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Photo by Per Ola Wiberg

You never know what you are really writing about.

On Monday, I wrote a post called “Just A Feeling: Dealing with Difficult Emotions.” I thought I was writing about the freedom that comes from knowing that a difficult feeling is “just a feeling” – temporary, often arbitrary, not necessarily a call to do anything.

On the way to making that point, however, I told a story about craving connection with others during a solitary week. I thought I was just giving an example of a difficult feeling.

Your responses said something different. What spoke to so many of you was the experience of longing for connection. You could relate.

Thank you for sharing so honestly and bravely in the comments and in emails.

When I read your words, I felt ambivalent about mine. Did I really want to suggest that human beings longing for one closeness with one another should recognize that’s just a feeling, and leave it at that?

Or did I want to say, when it comes to this feeling: Honor that longing. Take it seriously. Pick up the phone, go down to the soup kitchen to extend your heart, write that long overdue email to an old friend.

This is, of course, a bigger question. When should we take action to change a difficult feeling? When should we just be with the feeling as is?

I don’t know. What I do know is this: it’s always helpful to know that a feeling is “just a feeling.” When I know that, the rational, mature, happy Tara is back in charge. I’m now longer being whirled through the storm like Dorothy in the twister.

I’m not desperate to escape an uncomfortable experience, because I know it’s not permanent and not that important. I know lots of feelings come and go. Feelings and action to change feelings shrink back down to their proper place.

From this place, I’m at choice: I can take action or not. I can lean into the discomfort or I can make some choices that are likely to change my mood. I’m not caught in a wild chase of good feelings or a frantic rush to avoid bad ones.

But on loneliness in particular, I want to say this: yes, know that what you are feeling is just a feeling. Know it will pass.

But use your feeling of loneliness, your longing for connection, to get to know your true nature.

Examine your loneliness. Not all your ego’s thoughts about it, but the feeling itself. Hold it up to the light and look at it. See what’s at the kernel of it.

Use it to investigate: What is your true nature? What kind of connection makes that nature happy, in balance? What kind of relationship to people makes it unhappy, out of balance?

Who are you deep down, underneath it all?

I know that for me, the answer is love. When my life reflects that, I’m at peace. When it doesn’t, a war begins to rumble inside.

Love,

Tara

Photo by Sol Young

A remarkable thing happened to me on Friday. One of those graced moments when the light bulb goes on, when the click clicks.

I had a solitary week. I had aimed to clear a lot of time for writing, but I cleared too much.

Around 4pm on Friday, I started to crave people, bigtime. Social connection. Community. Belonging. Friends. Interaction.

We had no real weekend plans. Often we don’t. I’m not sure what I’ll be in the mood for so I plan nothing, and then I get stuck in a kind of resentful loneliness.

As I wrapped up my work, I started to worry. What would we do tonight? Many of our friends were out of town. Others were already booked.

We live in a big city. There’s no Cheers-type bar we can walk into where everybody knows our names. We don’t go to a church, or synagogue, or roller rink. There’s no way we can access insta-community.

I was walking home, full of longing for connection, frustrated and worried about our lack of plans. This is usually the moment where my train of thought launches way out into space, like a rocket ship, visiting pseudo-relevant subjects like these: Why don’t we belong to a spiritual community of some sort? What will we do about that? Why didn’t I make plans earlier? Why don’t I know more people? What will we ever do about the fact that my husband is an introvert and I’m an extrovert? Those are the kind of helpful places my mind goes.

Today, something different happened. Just like a split hair, as one train of thought started to go into that painful litany of questions and complaints, another train went somewhere else. It said, “Oh well, this (craving to see people) is just a feeling. It will pass. Maybe it will be satisfied tonight or maybe not, but it will pass. And you’ve lived through many a feeling not being satisfied before.”

Just a feeling? I had read that phrase in Zen books here and there, but I had never spontaneously thought the thought before. Certainly not in a moment of emotional difficulty. This “just a feeling” consciousness was relaxing, it came from somewhere in my spine, not from my head. It was felt, not abstract.

I was free, I realized. I could work to address the feeling or not, but I wasn’t all caught up in it. I wasn’t identified with it. I didn’t think it was anything bigger than a feeling. I could see it was temporary, unpredictable, rather arbitrary and, get this– kind of unimportant – not because it was about weekend plans, but because it was just a feeling. One more like or dislike, one more desire or aversion, in the grand, life-long parade.

As I walked home, exploring my new discovery, I thought, this is why I read the spiritual books. The ideas go into us, in their own way and in their own time, and they make a difference. They really do.

It’s just a feeling. You are so much bigger, more still, more vast than that. There is the wind, and  there is sail, and  there is the ocean floor.

Love,

Tara

*****

Please share in the comments –

Have you had your own “just a feeling” moments?

Are you up for trying out “just a feeling” consciousness this week?

I’ve often been struck by the idea that all the suffering in the world, all the world’s problems and deficits and cruelties are exactly equal in might and force to the love, the gifts, the talents, latent in all the world’s inhabitants.

In this way, the world is perfectly balanced: The sum of global pain is equal to our collective capacity for love. The deficit of goodness in the external world is equal to the power we hold within to create good.

Every need can be met. Every wound can be healed. Every pain can be soothed, but only if each of us uses our capacity for good fully.

In practical terms, of course, each of us can’t work on every issue. We can’t even learn about every issue. But we can begin to use our capacity for good more fully. Here are six ways to begin:

  1. Let the pain in. Open your heart to the pain of the world. We all have an instinct in us to avoid it, to turn away from the disturbing news, to shield ourselves from feeling tragedy. Instead, open your heart to the pain. Breathe it in. Feel it. Be present to it – not to get caught in drama or sadness, but to fuel action.
  2. Do small acts with great love, every day. Create a daily giving practice. Give something every day: money, time, assistance, or a heartfelt thank you or compliment. Keep a journal where you record your act of giving at the end of the day. Writing it down (and realizing when you’ve forgotten to do the practice) will help you integrate this habit into your life.
  3. Pick a cause to pour your time, money and energies to, over the long-term. Select something that moves you, something that you sense is the work you are called to do in the world.
  4. Be a light at work. As a coach, I often speak with clients who feel their work because is meaningless because they work at a company that’s “just about the money.” But as business scandal after business scandal shows us, these environments need ethical, service-focused, loving human beings desperately—perhaps more than anywhere else. If you work in one of those places, you have the opportunity to make a tremendous difference. Decide to be a light at work, through your kindness to coworkers and customers, by refraining from gossip, by helping to build bridges or resolve conflict when needed. Watch the ripple effects, and notice how it makes work more interesting and energizing for you, too.
  5. See what love-assignments life gives you. Life brings us little love-assignments in the form of the suffering that show up in our midst. Is there a need in your neighborhood, at your school, in your workplace, that is touching a place within your heart? You don’t have to solve the problem, but you can make a tremendous difference by offering your support, love, solidarity, skills, time, companionship, or a material gift. Notice what assignments life is giving you, and step up.

Yes, the world is full of suffering. Full of it. And we are full of the medicine that heals it.

Are you meeting the world with your full capacity for love?

Love,

Tara