Your Emotions are Your Guidance System

This week has taken me to some deep places in my journey yet again.  Depth invites exploration – if we want it to, of course. In a conversation a few days ago,  a good friend who is near and dear to my heart asked me how I was.  I said, “I’m discombobulated and my emotions are near the surface.”

“My emotions are near the surface.”  What an interesting turn of phrase.  What I meant is that sadness, sorrow, angst, tears were all near the surface and tears would spill easily and effortlessly with the slightest provocation – sorrow or joy.

In a later email to my friend, I dug a little deeper to discover what was stirring in my soul that caused these emotions to be so near the surface.  In that exploration, I identified and released things that had been swirling around  and in me about decisions and choices I have no idea if I will even need to make.   I began to settle into a place of not knowing and not needing to know in this moment, trusting clarity will arise in due course.  No need for decisions or choices today.

a moment of reflection

A moment of reflection

I surrendered back into peace, joy and delight.  As I awoke in this state today, I had a little realization, an aha moment.  My emotions are near the surface.  They are just different emotions than yesterday or the day before.  Which got me to wondering.  Do I even think of joy, delight, peace as emotions?  Seems I do.  But not in the same way as I think of sorrow, sadness, anger and grief as emotions.  Without being conscious of it, I’ve been making value judgments about my emotional experiences - just like I tell people we do in the coaching and teaching work I do.

Yup.  Here I am, doing it too.  Sorrow, sadness, anger, frustration, anxiety – bad.  To have those emotions near the surface is bad.  Like they need to be contained.  We don’t really know what to do with them but many of us have learned that trying to contain them, while it might work in the short term, just doesn’t work in the longer term.

How many times people apologize for their tears, one on one, in circle, in some meeting or gathering, and how many times I say, “I look forward to the time we no longer feel the need to apologize for our tears.”  I have, for the most part, stopped apologizing for mine.  So it is always delicious to discover what all is still alive in me as I explore my own emotional state.

Today, my emotions are near the surface. Instead of a tear sliding down the side of my face, a smile might break out for no reason in particular, when I’m by myself, with my son, directed at a stranger or, as it turns out, the two Mormon missionaries who just rang my doorbell.

The strange thing is, just like we don’t necessarily know what to do with the emotions we judge as bad or negative, many of us also don’t know what to do with joy, love, peace, delight.  We can be pretty good if it’s episodic.  If there is a reason – like we have to have a reason.  We’re not so good at knowing what to do with prolonged bouts of happiness, joy or delight – but what a beautiful challenge to embrace.

If we are used to chaos and negativity in our lives, it just feels different to shift into a new normal – of peacefulness.  A new pattern.  A new way of being in the world. Shifting the shape of our experience. Quite delightful to cultivate actually.  And this state of being does grow on a person.  Thankfully.

What I’ve been learning in the course of my life’s journey is that our emotions – the full range of them – offer us guidance.  I used to think they made me weak – at least the ones I judged as bad.  I use to think being vulnerable was the opportunity for someone to attack me.  Now I know differently.  There is strength and power in vulnerability when it comes from authentic open hearted space.  And it takes courage to step into vulnerability.

My emotions are my guidance system.  They tell me how close or far away I am from my centre, from my soul essence. They are a clue to what I’m thinking, whether I’m present or living in the past or future.  If I inquire into my emotional state I can find myself.  And I can change my state of well being by paying attention to my thoughts, discovering what I’m holding onto that doesn’t serve me.

I like finding myself in a place of peace and joy but it’s okay if I find myself somewhere else too.  My preference now, through the journey of life, is to find my way back to a steady state of feeling good.

So today, my emotions are close to the surface.  I wonder what beautiful mischief might ensue?

Funerals, Families and A Family Story

I attended my uncle’s funeral today.  He was 80 years old, lived a full life and had dementia and other health issues in recent years.  His dying was not unexpected although death always brings some grief and sorrow.

My sorrow today, however, was not for my uncle.  It was for my cousin who came into the church with his family, dressed in orange prison overalls, shackles on his hands and feet, followed by two guards.  The sight was so jarring and so unexpected, tears sprang to my eyes as my heart broke open for him.

You might wonder what a man must have done to be brought to his father’s funeral in prison gear.  I suspect it has more to do with him being a flight risk than a danger to the public, although, to be honest, I don’t know why he is in jail this time.  His family has struggled with his path for some time and, understandably, don’t want to talk about it too much and they shouldn’t have to.   He has been in trouble with the law on and off for the last twenty five years, not because he grew up on “the wrong side of the tracks” or because he had a terrible childhood or because he had a bad streak in him.

He is in trouble with the law because the part of his cognitive ability that helps him discern right from wrong, appropriate from inappropriate, ethical from in-ethical, was destroyed in his mid twenties when he suffered a brain aneurism that instantaneously changed the course of his life forever.  It was a wonder he survived, many don’t, and survival came at a very high cost.

My sorrow is for a young man who lost any chance of living out his dreams or of living a normal life because he simply doesn’t know that walking out of store without paying for merchandise is wrong.  My sorrow is for a person who, one day, had a whole life of promise ahead of him and the next was thrown into unimaginable complexity and chaos in a world that had no answers and no systems to truly support him.  While I don’t know all the ins and outs of his story, I do know his family searched high and low and tried everything they could think of and then some to find a way to help him navigate his life, including having him live with them.  He has been in and out of rehabilitation centres and programs as well as jail.  Is it really true that the only place we have to house a person who’s had this kind of traumatic brain injury is in our jail system?  That breaks my heart.

And, my heart breaks open for my cousin and the path he unexpectedly finds himself on.  There is so much about him that is still quintessentially my cousin – he looks like himself, although he is now prematurely aged and hunched over.  He has a wicked sense of humour.  He knows all the people in his life.  He just doesn’t know how to respond to events in his life.  When his brother, someone he was very close to who kept a loving eye on him, died unexpectedly at a young age a few years after his aneurism, he went to see a neighbour and said, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to feel.”  And not from the perspective of the grief curve, but from the loss of this integral brain function.

Well, I know what I feel.  I feel my heart breaking open for my cousin, his family, the wife and children he will never have, his unlived dreams and potential and the loss to all of us of a caring, responsible, delightful, contributing young man. I still think of him as young even though he is now in his late forties.  My heart breaks open for this good person who has walked an unexpected path due to circumstances truly beyond his control that no one could have anticipated and which are, apparently, unfixable.

To see him makes me deeply grateful for the ability to intentionally shift the shape of my own path with levels of awareness no longer available to my cousin and leaves me feeling very humble.  While I’ve thought about my cousin on and off over the years and have seen him at family funerals, seeing him walk into the church today in this way will stay forever etched in my memory and my heart will be forever open with love for this human being who is part of my family and a living example of the mystery of how our individual and inextricably linked soul journeys show up in this lifetime.  Maybe if I can hold him in a field of love, even if he doesn’t know it, it will offer some ease and levity to the dark and difficult path that is his to walk.  And, really, he is still just a young man.