Expressing one’s emotions can be a tricky thing. Especially if the emotions have been suppressed for a while. It seems like one has the need to let them out like a volcano. A volcano that can erupt at any moment. The current state of the world today is showing us that Mother Earth is also expressing her emotions in different parts of the world with increased volcanic activity. Volcanoes in the pacific ring of fire, in the Caribbean and in Iceland have renewed activity causing no serious alarm but one can feel a sense of wonder at what this all could mean. But maybe it is this process where the thing that needs to come out, will come out. The earth is not like us, in the sense that it does not suppress what it needs to express. We do this all the time, with regards to keeping to social conventions or just trying to fit in, we curb our authentic self only seeking something which is useless but seems important at the moment. That thing we seek is some form of status or validation which inherently is an empty confirmation.
“Remind me that the most fertile lands were built by the fires of volcanoes.”
Andrea Gibson, The Madness Vase
It has to be said that this status and validation has a social purpose which is important for the social game. Why is it an empty confirmation even though it serves a social purpose? Because it is not sustainable and authentic. Any confirmation we have which takes apart our ideas of who we are and gives us other ideas of who we could be, where we could fit into and what we could do instead. Those ideas stem from a lack of understanding in who we are. It is in this understanding that we can naturally accept ourselves and feel like we can express our authenticity, in whatever form it may come up. The art does indeed lie in creating an authentic persona that also fits into societal norms. But all societal norms need to be challenged now and then. Society is a conglomeration of individuals and however they seem to converge is how society appears to us and how we give it meaning.
Now, how do we fit this into understanding emotions and understanding society? Society being something that shapes us and at the same time, our partaking in society shapes or changes it, it is inherently an extension of us. Whether we are an active majority, a reticent minority or a rebellious underbelly, we are part of society even in our lack of involvement with its affairs. Our current society has emerged from different norms, different values, different from those we aspire to have today and hope for the world of tomorrow. Well tomorrow will come as today and therefore whatever we aspire to for tomorrow, we need to start now and here. In this respect, we can, and would do best to, start with ourselves. Where we start with ourselves, we find that there’s so much we can work on and unleash. One of the most pressing things we can work on is to cultivate an awareness of our emotions. This can be shallow at first and then steadily grows deeper. Allowing ourselves to feel what we really feel at any moment is a task that is easier said than done.
“Emotions are celebrated and repressed, analyzed and medicated, adored and ignored — but rarely, if ever, are they honored.”
We ascribe a certain energy to emotions. An energy that stems from within us and that seems to have an end. We talk of channeling our energy and emotions into our work, into our ambitions. Yes, while that can be done, that is not their purpose. Their purpose I believe is to guide us into what we need to be aware of, what we need to see and what we are avoiding. Mentally, we filter our experience from what we like and what we dislike. In that experience we find somewhat a fraught understanding of what our reality is like. It is never really graspable and attempts that try to control what we experience, what we should experience and what we would like to experience are somewhat the causes for upsurges in emotions. Because control is a conscious activity and needs to be exercised towards an end. When we exercise control on what we experience, how we filter it and how it makes us feel then we, in some way, bring more of what we have experienced to the forefront.
This is paradoxically beautiful and telling because we do not always learn from what we experience. Our emotions are often constricted and channelled like fuel powering us towards a goal or an end. In this way we disrespect them just like we disrespect people by using them rather than loving them or seeing them for who they are. Like our emotions we tend to use our experience towards an end, we create experiences to feel a known feeling. Oftentimes this is a pleasurable feeling and one that is, most importantly, familiar. A pleasurable feeling for someone could be a different feeling to that of another. In that, an unfamiliar pleasurable feeling always feels weird. Strange to feel in a way we are not accustomed to. That’s because we have set guidelines and roads for where our feelings may or may not go. We have them on a leash. Why? Because we wish to control.
Can we completely let go of control? Probably not and definitely not instantly. The awareness and acceptance of emotions needs to be cultivated. Like learning how to walk, then to run and then to jump and run emotional understanding has stages where depth is refined which facilitates understanding. The biggest aspect here is to let go of whatever control we can let go of. If we have been keeping control over our emotions it would be scary and maybe even messy if we let them loose all at once. But a gradual release is something we can stomach and then over time, create a sense of familiarity with feeling unfamiliar emotions. We also need to quickly differentiate between feelings and emotions so we are all on the same page. The internet describes emotions as bodily reactions that are present in our body, triggered by neurotransmitters or hormones or both or something else. Feelings are our interpretation of those emotional states. Feelings have a mental component in them in that they’re interpreted with the participation of the mind.
“Thoughts are the shadows of our feelings – always darker, emptier, and simpler.”
Where we feel a slight jumpiness in our body, a tingling in our stomach or abdomen – we can interpret this as nervousness or excitement. Some emotions are more perceptible than others. Some emotions are felt but we don’t know how to interpret them so they simply pass us by. Where social context is important here is in the fact that society guides us to what is right and what is wrong. What is acceptable and what is unacceptable. In certain societies, for example, showcasing anger is not a good thing but in others it is recommended and even encouraged as a sign of passion. No single society allows the whole range of emotions and feelings. That is fair because there are aspects at play here that we cannot possibly comprehend. The way societies have evolved, the challenges they’ve faced and the cultural, religious and political context they’ve grown in form a certain ‘way of being’ for each society.
But each society does try to give adequate representation to relevant emotions and feelings that are important in the environmental and cultural context they find themselves in. This context, however, is continuously being redefined and as people who operate in a situation where we are inextricably part of our local and global society, we need to be aligned with that process. So how does that alignment come to be? In my experience and from what I’ve learnt, it starts with acceptance. We are rational beings but we are also irrational, emotional beings. We take decisions and afterwards are quite confused at the rationale of our decision. That’s because not everything we live, is lived through reason. We also live through emotional reason and sometimes its not very reasonable. Emotions, more often than not, just need to be felt. If they are felt in their entirety and depth, they go away. It is not to say however, that the aim of feeling our emotions is to make them go away. Nothing could be further from the truth. They always leave something behind and in the process of feeling there is an awareness, experience and understanding that changes the individual imperceptibly and enduringly.
If life were solely rational then we could, with enough information, plot exactly how life would unfold and predict most, if not all, of the relevant events of our life. But life is not so. There is a feeling component to all things, events and experiences. We ascribe feelings to inanimate objects all the time. Think of your prized possession, something from your childhood, a drink, a piece of food, cake. Not just inanimate objects but so called ‘unconscious experiences’. Our nightly dreams, often random and incoherent, leave us with a definite feeling we wake up with and that leaves us wondering “What was that about?”. That feeling stays with us even if the dream was a blur or forgotten. Some of our political structures and social systems operate as if they’re purely rational. This makes us feel something. The more we look at it and see the intricacies, the more we feel something. It might inspire us to action, it might inspire us to protest. But in all cases, the feeling, like a breath inspires us towards something.
The roots of the word inspire come from the Latin inspirare which is made up of in- and spirare which means to breathe. So, to be inspired is literally to breathe it in. The word was originally used of a divine or supernatural being, in the sense ‘impart a truth or idea to someone’. It might also be relevant to mention that in the ancient languages such as Latin, Greek, Sanskrit, the word for spirit was always associated with wind. Anima, pneuma, atman respectively were words that all have connotations with wind. It is relevant because it was the understanding back then that what we breath in is the spirit and that is where we are inspired from. The spirit, they said, is all around us and if we look at it rationally then it is true that there is wind all around us. In windless days there is a certain silence but also a certain emptiness. The idea in itself is beautiful as we could see the source of our emotions to be that intangible aspect of ourselves that we call the spirit. Emotions as a tool for perceiving that part of ourselves that we don’t tangibly perceive or can rationalize about, can be a powerful idea. Spirit need not be deified or made into something bigger than it is, it could also be seen as something that is all around us, in the way wind and air is all around us but we don’t always realize it. And just like air, it is something we cannot live without.
“You can close your eyes to the things you do not want to see, but you cannot close your heart to the things you do not want to feel.”
It can also give us context to see that we are not isolated entities having solely personal experiences and that there is an element of collective waves that we are able to feel. Where in groups of people, we can pick up the vibes or the collective energy of the group. With our close friends, we can notice how they feel and while we might interpret it to our own understanding (which is not always accurate) we definitely do notice shifts in people’s states. Often, we are so involved in our own states of being that we need others to give us a reflection of where we are at. Our ability to feel and understand ourselves through our awareness is undoubtedly a valuable tool, but we are always limited in the sense that a mirror cannot reflect itself. Feedback from others, from our surroundings gives us a solid contact in reality which leads us to be in line with, or aligned with, the flow of events and the flow of life. Otherwise, we are simply a concept in our heads.
Human beings primarily evolved in communities. We figured out ways to work together to combat environmental dangers or any other setbacks to our survival and created, slowly but steadily, the world we live in today. But in the current context, we are very much divorced with a sense of community. Capitalism encouraged individual prosperity and in that the individual is empowered and the community became redundant. Communities definitely do still exist but where we have lost touch with being parts of a community – rather than being a community of individuals – is that we were in touch with the feeling component of being alive. Communities are always in tune with each other’s feelings, there is a general ‘spirit’ of a community that guides it. For anyone who’s been in a tightknit community, they will know that this spirit is perceptible and knocks on our doors at random hours and times of day. What we do face right now, is a crisis of feeling our wholeness. We are very much identified with our rationality, with our ability to think, with our intelligence, with our reason. And not so much so with our empathy, our compassion, our stillness, our mortality. We will all die one day and that in itself stirs up feelings that we don’t usually pause to contemplate.
Our humanity has historically been defined as what we have been able to achieve together. But our humanity has been facilitated by how we have been able to be together. Our ability to feel plays a vital part in that because it guides us towards what needs to be done to ensure progress, survival, prosperity and change. These are not always rational impulses. The ‘why we do something’ often comes from a feeling, an emotion with unknown origins. The ‘how we are going to do it’ is an exercise in rationality. We can plan, analyse and draw from past information to chart a plan of action. But even the best drafted plans don’t always go to plan. Sun Tzu, who wrote the Art of War said “No plan survives contact with the enemy”. On similar lines, Mike Tyson said “Everyone has a plan, until they get punched in the face.”
We seem to be like that as well. We’ve been punched in the face with global catastrophes, social crises, a pandemic of loneliness that’s been facilitated by the high level of digital evolution we have created and most prominent of all, the effect of our actions on the global climate and ecology. We now have no real plan and while global and collective solutions continue to come through, I believe in the human spirit and that it will persevere. We will get through this. Maybe not in the way we expect but definitely in the way we need to. But individually, we are also a product of society’s rationality. We have inherited it and we have also inherited society’s urge to suppress certain feelings and emotions. If we are to be the change we want to see in the world then accessing, accepting and allowing our emotions and feelings to come forth will be the way forward. The balance, like in all of nature, is crucial. We find ourselves on the extreme of rationality and now, it is upon us to feel our way back.
“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart”