I have been struck this week by the amount of discomfort or straight up intolerance that i have witnessed regarding certain emotions… mainly sadness, melancholy, anger and guilt. Normally I would listen to the pain/discomfort and help to discover where some of that is coming from and how to best cope with it; all good things, however lately i have been changing my perspective and asking questions like “what would it be like to just sit with that feeling?” or “what makes you want to rush past that thought you had?” and “can you imagine a way for that emotion to be more acceptable to you?”
Not surprisingly I have been met with a lot of blank stares, inquisitive looks and straight up irritation with the mere suggestion of such a thing. Why would anyone willingly sit with something that doesn’t feel good? It seems counterintuitive and downright ridiculous to most of us to consider such a thing, as we have been taught, nay it has been ingrained in us to do what feels good or right or provides pleasure in some way, and to avoid at all cost, pain. Is it possible that sadness, melancholy, anger, guilt, pain, discomfort, can actually teach us something about life? Perhaps actually allow us to experience more full and diverse lives? Maybe even provide a sense of meaning or purpose?
I watched Louie CK, a comedian, on Conan O’brien a few weeks ago and was struck by the depth of comments in his short interview on smart phones for kids; (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5HbYScltf1c) Within the interview he candidly shares an experience he has while driving in his car, when loneliness hits him, and a overwhelming sense of sad settles in… his natural inclination is to reach for his phone to find someone to connect with so that he doesn’t feel alone, and instead he decides to pull over and just sit with the emotion and let it “hit you like a truck”. I chose to re-watch the clip several times. He may not be your style, and you may not resonate with his presentation, but he had some profound statements regarding what we do with emotion.
I could not agree more that “we need to build the ability to just be yourself and not be doing something…” we live in a time where we are bombarded by opportunities to distract ourselves. We can distract ourselves from our own feelings, we can distract ourselves from having any innate sense of awareness of others around us. We can fill every moment of our every day if we choose. We can check out emotionally. We can become unavailable at any second, in the grocery line, while driving, in the middle of a dinner table discussion, during class, while in a meeting, at the park, playing with our kids. Those are all options.
It makes me so curious, what exactly are we trying to avoid? Or is it not avoidance but something that we’re trying to fill? Perhaps we have become uncomfortable just in being who we are, human. Maybe we don’t even remember what we were before smart phones and tablets, laptops and t.v screens. Perhaps we have lost track of who we are without anything in our hand or in front of us.
Do you remember the last moment that you were in that was uncomfortable and you chose to stay in it anyway? What if we didn’t try to push away an uncomfortable feeling or an emotional expression? What if we sat with it, even marinated in it for a while?
The comedian boldly stated that his loneliness “was beautiful. sadness is poetic. you are lucky to live sad moments…” If there is any element of truth to what he is saying, then what are the majority of us potentially missing out on by trying to end that moment or push away that feeling as fast as possible?
I have to think that to experience life to its fullest, that we are made to experience both the joy and sorrow, the good and the bad, the happy and the sad, the excitement and anger, elation and disappointment, pride and shame, success and failure. I have to think that if we could learn to tolerate that which is uncomfortable that we might grow in ways that we did not even know were possible. That we could have the ability to slow down, to observe what the moment offers and to take it in to its fullest. That potentially we could be less reactive and instead that we could pause and choose how we want to respond, in a way that might reflect more of who we really are inside or who we really want to be.