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There is so much talk these days about the power of the mind. So many deep and thoughtful people from a wide array of disciplines speaking of our power to shape, with our minds, the physical and emotional and spiritual landscape of our time.
I’m so on board with lots of this! Our minds are immeasurably more powerful than we give them credit for being most of the time. I’m stunned, really, by their power!
And…I’m uncomfortable with the implications of some of these your-mind-is-so-powerful teachings.
In particular, I’m uncomfortable with the assumption that ignoring the “bad” stuff – difficult emotions, painful memories – will make them or their power go away.
And I’m uncomfortable with fear as a motivation for “positive thinking” – the fear that apart from rigidly-controlled positive/happy thoughts, we will unwittingly create lives and relationships and inner worlds that we really, truly don’t want. Or, to put it conversely, we will miss out on everything we DO want.
It is true that wallowing around in yuck will not translate immediately (or sometimes ever) into rainbows and sunbeams.
But I want to give voice to the power of listening attentively to our whole range of emotions and experiences. You may not be a power-of-the-mind disciple, but you may be an average human being who instinctually assumes that distancing yourself from whatever feels or looks or smells bad is your best route to happiness.
I’m here to testify to the opposite.
I want to testify to the transformative effects of welcoming, rather than pushing away, things like bitterness, jealousy, anger, lust, depression, shame, and difficult memories.
I have Big Stories I could tell about what happened when I opened myself up to my own rage and despair – both things from which I had walled myself off before my mid-20s – but for now I’ll speak more to the present:
My son just started kindergarten this month. And he’s having a rough go of it. By the end of some evenings, once he’s in bed and all the day’s processing with him is through, I leave his room with a ball of tension in my gut and a really heavy heart.
I have work to do – always more than I can finish in a day – and much of it is deeply, wonderfully nourishing: finishing my book and starting the next, writing posts, responding to heartfelt emails, working on new art and new projects.
There is a school of mind-power thought that would say follow my bliss into work. Leave worry behind. Know that I’m doing what I can to support my child, communicate with his teachers, brainstorm and debrief with my husband about everything, etc…so by all means, don’t waste energy feeling tense and heavy-hearted about how things are going on the kid front. If anything, envision good things for the kid, trust that they’ll come to fruition, rinse and repeat. (Rinse and repeat, goddammit!)
But you know what? I’ve discovered that actually sitting inside my feelings on purpose for a while reduces their power WAY more effectively than trying to ignore or rush past them.
So last night I did that. I sat inside of them and listened. And I realized that my tension is about a LOT of things. I feel vulnerable about the job I’ve done as a mom to prepare my kid for life and about striking a balance, in this particular season, between legitimate concern about my son’s struggles and a more can-do confidence that all of us – he AND we (my husband and I) can make our way through this well.
I feel worried that this much time and energy poured into this situation will make my work deadlines ever more impossible to reach. And who knows when this “leak” will stop?
And I have a tiny niggle of fear that we’ll eventually decide some sort of home-schooling is what we feel is best – fear because I can’t see how I can home school AND do the Trust Tending work I feel is mine to do.
Maybe it doesn’t sound like it, but what a liberating list that was to name! It doesn’t answer my short or long-term questions or POOF my child’s challenges away. But wow, I feel so much lighter just knowing what’s going on in me, and can situate my feelings inside much broader conversations not limited to my little life and time – conversations about feeling vulnerable as a parent, about navigating the tug of more than one area of life at once, about what sacrifice means and when it makes to sense to make some and why and for whom.
I’m living an archetypal story of 21st century America!
I’m so not alone!
My point isn’t that, though. My point is good heavens, I feel better having not ignored my feelings. And darned if the physical outflow of that looking won’t be more beautiful in the ways I want it to be beautiful than if I taped a happy face over everything.
So what if instead of fearing the power of dark thoughts, we used our minds’ power to create safe havens within ourselves to explore them. Maybe literally envisioning cocoons inside our hearts where we can sit before cozy fires, hot drinks in hand, and ask of our fear and laziness and depression and shame and lust and rage and whatever other thing we might otherwise try to ignore: What is it you’d like to say to me? What indispensable nourishment do you have for the Life of trust I want to live?