Being In The Me
This season of the year can be a ticking time bomb. Expectations are high to have the “perfect” quintessential postcard holiday. Emphasis on financial and material allocations are magnified. Family members, sometimes those we don’t see very often or have strained relations with, are thrust into our emotional spotlight.
And often times, things are not so ideal. Life is messy. Circumstances of death, sickness, being broke, heartache or strife don’t give a damn that it’s December 25th or the 31st. People struggle. People leave us. People die. Change is eminent and prevalent, often before we even have time to integrate them. Uncertainty is the very nature of being alive.
An ongoing theme and mantra I’ve practiced throughout my existence is that it’s not what happens to us in life that matters as much as what we do with what happens to us that matters…(more on this in a moment).
For 46 years, two kids, a divorce and handful of devastating losses later, this type of thought and approach has served me well. In the confusing, twisted face of change and adversity, I am pliable. I am adaptable. I am self-reliant and self-sufficient in many ways. All-in-all, I’m grateful for these strengths which have lead to me pleasant levels of success and accomplishment.
But deep inside, some key aspects of my life have been missing. I realized that in a lot of ways, I had stopped growing. I’d reached a pinnacle of identity as far as my experience could take me. There are pressures around my job, (the details of being an owner/publisher of a magazine are daunting at times), due to my position, being in the public eye so-to-speak (people have expectations of who and what you are), financially and emotionally supporting my two children as a single mother, navigating a multi-faceted relationship with my boyfriend Mark, reflecting on the physical manifestations of aging, trying to maintain meaningful connections with my many friends, take care of my health and maintain sanity. I often asked myself, “Where the hell am I?”
2013 was one of the most difficult years I’ve had. In May, my dad died unexpectedly a few days after my birthday. The smell from the flowers he had sent me to celebrate still permeated the air when I picked up the phone and received the call that he had a heart attack. Only two weeks later, Mark and I split up for almost 4 months. I was in the midst of the major pressure of repairing and selling the house I’d been in for 13 years and finding another before the school year started.
With all of these changes in barely a few months, I was stressed out, alone and emotionally destitute. Now referring back to my point above, in the past, I had always fallen back on my actions—the what I did—in response. But there was too much change at once, and only one of me; Only so much “doing” time and resilience ability that I was capable of.
I am not too proud to say that I sought the support from a compassionate counselor named Raphel Cushnir. Several months prior I had been to a workshop of his at a local bookstore titled “The One Thing Holding You Back: Unleashing the Power of Emotional Connection” and was fascinated with all he had to say. In that short two hours of Raphael’s workshop I’d gained a lot of insight into the potential of where I had to grow.
The next phases of my life, of my identity, of me, it seemed, would not come from what I did with what happened to me, but rather, how I felt about what happened to me. Living life from, through and in tandem with an emotional posture was such a strange concept. As children, we’re not raised or encouraged to merely sit with how we feel.
According to Raphael, “An emotion is a message from your brain, delivered to your body as a physical sensation. Emotions are essential in reaching the greatest possible understanding of who we are and what we want. The more attuned we grow to our emotions, the wiser and more discriminating we become.
He adds, “Whenever we’ve grown stale, emotions reawaken us. Wherever we’ve grown stuck, they get us moving. With just the simple ability to notice and experience our feelings, daily existence becomes fascinating and vibrant. We shift from lethargic to motivated, from passive to energized.”
The inner conflict for fully embracing this is because emotions have so many unspoken negative mores and associations attached to them. Women have a propensity to be deemed, “too emotional.” Men are just not supposed to have emotions at all. Emotions are awkward, inconvenient, uncontrollable and don’t generally jive with our mental or ego’s need for control and measure.
The simple truth is that emotions make us uncomfortable. Once they arise, particularly feelings of sadness, disappointment or grief, they make us edgy and the sooner we “deal” with them (i.e. ignore or displace them), the better. Yet, Raphael’s stated notion about being with our emotions—that is accepting them, and immersing yourself within them— as the key/conduit/vestibule to our truest selves and our lasting, ongoing happiness, made sense.
I’d become a master of managing, controlling, navigating and directing my thoughts but when it came to my feelings, my emotions, I was an illegal alien on extremely foreign soil. This past year I had read many books about grief and loss and a common thread in them is that when it comes to pain, you can run, but you can’t hide.
The only way to get beyond grief is to be in grief; to go through it, the full spectrum of it and all that icky, unpleasant, confusing, angry aftermath grief beholds. As in the laws of physics, emotions are energy and once they’re created, they never really go away. Displacement of emotions due to discomfort often shows up through addiction, self-harm or denial of things that make us truly happy in life.
As Raphael has taught me in our work together, this same principal holds true for all the other emotions we feel. He proclaims that emotions are like waves, and rather than thrashing against them or getting sucked under by them, that the anchor of safety and inner peace derives from learning how to appropriately and whole-heartedly surf them.
Raphael explains, “When surfing your emotions, the ‘wave’ is your constantly shifting inner experience. The ‘surfer’ is your attention, following the wave up close, in matching motion. There is absolutely no attempt to control the wave or otherwise alter the experience. It’s strictly ‘Whither thou goest, I shall go.’
He adds, “In this, however, is a wondrous paradox. The very act of surfing your internal waves without trying to change them is precisely what does change them. Your attention facilitates flow. It creates additional inner space. These two results of emotional surfing – flow and space – allow turbulent waters to storm freely and calm quickly. They also allow you to keep your balance no matter how enormous the swells.”
Though I believe the paradox of actually moving towards feelings allows them to be free, I also recognize that to fully embrace this view means to fully embrace this view. We can’t pick and choose which emotions we want to feel and which ones we don’t. I can’t choose to only feel joy and not ever feel sorrow. Life doesn’t exist without death. Accomplishment doesn’t occur without failure. Endings don’t happen without beginnings.
Either I’m in or I’m not.
As I stated, 2013 has been a painful year in many ways, wrought with loss, change and unwanted turns in unexpected directions. Gratefully, thanks to Raphael and our work, and this latest, distinct way of looking at my life, and discovering new ways of being in my life, the ocean feels a bit scary, foreign, and dare I say, a tad more grown up.
Sometimes the way things go in life feel unfair. It’s accurate and honest to say we will suffer, especially if we truly love. Or truly hope. Or truly dream. This is the path of being alive and being human.
I can also say however, these veracities, these realizations, are perhaps life’s most gratifying endeavors. If we are in it, truly swimming and drinking in the waters of our emotional beings, we will also entirely love, and fully laugh, and feel that total overwhelming sense of purpose at those precious, fleeting moments when we know who we are, and where we’re floating towards in this gift called life.