Full Circles

Reflections on Living

Tag: emotions

The Invisible Wounds

Some of our most painful wounds are invisible.

Many of us not only carry them throughout our lives, but we bag them up and lug them like dirty laundry. We walk around as if one shouldn’t have clothes to wash, and silently seeking a place to find solace and relief from these painful and intense emotions.

These difficult emotions often manifest from

Traumatic experiences

Chronic pain

Experiences of violence

Imposition by others on how you should lead your life

Loneliness

Abandonment

Rejection

Unspoken fears…

If you live long enough, you are bound to have these happen to you. 

It is also our rejection of these emotional experiences “I shouldn’t feel this way,” that causes more suffering. 

We need to find a way to soothe and heal from these invisible painful emotions. Not in solitude, but with companions. As Thomas Merton would say, “Suffering is wasted when we suffer entirely alone.” (No Man is An Island, p. 85).

We must learn to not “harden our hearts” but to find a quality of grace and tenderness for those who suffer in way that our eyes can’t see—and that includes ourselves.

Is “How Are You?” A Greeting or a Real Question?

Since moving to Australia in 2010, I could never wrap my head around the social convention of asking each other “how are you?”

I took the question too seriously at first, and I soon realised I didn’t really need to contemplate the meaning of life as all I needed to say was “Fine thank you. And how are you?”

I think I’m getting the hang of it. I’m accepting that it’s really a hello or a G’day.

But 9 years later, I rethinking the “how are you’s.” Here’s what I think we should do to this social convention:

We should ask ourselves, on a daily basis, “How are you?”

And then patiently wait for a full-bodied felt response.

We don’t check in with ourselves enough. Most days, we are bustling around getting from one place to another, nailing down one task to another, from home care to schoolcare to the workforce. Meanwhile, we neglect to listen to our bodies.

Our mind is there to take care of the mind and the body. This is not just about being self-aware, because you can self-aware and still fail to ask fully embrace this beautiful question of “how are you.”

Hint: Like a call-and-response, if you ask this question to yourself and let it ring through from the top of your head to your pinky toes—and give yourself time—you might find yourself automatically letting out a sigh. That’s a good sign.

So, how are you?

Recalculating

Jewish Buddisht teacher Sylvia Boorstein said,

“The GPS never gets mad at me… It just says, ‘recalculating.’ No matter how many times I don’t make that turn, the tone of the voice stays the same.”

Instead of being rigid and demanding of what we expect of life, perhaps our approach to parenting, relationships, and work should be have an improvisational quality of recalculating, recalibrating, or re-routing, and being openly responsive to what life presents.

The real challenge perhaps is how to stay unfrazzled.

Here lies a paradox: while we hold steady to pursue or goals and maintain our focus, we must continually let our expectations die. When we learn to let go of our demands of life, then maybe we can encounter life; the opening to live.

Daily, we must recalculate. And let the tone of our voice be fiercely gentle. 

Note to self: Remember this when my kids don’t do what I tell them to do.

“Will You Forgive Me?”

“The lesson here is that there is no fix. There is, however, forgiveness. To forgive yourselves and others constantly is necessary. Not only is everyone screwed up, but everyone screws up.”

~Annie Lamott, Almost Everything: Notes on Hope.

 

My spiritual director the late Fr Claude Barreteau, MEP once told me a story about a man who repeatedly climbed a hill every week to arrive a small chapel where he made his confession to a priest. He felt bad that he had been doing so for such a long time, and seemed to  make the same mistake. On the exterior, it looks like this person hasn’t learned.

But I suspect Fr Claude’s story speaks to the business of forgiveness, which is a daily affair.

Today, out of sheer frustration, I yelled at my daughter. She burst into tears. She was inconsolable. Maybe Mom would come and sooth her. I was rendered helpless. I chastised her for being rude in the first place. She cries even louder. Mom’s not coming.

Then, in exasperation and lack of ingenuity, I realised I scared her. I sat down on the floor and I said, “I’m sorry. I messed up. My loud voice must have scared you. I’m gonna try better again the next time…”

She stopped crying. She looked at me. I brought her close. Meanwhile, in my mind, I was resisting even ounce of my being to correct her faults. There’s another time for that.

For now, “will you forgive me” is enough.

We need to climb up that hill and come to our senses that “everyone is screwed up… and everyone screws up,” and come back down again.

See this video by Fred Rogers.

(If you can’t see the video above, click here.)

Moved By Music

It’s been a long time since I’ve discovered a new artist that moved me. Rosie Carneys music doesn’t scream for your attention. It’s probably not going to hit some charts. It’s quiet, but penetrating. It’s soft, but her songs invites you in.

I am so taken by her music.

I first hear this track that she did called Thousands. In this track, she had the backing vocals from someone she looks up to, fellow Irish singer Lisa Hannigan (formerly singing with Damien Rice)

Here’s a live performance of the song, Thousands.

I wanted to learn more about her. The Web isn’t sprawled with information about Rosie Carney.

I was surprised that she’s only in her early twenties. At the age of 16, Donegal’s Rosie Carney signed a record deal that guided her away from the unadorned and honest songwriting that she wanted to pursue. After that false start, Carney knuckled down and got even more real and began to address her battles with anxiety, depression and an eating disorder that occupied her teenage years. “I lost so much weight. I don’t know how I didn’t die.”

Here’s a short documentary about her battle with anxiety at a young age:

 

 

In the video above, she said that the catalyst for change was when her grandmother, who was suffering with dementia.

One day, (my grandmother) asked my mother if I had cancer, as I was so thin…. that’s when I realised I need to completely sort myself out.

Music really became a form of therapy for her. The song “Thousands” speaks about her grandmother

Carnie Rosey’s music reminds that our life is not about comfort, but about courage. It not about living an anesthetic life, but to be awaken each day to the aesthetics around and within us.

Against Resilience: Numbness is Not Strength

We often mistake the ability to persist and soldier on as a sign of resilience, an evidence of strength.  

The issue is that we overvalue hardiness, and fail to appreciate our fragility. Resilience connotes the notion of overcoming obstacles and setbacks, and the ability to soldier on. There isn’t anything wrong with that. In fact, we need to be able to go through hardships and difficulties and come out the other side with valuable life lessons—sometimes with scares to prove.

However, sometimes we need to embrace the fact that we don’t have to “bounce back.” Instead, we have to first listen to the inner workings of our body, sometimes we simply need to take the time to recharge, to re-organise ourselves, or even call it quits on certain jobs or relationships. No need for “bouncing” or moving on. Just sitting still. 

Resilience is obsessed with forward movement, as if life is a straight line. As you probably experienced it first hand, life is anything but a linear process. When we continue to persist in our belief that life is a straight line, we push ourselves ahead.

In order to “move on”, we numb ourselves. We mistake numbness as a strength.

Indeed,  numbness happens when the waves of emotions overwhelm. But if we numb-out because we want to be a trooper, we fail to recognise the our mind is there to take care of the body… not “mind over body.” As Tim Minchin said in his commencement speech, we need to learn to feel it, not fill it.

If we learn to feel it, not fill it, then there is strength in vulnerability. 

In Praise of The Nurturers of The World

MOther and Child Painting

To the Nurturers in our lives, I thank you. You are a gift to this world. You are gift to others. Without you, we’d fail to thrive and grow. 

From the words of Fred Rogers, 

 

“Think of those people who loved you into your being.” 

 

These people belong to the universal Nurturers of the world. Nurturers have a special role in the grant scheme of things. They bring a piece of heaven on earth.

 

To you, dear Nurturers, you are part of someone’s life. Like a gardener, you have sown the seeds for the flowers to grow, tend to soil, and water the plants; the work never ends.

 

Nurturers give. Like my mother, like my grand auntie, like my wife—mother to my two children, like many carers I know from my work with individuals and families. 

 

I heard a story from one my clients. He is a father of a five year old, fighting for his dear life to have shared custody of his child. He wants to be part of his child’s life. He divorced from his wife, but not his child.  He wants to be present. He wants to be a Nurturer for his daughter. It’s an upward battle.

 

Nurturers sometimes give all of themselves away. They forget that when they neglect themselves, they have nothing left to give. Dear Nurturers, please don’t forget about you. Because you are a precious gift. Treat yourself as you would to a beloved. What would you do to nurture that person?

 

A true Nurturer knows how to give AND receive. There is a gift in giving, and there is also a gift in letting others become a giver. By learning to receive, we allow others to feel the blessing you’ve experienced in giving.

 

Because of you—and those before you—a cascade is happening. Passing on love, from one person to the next, one generation to another. The passage of transmission is indeed unpredictable, but it’s also inevitable. It’s inevitable that you, dear Nurturers, have an influence on the one you love.

 

Once again, “think of those people who loved you into your being.” 

 

Take a moment to picture them in your mind as vividly as possible. Visualise them standing right in front of you. Now allow yourself to say a heartfelt, “Thank you.” to them. A mother, a father, an uncle, a teacher, a friend.

 

Better yet, say thank you to each of them.

 

Thank you, dear Nurturers. You have loved me into my being.

 

p/s: I try to remind myself to trade my expectation for appreciation of those around me. It holds an antidote to suffering.

Blessings,

Daryl

The Music of Your Emotions: Why it is Important to Listen

 

 Girl in the woods Michelle Karpman

 “There can be no knowledge without emotion. We may be aware of the truth, yet until we have felt its force, it is not ours.” – Novelist Arnold Bennett

Common speak advocates keeping your emotions in check, not letting your emotions overrule you, being rationale, and the like. We come to relate with our emotional world as if it’s something of a hassle by-product of the human design.

Sadly, when we lose touch with how we feel, we lose our emotional compass to guide our living. Instead, defenses and fear dictate what we do.

I think the fear of our emotions runs deep. Propriophobia (PRO-pree-o-FO-bee-a) is Greek for “fear of one’s own felt sense” (technically: “fear of one’s own”). One might also translate it as “fear of the inner self.”*

Why do we fear our emotions? And what is the purpose and function of emotions if it seems to be a manufacture’s design in our biology?

First, I don’t think we necessary fear our emotions consciously. It’s the plight of modern living. Our attention is devoted to what’s out there. There’s lots to get done, tick-boxes off the list, and a job to keep. What we unconsciously end up with is a highly valued “rational mind,” as if this system is void of emotions, subscribing to the mind-over-body type of mentality. We see the nebulous stuff of emotion as “in the way.”

Said in another way, we relegate our emotions. We override our feelings in order to get some order.

But emotions are not just in the mind. It is a real bodily experience (see image below). Emotions are bodily activation that organises our behavior. Check with yourself if this holds true: Think of a time when something make your feel anxious or scared. Where do you feel it in the body? Chances are, you would feel your heart beating faster, butterflies in the stomach, and/or tension in the chest region. Or think of a time when someone make your angry. Where do you feel it in the body? Chances are, you would experience your fist clenching, a flush of hotness over your face, etc.

The Physiological Experience of Emotions

From Nummenmaa, L. Glereana, E., Harib, R., & Hietanend, J. K. (2014). Bodily Maps of Emotions. PNAS.

Emotions are purposeful. They are like alert bells that ring to greet you, “Hello… anyone there?” In times of distress, they are like sirens that begs your attention, “Hey, something is going on. You need to…(fill in the blanks)” Contrary to the bad rap of emotions, there is no right or wrong with emotions.Emotions are signals of us to take heed. In working with people in therapy, you’d often see that several psychological disorders are in part due to an experiential avoidance of the emotional world. A person who avoids feeling anxious by compulsively washing his hands, manifesting as OCD; a person who another who relegates her own feelings while staying in an abusive relationship, or another who experiences a burnout while not attending to the build up of compounded stress over the months of terrifying deadlines.

Here’s a list of the purposes of emotions:

1. A sense of who we are;

2. Connection with others;

3. Cultural and Intergenerational connection of shared values;

4. Motivation & drives us to action on what we want;

4.Sense or direction (emotional compass);

5. Learning, and

6. Meaning.

Working with our emotions is crucial. If we don’t, it’s like trying to play an instrument without tuning it. We need to learn to tune in, in order to have a musical life.

Here’s a quick tip:

1. At the end of each day, ask yourself, “How am I feeling right now?”

2. Be patient, and allow this to be answered by your bodily experience, not your intellectual explanations. Emotions are meant to be experienced, not explained.

3. Ask yourself: What is your emotion informing you about what you need at this point? Then, action follows: “What do I need to do?”

Don’t wait ’til the sirens are sounding, by then you’d be trying to put out the fire.

Best,

Daryl Chow, Ph.D.

~~

Note:

* This was borrowed from my colleague and friend’s website, Dr. Jason Seidel.

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