More Than a Feeling

It’s fall in Minnesota.

fall leavesWell, other places, too, I suppose. But I am in Minnesota, and after 50 Minnesota falls, I know the signs. Things are dying. Other things are turning brilliant colors. And a few things seem to inexplicable just disappear back into the ground. Night comes sooner. Mornings are frosty and getting dark. Folks are digging out jackets and scarves. Heating repair companies are impossible to get a hold of.

But the biggest, most personal sign is I morph into a giant Pooh Bear, wandering aimlessly around, scratching myself and whining “Where is honey?”

The first week or so of cold weather I want to do nothing but eat and sleep. I cook big heavy meals that fail to satisfy me for long. I snack through the day. I wake reluctantly and crash early. Earlier this week I fell asleep while meditating, then slept through the alarm I set to wake me from my after meditation nap.

We all go through it, those of us who live where the seasons swing exuberantly. A few years ago I heard about the science behind this, that our brains really are trying to prepare us for a sort of hibernation. They are taking in the sensory data of colder air and shorter days and less sunlight and saying “Whoa, dude, better stuff yourself now and save as much energy as you can. Hard times are coming fast.”

And so I feel like eating and sleeping. But it’s just a feeling. Times this week are no harder than they were two weeks ago. The walk from my heated house to my heated car is no longer than it was. Cub Foods is just as close as it was then. My freezer just as full of Trader Joe’s tamales. The bowl on my table just as full of Honeycrisp apples.

It was about ten years ago I came to the sudden and (for me) shocking realization that my feelings are not The Truth. I was meditating at the end of a yoga session. I had been wrestling with a great deal of stress and anger and anxiety and was convinced (as I often am) that the only solution was to “figure it out.” I needed to keep listening to and wrestling with those feelings until they told me what to do to “fix” them.

Then all at once the feelings were gone. The situations that caused me stress where still there, certainly. But the feelings, the anxiety, the anger where gone. My heart rate slowed. My breath deepened. All those flight or fight signals disappeared. There is a me behind the feelings, I thought. They do not have to define me.

And then I was enlightened and it was all good for ever and ever.

I wish that’s how this story ends. But it doesn’t end that way. It hasn’t even ended yet. I still struggle with thinking my feelings are the end all and be all, that they should be trusted above all else, that they are The Truth. I wish I could say that I question them as they arise. More often they arise, I listen to them exclusively, act out of fear or anger, damage myself or a relationship and then, hours or days or weeks or even months later, after the dust has settled, I realize I did it again.

There is a difference between knowing something intellectually and knowing it down in your bones and muscles. When you know something in your bones, you start to live differently. And that is a long, long process. One I am still working on.

When I use “just” when talking about feelings I don’t mean to dismiss their power. Trust me. I know – down in my bones – how powerful feelings are. And I am not saying they should be completely disregarded. They are important. They add color and joy and depth to life. They make us human. They allow us to empathize and enjoy art and go all mushy at the sight of puppies. They send us valuable messages about danger.

But they are just feelings. They are only one voice, and a rather reactionary one. They should be listened to, their input valued. Then, maybe, they can be ignored. Courage, as they say, isn’t the lack of fear, but the ability to act despite fear. Compassion isn’t the lack of hate or anger, but the ability to ignore your hate or anger or fear or even revulsion and see someone else’s humanity.

So now, as the days get shorter and the darkness creeps in and everything in me is screaming the only solution is to eat until I fall asleep then wake up 12 hours later and start over, I will try to be aware of those feelings, call them out as just feelings and struggle to ignore them. I will push myself move when I want to curl into a ball. I will find reasons to go places and engage in life. I will be gentle with myself when I sleep too much and eat mindlessly.

Most importantly, I will remember these feelings will pass. Feelings pass; it’s what they do. I have been here before and I know the rhythm. In a week or two I will adjust to the new season. I will be energized by the cold temps and will even look forward to shoveling snow. I will busy myself with indoor projects and start reading Russian novels.

And hopefully, I will work this knowledge about the limits of feelings a bit deeper in my bones.

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