Bring on the emotions (ALL of them)!
Yesterday I went to the new Pixar movie, Inside Out, with my sister-in-law and her family. Yep, there we were all 7 of us well into adulthood, lined up on a Tuesday afternoon in a surprisingly full theater for the movie. I was eager to go based on the content of the movie. I’d heard there might be some Mindful undertones. Have any of you seen the movie? I would suggest it, whether you have kids, or not.
I bring this up because the movie demonstrated for us, the need for all emotions. In the movie, we see Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust as they work to help Riley, an 11 year old girl, respond appropriately to life. Specifically, she's figuring out the changes that come with moving to a different state. In the beginning the goal is to be happy; to just make happy memories. Does this sound familiar? We are often tempted to deny some emotions, to try to push them into the basement and lock the door. We are told its not good form to show sadness or anger. We may have gleaned from our childhood that it wasn’t appropriate, but now we can’t blame anyone but ourselves. How many of you have been hard on yourselves in that way? … I should be over this (whatever happened). Why can’t I be happy today? I should be able to blow off that person and not let them get to me. I should….
Or my favorite, it’s not ‘professional’ to show these emotions at work. To be upset about something that didn’t work, or to bring emotions in from our personal life. Really? How did work become an island where magically it’s not affected by what we do the other 16 hours of the day? Is that even possible or realistic during the craziness of life? Divorce? Death? Sickness? Etc. There are so many reasons we might be sad , frustrated, or generally upset and knocked off our center.
I’d like to introduce the concept to you that all emotions are a part of us. If we try to bury sadness in the basement, chances are when she does get to come out she’s way sadder than if she’d been allowed to express that emotion appropriately all along. How often do we hold in our anger, never letting it show and then when it does bang its way through the basement door – Wow! Watch out! The reality of most situations is they require a variety of emotions. Emotions like sadness allow us to really accept what has happened and it also connects us to other human beings by letting us feel empathy and compassion. Also, the reality is all memories aren’t clearly tied to happy, sad, angry, etc.
I’ll give you a big example, but there are many reasons why we need all emotions that happen every day. Eight years ago this week a dear friend died. I remember that feeling of being overwhelmed with grief and sadness. Asking over and over again, “how?” “why?”. It was easy to feel like I should be over it by now. I’m a leader in my profession; I should be going into work not affected by this tragedy. But these many years later I see all the ways the combination of emotions left memories I’ll have forever. A year doesn’t go by without my husband and I remembering that loss and wandering how life would have been different without it. But we also remember the way that group of friends connected through the grief. The memories of one moment feeling nothing but a heavy weight and the next laughing until we cried as we reviewed the good times out loud. Today, those memories are all tinged with the sadness we felt; the comfort of being together; the empathy and compassion others showed me; and the joyful memories we all shared and continued to build for years afterward.
Mindfulness isn’t about banishing emotions, thoughts, or feelings. It’s about allowing them all to be and investigating, without holding onto them. Investigating them in the present moment and asking questions like, “how does this feel in my body?”, while letting go of the story behind. Letting go of the what ifs, the I should haves, the not fairs. Just accepting and acknowledging the feeling as it is right now. Not holding onto the feeling longer than necessary, but also recognizing its importance in this moment. Today I invite you to open the basement door and leave it unlocked; to accept all emotions as necessary to our continued meandering on this life path. By taking away the stigma on certain emotions, we take away a little of their power to hold us in their grip for longer than necessary.