or muscle tissue because they were not given permission to exist. My daughter’s fits are pure, unfiltered by the demands of civility. Once, after she’d calmed down and was sitting in my embrace, she told me “It’s hard to stop [crying]” because I had wrongfully implored her after a full half hour of her wailing to “Stop! Just STOP!”  I thanked her for sharing, for naming and processing the emotional experience so that I could understand just a little of what she was going through, and it was helpful and instructive; I got it. I was reminded that the tantrum is beyond her control; it needed to move through her in order to expel. Her self-awareness astounds and inspires me.

I’m thinking a lot about how we are not taught in school (or life) to name our feelings, to own our feelings, to make friends with our feelings, or to take responsibility for our feelings. Everything is so behavior oriented, but feelings are what prompt action. (Is it funny to think about a feeling? The writer’s brain must force feelings into justification, reason, transmutation.) I think about acts of violence and how the perpetrator was unlikely ever given permission to hold space for their own feelings, to sit with, to honor, and to forgive rage enough to let it dissipate. Yes, I am someone whose heart breaks for the school shooter as much as it does for his victims. I think of how social and economic forces are squeezing the citizenry to the point of self-destruction; their feelings, unprocessed, turn to darkness. We are not our feelings, I am told. Yet they are so seductive, so entrancing, so controlling…and they move us both negatively and positively depending on how we interpret them.

In his book “The Untethered Soul” Michael Singer writes:

When the energy can’t make it through the mind because of conflicts with other thoughts and mental concepts, it then tries to release through the heart. That is what creates all the emotional activity. When you resist even that release, the energy gets packed up and forced into deep storage within the heart. In the yogic tradition, the unfinished energy pattern is called a Samskara. This is a Sanskrit word meaning “impression,” and in the yogic teachings it is considered one of the most important influences affecting your life. A Samskara is a blockage, an impression from the past. It’s an unfinished energy pattern that ends up running your life.

It’s a fine balance, our brain’s relationship to the emotional experience within our bodies. One the one hand, we should acknowledge what we feel, but on the other hand we should not allow our feelings to define us, at least when they are negative. But isn’t our feeling world–particularly our pain and anger–what activates our creative expressions? And don’t our creative expressions elevate our sense of justice, ethics, and humanity?

My favorite poem by Amiri Baraka

Young Soul

First, feel, then feel, then
read, or read, then feel,
then fall, or stand, where you
already are. Think
of yourself, and the other
selves…think
of your mother
and sisters,
and your bentslick father, then feel, or
fall where you already are
if nothing else will move you
then read
and look deeply
into all matters
come close to you
city boys–country men

Make some muscle in your head,
but use the muscle
in yr heart.