I write because I understand myself and my world better if I write about it. Writing is the tool I use to excavate the layers of my feelings. Without writing, I would be left floating on the surface of my emotions, never able to understand what is really going on.
I am not what you would call an emotional person – by that I mean I am disciplined with my emotions. I am not given to dramatic displays of passion, and I don’t like to be bossed around by my feelings. For much of my life I would ‘think’ away my emotions, rationalise them, and put them away for later. Much later :). About 6 years ago I started reading Eckhart Tolle, and he talked about how important it is to sit with your emotions, to accept them. Don’t tell yourself a story about them; just let them be. And then let it go. Letting my emotions go was tricky. I’d never let anything go in my life. I’d forgotten plenty; but I’d never actually felt my feelings and then consciously released them. It was really a turning point for me.
I see my emotions like the layers of a cake, with the uppermost layer (the icing?) being what everyone can see, including me. I can describe this layer verbally with relative ease: “I am angry” or “I am sad”. I suppose there are people who are willing to limit their understanding to that top layer; I am not one of them.
So, I know that if I am struggling with something, the top layer, my uppermost emotion, will probably be anger. Underneath that will be a feeling of vulnerability, and underneath that layer will be one or more things that I am afraid of: fear.
Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering. – Yoda
Something has triggered a feeling of vulnerability within me (criticism, betrayal, feeling left out, lack of support). When I feel vulnerable, I feel weak and afraid, so I make myself stronger by getting angry. Clever huh? Well, yes. When I was 5 it was a good survival technique. Now that I am 36, it’s getting a bit tired.
Let me give you an example:
I show something I have written to someone. This person criticises it, tells me it’s not factual, and that they want all references to themselves removed from it. I am shocked, hurt, then angry. I stay angry for days, a very long time for me. I can’t see any further than my angry, hurt feelings. That tells me a very big button has been pressed, but I can’t look at it properly yet. After five days (!) I can see the other layers much more clearly:
ANGER HURT NOT BEING TRUSTED
BETRAYAL LACK OF SUPPORT
Causing upset Not being good enough
Rejection Being in trouble
Psssst. Did you notice that all of the fears are from childhood? I just did too. That’s why writing things down works.
This is not not a cake I wanted to eat, that’s for sure, but eat it I did, day after day. I just couldn’t seem to help myself.
I can’t help what I feel. These feelings are mine, they are as much part of me as my feelings of joy and love are. My emotions teach me about myself. What my vulnerabilities are. My strengths. My trigger points. What I will accept and what I will not.
And then here’s what I do – I write about it so that I can understand it, and I publish it in the hope that my words can help you to understand something about yourself.
You will have your own tools to excavate your emotional cake. Even if you don’t know it. Even if you just like to lick the icing off again and again, when you decide you want to go deeper and understand more about yourself, you have the tools to do it.
You already know what you do to stop yourself from knowing, from feeling what is really going on – over-eating, drinking, smoking, drugs, sex, television. But what do you do when you really want to connect with yourself? Do you go into the garden and sit there with your hands in the dirt? Maybe you play a musical instrument, go for a walk in the forest, go for a surf, ride your horse, go for a run, do yoga, cook, paint, draw, knit, sew. These are sacred tools that we use to go within ourselves, to experience what Tolle calls the “present moment”. In that present moment, there contains everything you need to know about yourself.
So today, instead of floating around on the top layer, go deeper.
Connect with yourself in that safe place you make for yourself with your sacred tools. Ask yourself what’s really going on, look at it, understand it, take what you need from it.
And then let it go.
Sometimes, letting go is an act of far greater power than defending or hanging on.
- Are You Really Angry (And How is That Working for You)? (psychologytoday.com)