Whether it is a 24 hour wait for a goldfish tank to be ready for its new fishy guests, a wait for a bus or a wait for a challenging time in a relationship to pass, we all have difficult feelings to sit with. It has recently struck me that there are no days when there is a complete absence of difficult or uncomfortable feelings.
Once we start to accept that all feelings are just feelings, that labelling them good or bad is a big part of what causes the pain we are usually trying to avoid, then we can begin to be able to sit with and accept all feelings. We can begin to stop feeling bad about feeling bad.
As Pema Chödrön says: “We interpret the world so heavily in terms of good and bad, happy and sad, nice and not nice that the world does not get a chance to speak for itself”
We do not know what is next. We do not know if this disappointment about a job rejection, a friend that says they don’t have time to invest in your relationship right now and for some time ahead, a missed train, is not just a doorway to another different experience and opportunity. We think we know but, truly, we don’t.
One of the best pieces of writing that captures this for me is the section in Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 where Colonel Cathcart is tallying up events that have been “feathers in his cap” and “black eyes”.
‘The naked man in formation, he conceded cheerlessly, had been a real black eye for him. So had the tampering with the bomb line before the mission to Bologna and the seven-day delay in destroying the bridge at Ferrara, even though destroying the bridge at Ferrara finally, he remembered with glee, had been a real father in his cap, although losing a plane there the second time around, he recalled in dejection, had been another black eye, even though he had won another real feather in his cap by getting a medal approved for the bombardier who had gotten him the real black eye in the first place by going around over the target twice.’
Think about your own life and experiences. Which have looked great and ended up being very different? Which felt or seemed bad and then ended up being for the best? What experiences have been a bit of both?
Looking back at the last twenty years, I see the endings of relationships, being made redundant and getting divorced. I see that all of these things have brought me a lot of pain and sadness but that they have also taken me big steps on the way to a better understanding of myself, as well as towards a life that gives me more joy than I could have imagined. As well as more pain. Like day and night, sun and moon, we really can’t have one without the other. It’s about learning to see that joy and pain come together and to stop fighting so hard to avoid discomfort.
Heller, like so many of the best writers, had a gift for helping us to see the humour and irony that is ever present in our lives.
Lightness, levity, whatever you want to call it – we can all benefit from taking ourselves and our feelings a little less seriously. This is not to diminish the agony of mental health problems and the seeking of support and help where it is needed, not at all. Often, a dose of humour and lightness can help however you are feeling. We can all give a little reminder to ourselves that any feeling which comes by just needs to be accepted and then it will pass on through. Notice it, say Oh hi, envy; Hello there, insecurity; Good Afternoon sadness, and these feels will maybe stop for a coffee or maybe even a day or two, or more, but they will pass on by.
Do what you need to do give yourself space and kindness and try to notice these feels with a light touch.
Some excellent resources for helping you create space for all your feels are:
Staying with feelings e-book by Meg-John Barker
Read any of Pema Chödrön’s books.
Or read the incredible Catch-22