I’m really skilled at thinking. Not so much at feeling - especially when the feeling is painful. I mean, I can name the feeling but I don't wanna feel the feeling, you know?
Listening to an interview I did with my friend Jodi in preparation for turning How I Live Through This into a book, reminded me of the part of feeling I avoid.
She was talking about the Quaker tradition of Clearness Committees - when you have a hard decision to make, you gather a group of people who ask you questions and reflect back what they hear in your answers:
I love that idea of truly asking questions to get at the heart of the problem.
Yes. Or not even the problem. Sometimes it's just to get to the feeling. I did a clearness committee right after my daughter went to college, and then my husband decided he didn't want to be married anymore, and I had been at my school for 12 years. What am I going to do next? So I did one about whether I was going to quit my job and join AmeriCorps and do a year of service and just keep finding myself.
Whenever anybody asked me a question about the school, I kept crying really hard. And by the end I was like, I know I'm crying because I'm saying goodbye to this place. I'm just ready. But I didn't need an answer. I just really needed the feeling.
Yes, she needed to name that feeling (I'm great at that ✅), but where she found the value was in feeling the feeling (ohh, that part ❌). Giving that feeling some space - in an intentional, deliberate way.
I take "thinking walks" to sort out my ideas. I schedule "process blocks" on my calendar to work through a problem. But I rarely give myself permission to deliberately feel a feeling for very long - especially one that brings me sadness or pain.
Maybe it’s a small personal irritant that grows. Or a global crisis unfolding at rapid speed.
I’m aware my feelings are there. I see them, name them, can understand why they're there. I just want keep moving forward. So I rationalize, tolerate, forgive, justify.
That’s my desire to make sense out of chaos. My need to control something so I don’t have to accept that control is an illusion.
I’m eager to solve, to find a way through. I don’t want to succumb to those emotions, to sit in pain.
But my feelings are still there. They're the current I stand in while getting everything else done. They tinge everything I do, think and see even when I believe I’ve successfully subdued or blown past them.
As Jodi discovered, intentionally, deliberately, feeling the feeling - airing it out, letting it breathe - doesn’t make it bigger. It helps to release it. Maybe not all at once but enough to create some space.
I resist remembering that. But it’s always true.
After all, my feelings will come out eventually. Acknowledging them first, letting myself feel them, honoring the humanity of my grief, sadness, pain - my loss of control - that's the practice.