There are many of us who have become purely functional in the external world, but are a mess at handling our inner world. We are typically people who have gotten used to avoiding feelings. We do this, to avoid having to deal with painful situations. In previous posts, we have examined in some detail how to begin to come close to our feelings. In this post, we look at the dynamics of this subtle escapism.
Most functional people, use the ‘unavoidability of the external situation‘ to justify the ‘avoidability of the feeling’. An example would be: “There is no point feeling sad. There was nothing I could do in that situation”. Here, your notice how we become overly rational in order to prevent feelings from welling up in us. It is not that we do not experience these emotions, but we shift the energy from feeling to thought. What this does is to cut us off from ourselves.
We are in essence, creatures of feeling. Our aspirations, hopes, passions, interests, hobbies and so on are deeply emotive experiences. Our relationships too are experienced emotively – love, intimacy and tenderness are aspects of feeling, not thinking. It is emotions that make life truly worth living. When we move the energy from the heart to the mind, we sever the link to the deepest layers of ourselves.
What happens then?
We have wealth, we have friends, we travel, we have a family – but we experience a gnawing hole in life. This comes up in quieter moments – when we are on a walk in the woods, on a beach, or sitting on our beds at home on a silent night. This feels very uncomfortable. A sort of restlessness creeps in. And in order to avoid this feeling, we go out – more friends, more travel, more parties, more substances and so on. It becomes imperative to use external escape mechanism to avoid this gaping hole.
Always remember that you can never avoid your feelings for too long. Over time and as we age, the lack of feeling, brings great fear. In particular, the fear of death is born from the inability to sit with painful emotions. You cannot use the unavoidability of the situation to avoid your feelings. You must face them. You are human. You do feel sad. You do experience misery. You do experience joy.
As Bessel Van der Kolk says in his extraordinary book,
“As long as you keep secrets and suppress information, you are fundamentally at war with yourself…The critical issue is allowing yourself to know what you know. That takes an enormous amount of courage.”Bessel A. van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma
What this tells us, is that by avoiding our feelings we are constantly at war with ourselves. And nobody wants to live in a battlefield. Our inner world becomes a war zone, which we want to constantly avoid by escaping it. This is the root of restlessness and emptiness in life.
We have to learn to ‘be’ with the feelings. Taking a curious attitude to what we experience helps us not to run away or distract ourselves. See how this feels – just be with it. And over time, you begin to learn to enjoy your feelings – paradoxically – both the sadness and the happiness. Think of the beauty and value of Shakespeare’s tragedies – they are painfully beautiful. And as we begin to integrate these seemingly opposite feelings in us, we can begin to integrate the opposite values in the world. We no longer ‘demand’ justice. We no longer demand equality. We understand that as long as humans have lived on this earth, it has been imperfect. We stop being at war with the world, certain groups of people and so on.
This does not mean that we do not act. Our actions begin to stem from a deep understanding that both emotions are allowed to exist in us. And in others too. This is the basis of accepting others as they are. And only then can we give room for others to heal. And only then can true social change happen. This is why, time and again, several wise people have said ‘be the change that you want to see in the world‘. This begins by an integration of our personalities – by integrating the so called dark side – by accepting all feelings to reside in us with equal stead.