Walking on Both Sides of the Street

Feelings
Feel.
Acknowledge. Respect.
Analyze. What showing me?
Let go.
Trust I will do the right thing.

This is my little mantra. It popped into my head 10 or 15 years ago. I don’t think it’s plagiarized. At least not the exact words. The spirit, perhaps – a distillation of discovery wandering down many paths, including reading, writing, counseling, sharing with friends and solitary reflection.

It’s not a mid-boggling breakthrough or a marketing plan for polishing personas, mine or anyone else’s. It just works for me, reminding me to pay attention to all my feelings. Reminding me not to label feelings good or bad or positive or negative, but to just accept that they are and I can let them guide me, especially in conjunction with realistic, rational thinking.

It seems to me that when therapy first became popular, the self-help movement was telling us to get in touch with our feelings. No more of the stiff upper lips of the Puritan or Victorian eras, no more dusty old rugs with feelings swept underneath. Let them all out and don’t keep them inside and make yourself ill.

But then this movement took another turn onto the sunny side of the street. Yes, get in touch with your feelings, but mostly positive ones. Avoid bad negative feelings, and by extension, negative talk and people. Why are we now attaching value judgements to feelings? True, some are pleasant — and some are not. If we go out into the day with a sour face, we often get treated less well. If we feel good and smile and speak kindly to people, people often smile back. Most of us would rather tip the balance over into feeling good.Happy Face

But why ignore unpleasant feelings or pretend they don’t exist? If we have a physical pain, we pay attention, seek medical help if it interferes with our lives. So why ignore mental or emotional pain? Pretending it’s not there isn’t going to make it go away any more than ignoring an infected finger or heart attack is going to cure us.

For me, my little mantra is telling me to recognize what I’m feeling, accept it, mull it over or toss it around, figure out what to do. Do I need to change jobs, make new friends, spend more time alone? Do I need to take a trip, take up a new hobby, or just rest? Decide what to do and move on! If the unpleasant feelings persist and I can’t move, then get help! It helps to move the body too.

Sad FaceI say we avoid unpleasant feelings at our own peril. They are there for a reason – a sort of early warning system. Maybe even seeing them in someone else can help us by triggering something we need to think about. Recently, I read in a yoga magazine that we should avoid all negative people. This seems harsh. We may not choose to hang out with severely troubled or self-destructive people, but what if someone we meet is going through a hard time, or feeling sad one day? Do we instantly conclude they are negative and turn our backs? If we do, we may be missing out on learning something, or making a new friend.

Walking through life, we need both the sunny and the shady sides of the street.

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