Cut to the feeling

From the Gnostic Gospels, found in Dani Shapiro’s memoir of her writing life, Still Writing: “If we bring forth what is within us, it will save us. If we do not bring forth what is within us, it will destroy us.”

What are you hoarding? Bottling up? Ignoring? Repressing? Avoiding? Not looking for?

What little irritations, frustrations, 60-second-long senses of impending doom, or feelings of longing pass by you during the day that you ignore or do your best to power through without stopping to interrogate them?

I had a really special breakthrough with my peer client yesterday. I had been asking questions about what she was doing, but I switched the vocabulary of my question to what she was feeling, and the magic happened. My boyfriend wonders, “Why are you so obsessed with feelings?” I say, “Because the world and the people in it are buckling under the weight of their own fear and if we all did a little excavating and got in touch with our feelings, we’d all be better off, nicer to ourselves and those around us, more fulfilled.”

But, like I keep saying, and like I practiced for years, it’s so much easier to ignore and repress and avoid. It’s easier because you don’t have to admit that you are vulnerable. You don’t have to do the potentially terrifying work of showing who you really are. What if people reject what I put out there?

I remember the first real literary analysis research paper I had to write in 11th grade. We got to choose our text, and I chose Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. Obviously. That must have been after I read Elizabeth Wurtzel’s memoir Prozac Nation and the lightbulb went on and then I wanted to dig more, read more, find out more from other voices. This depression, it’s a thing people have? Totally clueless.

I did really well on that paper. I remember doing the work of it deep into the wee hours of the morning. But it never felt like work. I wasn’t grinding it out. I was researching and composing with pleasure. Why? Because I wasn’t doing the work for a grade, to fulfill an assignment. I was trying to diagnose the predicament I felt myself to be in. I was making sense of my experience. I couldn’t really articulate that in my mind at the time, but that’s what it was.

Subsequent research papers in college on Faulkner, memory, Southern gothic, buried family secrets, and trauma were also clues I’ve only begun to understand in the last few years. All the “easy” research was excavation for the purpose of diagnosis.

And I realize now that even though on the surface, in my therapy sessions, I wanted so desperately to be liberated from my emotions, what I needed first was to have the importance of my emotions confirmed. Everything you’re feeling, it matters. It’s a clue on a sort of roadmap to self-understanding. If you run from it, you run from yourself. Confront it, come face to face with it, rest with it for a while.

Last August, when I felt that to go on for another school year in the way I’d been going would be like slowly suffocating with my head in a plastic bag, I began to understand the importance of my emotions. Emotions are our drivers. We may think and try desperately to act like reasonable members of society, but we are creatures driven by feelings. Rage. Grief. Shame. Passion. Joy. Fear. Love.

I could color-code the choices of my life based on those emotions. And what a great majority would be coded for fear. All the things I did or didn’t do because I was so afraid.

Tony Robbins says we get out of life exactly what we tolerate. Do you tolerate your fears and emotional blocks? The conflicts raging inside you? How far from your potential are you living because you tolerate?

When you excavate, when you bring forth what’s inside you – call it authenticity if the internet hasn’t ruined that word for you, call it something else if it has – you start to make choices based on positive emotions, like love. You begin to sense and understand that every other human is just as hurt and confused as you are, just as vulnerable and trying to be strong and infallible. Moving through the world becomes easier somehow, knowing this.

We did a workshop on life purpose in my coaching training, and at the end, when we landed on our own, I felt deeply sure that I was on the right track, that I had uncovered it earlier this year. Purpose is not a career or a role. It’s something you live every day in everything you do. For me, it has everything to do with tapping into my deepest, truest emotions, even if they hurt, and communicating my truth to others through the spoken or written word. This has always been true. It’s why I wanted to teach, write, read literature, and coach. All are manifestations of the purpose that brings me most fully to life.

But I don’t do it without fear. I’m just learning how to move through the fear. It’s why I write this blog. It’s terrifying to put myself out in public like this. Doing so, however, is a practice in moving through fear. Here’s me, imperfect, learning, uncovering, incomplete. 

I remember the exact day this year when I suddenly remembered how important self-expression through writing is to me. Like, this whole damn journey was getting me back to this place and I didn’t even know it. It’s in my paper journal, on February 17. “…when I was a kid, then an adolescent, I could spend hours writing stories. … I wrote feverishly, with abandon, with no fear of judgment or worry about the quality of the stories. It was just for the pure joy of writing. … I remembered what that felt like and how important it was to me and my well-being.”

I would invite anyone to bring forth what’s within you. I have felt myself saved this year. I know “saved” has kind of a religious connotation, but I suppose that makes sense. I feel myself pulled from the wreckage of a life spent in avoidance of truth, a life of toleration, which is a kind of secular redemption story for me. I saw my fear for what it was and I moved forward.

I feel for a reason but I am also not the sum of my feelings. My feelings are just clues, but they are clues that need to be addressed. I wanted to become a coach because I wanted everyone to experience what it feels like to stop tolerating, to tap into their feelings, see how they drive us, and then let go of fear. I hope that doesn’t sound like proselytizing. It’s a sincere wish.

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