“Do you want to be powerful or powerless?” I asked Christine.
“Isn’t there a third choice?” she replied.
Do you want to feel your feelings or to lock them away?
Isn’t there a third choice? I hear you asking.
Learning to engage your own power with grace, learning how to engage your own feelings with grace is really the only option. There really is no half option.
The notion that somehow we could just go to a menu and pick the feelings we want to have and somehow omit the feelings that are unpleasant, overwhelming or somehow difficult to manage is quite compelling.
As you might know, though, it is entirely impossible. Opening up to your feelings demands opening up to all of them.
If you have spent any time running away from your feelings, trying to stuff them down or to compartmentalize them, this is a very challenging truth.
First, you haven’t developed the skills to manage feelings, to feel them without having them overwhelm you. You don’t have the experience to understand and put them in context as they flicker inside of you, taking the lessons from them but not letting those feelings topple you. You haven’t built the practice, the skills, to just be with your feelings, letting your energy flow, releasing what needs to be released, jumping on the energy, and holding feelings close without being lost in them.
Second, and this is the killer part, you have a whole ocean of feelings that you socked away, using willpower, sensation, substances, rage and other tricks to keep them isolated. Once you start feeling, all those feelings you were taught to suppress will come back up like lava from below the crust, sometimes in bubbles, sometimes in flows, and maybe even sometimes in a huge, hot, molten rush.
I’m quite good at processing feelings. I can feel them, can read them quickly in others, can find voice for them.
What I am not nearly so good at is actually feeling my feelings.
There are many reasons for that, from family background to gendered expectations. I was the one who had to deal with feelings around me, had to be the target patient, rather than to be the exuberant one who got to feel her feelings and have people respond with compassion.
If you watch my eyes, though, the feelings are all there. I show them like any femme, just in a flicker that usually goes unnoticed. People don’t watch eyes they see as in a male body as closely as they do in a woman. Inside my words, too, the feelings are there.
“If people could just see your eyes,” a co-worker once said to me, “they might know when you are joking.”
But sometime, many years ago, I understood that when I was out of willpower, I was just out. If I stopped concentrating, stopped keeping my feelings under intellectual control, I would just be a stain on the carpet.
I have tried the third way, somewhere between locking my feelings away and actually feeling them, tried to just be aware of them in a way that they inform my art.
That makes my work potent, I know. But in many ways, it also leaves me alone and powerless, stuck with magma I find difficult to get seen, mirrored, affirmed and valued.
Feelings. Whoa whoa whoa feelings.
Like any wounded healer, they power my life and box me in at the same time.