As we name our feelings, so we move with life

Learning to recognize, re-cognize, embody, express, and name our feelings is a life-giving practice. Because our feelings are among the most fluid expressions of Life itself as it continually moves and changes. And they often pair with subtle sensations, movements in the body-mind.

images

A chartreuse-winged butterfly – yes, chartreuse – crosses my line of sight. Flits across the yard and back again. I have never seen such a creature before, nor such a color in a winged being.

And I find no online source that yields a species name.

But I can capture the feeling that lingered: a mix of a rising up to meet, a joy, a curiosity, a quick inhale, a caught breath.

I am devoted to naming what I see, hear, think, sense as accurately and precisely as I can. Sometimes it is still to save myself from terror or trouble, often it is to locate myself, find some stability. More and more it is to come into relationship with what is right here, without time-traveling to regrets or anxieties.

Yet even now it is easier for me to select the Prismacolor shade

of blue that is true to my emotion of the moment

than it is to precisely name a feeling. 

photo 8

Sometime in my late twenties, when I was a young mother, I came across the“list of feelings that persons have but often fail to identify” pictured in the banner photo. I don’t recall whether someone gave me a copy or I myself typed the many mis-spellings on my green Olivetti portable. In any case, the list was a revelation, no less than Helen Keller’s discovery that the sensation of water could be named by movements in the palm of her hand

How do I describe my family of origin? repressed? secretive? private? of its cultural time – first-generation Americans who came of age post WW I and in the Depression?

Emotions of all kinds loomed large among the unnamed  and unexpressed, crackled and smoked around me.  I was buffeted by strange winds and weather systems, haunted by maternal and paternal hungry ghosts. I didn’t know who or what they were, just felt the life force bound up in them, and that they  sought some kind of appeasement. I learned to snuff out my own feelings. I stored great indistinct tangles of emotion in large, heavily guarded vaults. So large that to unravel even my own state of mind or heart became overwhelming.

But I could sit with the list and begin to name a multitude of orphaned feelings. Eventually I was able to tolerate more sensations in my body (that is another story) as they shifted with my feeling-state.  Then I began to discover the pleasures of nuance.

Nuance is truthful to the uniqueness of the moment, thus a great ally to living a life of practice.

Of course, we can name every little thing exhaustively – and to the point of exhaustion, when we name to capture and fix something in place – a bit like pinning a specimen chartreuse butterfly to a mounting board.

We don’t need to name everything, just enough to warm us. Just enough to move with the precious and unique dance between the changing forms that surrounds us and and the fluid life that arises within us.

Not all grown up? Embrace your orphans

EMBRACE, definition: hold (someone) closely in one’s arms, especially as a sign of affection, especially as in: one’s orphaned parts

Early in life, our egos masterfully and poignantly craft survival strategies in response to the caregiving we receive from our imperfect parents: in that process we abandon some parts of ourselves and come to depend on the rest to handle what life brings. To maintain these strategies – we commonly call our them our “defenses” – we push these young ones away, out of sight, out of mind. They don’t get a chance to grow up along with the rest of our personality, to unfold with our soul.

Ultimately, these abandoned parts can become somewhat unruly in the ways of young children who demand our attention – whiny, hanging onto our knees, “inappropriate,” prone to tantrum or meltdown.

Eventually we may recognize these as behaviors of the younger parts of our adult personality that need growing up.  That, in fact, our wholeness lies in embracing what we have been pushing away. And then we may need to do deep and forgiving work to nourish and integrate these orphaned parts of our humanity.

Well into my mature adult years, chronic disappointment and sorrow at the emptiness of not being met, not being understood, extended their shadowy, unacknowledged, and undermining influence into every single relationship.

I found 1001 ways to disengage, clam up or cut out early: anything to avoid that emptiness, to reject or abandon before I could be rejected or abandoned.

I am well-spoken, apparently at ease in the world, and not without professional accomplishments or spiritual “progress.”  But my mother had worn black mourning velvet to school for months after her mother died. And I was profoundly shaped by her grief-stricken childhood.

Before I could take in the melancholic and disappointed child in me, embrace her and give her a place, grow her up, I had to sort out my own griefs from my mother’s. And before I could do that, I had to feel the depths of my own.

 

the face of the deep

by Sara Eisenberg

 

B’li mah,

without what?

i am a boneless world suspended

upon nothingness,

a spiderling

ballooning out on breath,

a wisp of silk.

 

over and over

i launch myself into,

mingle materially with

emptiness, barren and

wearying until

I come up

up against

push up

up against

push,

push,

not landing,

push

against cloth black against

darkness, the shape of my mother,

herself bereft,

herself a mirror covered

against mourning,

swallowing light.