Saturday, January 21, 2012

Honoring Emotions

I live in my head.

Nearly ALL of the time.

And I don't even realize it.

Several years ago, when I was seeing a grief counselor, she asked me, "How did that make you feel?"

I responded with a ten minute rant that included things like, "It was totally inappropriate!  And completely unjustified!  I mean, it's just completely unbelievable that this person would even for a minute expect me to be okay with ....!"

Once I had concluded, my therapist looked at me and said, "All of what you just said is completely valid.  But everything you included in your list, is a thought.  How did it make you feel?"

And I stopped for a moment, tried to shut out all of my thoughts and just concentrate on that space in my chest and gut that felt wrong, and I said, "I feel betrayed."

That was the point at which I was able to begin healing.  And when the other party was able to stop justifying why they thought what the did was okay and began to affirm that my feelings were just that, feelings, and that I accepted their reasoning, but needed  them to understand and affirm my feelings, our friendship began to heal.

So, fast-forward about four years.

I still live almost entirely in my head.  Thoughts are my primary operating schema.  Things have to make sense, or I struggle.  A lot.  This has always been a weakness of mine.  I get frustrated when things do not line up or when I do not understand why something works the way it does.  It's not enough that I know how to do something.  I have to know why you get the result you get.

This may seem counter-intuitive for someone in my chosen, attempted profession--the ministry.  What makes less sense than worshipping an invisible deity and affirming a faith structure that reveres a man who was crucified for sedition?

And when you add people to the mix?  Well, let's just say the vast majority of people I know are not rational or logical most of the time.

This has actually been a huge source of tension in certain church settings in which emotionally heightened worship experiences are prioritized over rational, well thought out, carefully constructed sermons.  You know the church style I'm talking about--rock-style worship that leaves people feeling uplifted, sermons that move people to tears of joy or sorrow, but the specific points of which no one can remember by the time they walk out the front doors of the church.

Versus the boring church stuff that most people sleep through.  The boring church stuff?  I LOVE it!  I live for it!  Get my brain engaged, and my heart will follow.  Every time.  Challenge me intellectually, and you'll win my allegiance.  My complete, unwavering loyalty.  I may not always agree with you.  I may not always like what you have to say.  But I will stand by you as a friend and love you beyond all rationality and reason.

(If you're Republican, you will likely never win me over intellectually).

But that's where grace comes in.  Which also does not necessarily make sense.  But somehow, I've found a way to make it work.

Last week, however, I had a dream.  This was Tuesday, the 10th or Wednesday, the 11th.   It was a really fascinating dream.  But when I woke up on Wednesday morning, something was wrong.  Very, very wrong.  Somewhere in the area of my chest and gut, and I just couldn't figure out what it was.

I told several people about my dream, asking for an interpretation.  All of them laughed.  A lot.  Totally ironic and really hilarious is how most of them described it.  This is the portion of the dream that I told them:

I enrolled in clown college.  On my first day of classes, we learned that a world-famous female clown had died two days earlier.  The entire first class period was spent in a group grief therapy session.  Because I was the only person who decided to enroll on a lark, and had not been steeped in clown culture since childhood, I was the only one who had no idea who this woman was.  After an hour, having learned nothing about actual clowning, I got disgusted and left.

Now, again, I asked several people to help me interpret this.  Most just laughed.  A lot.  "Wait," said a friend from work, "you actually dreamed that you went to clown college but dropped out because it was too depressing?  That's frickin' hilarious!"

My sister's response was, "I think you want more colorful characters in your life but don't know what to do with them once you've got them."  Except I'm one of the most colorful characters there is, and most of friends are creatures of a different breed.  I don't always know what to do with them, but I enjoy having them in my life. 

I seriously considered her interpretation, and highly respect the attempt, but had to reject it as invalid because I still felt very, very wrong.  In that place that resides somewhere in my chest and gut.

My best friend offered this interpretation 3 days later:

I think subconsciously you think your ordination process is a clown show....  Or maybe consciously, too.  Who know :)  Maybe you should listen to your dream, get disgusted, and leave ;)

Now, I love my best friend.  Dearly.  No one knows me like she does.  But I immediately rejected this as 1) way too obvious to be accurate and 2) implausible because if it were the case, then I ought to have felt like things were resolved when I woke up.  After all, at the end of the dream, having left, I felt safe, supported, cared for, and okay.  When I woke up, something felt very, very wrong.

Oh, and did I mention that I failed to share the beginning and very end of the dream with anyone?

The dream opened with this man, whom I love, picking me up for class.  He, too, had enrolled in clown college with me.  We were going to carpool.

On our way to class, we're about 100 yards from the parking lot, when he pulls over, says, "Wait!  I have this really cool thing to show you!"  He jumps out of the van, and runs across to the parking lot, pulling something out of his pocket as he goes.  Then, he stops, and uses a remote control to drive the van the rest of the way and to park it.  (Seriously, how cool is that!?  And in real life, I have no doubt this man would be able to do this).

So, I hop out and we head to class together.

After the first hour of class, we also left class together.  And he held my hand.

So, another two days later, on Monday, the 16th, still feeling like something was very, very wrong, I decided to put all of the elements together, and give my best friend's interpretation another shot.

I was disappointed that clown college was basically the polar opposite of what the literature indicated the experience was supposed to be.  But when I left, I had someone with me.  Someone held my hand and walked with me.  I knew I would be okay, because I wasn't alone it.  I didn't know how things would ultimately end, but I knew no matter what, I would be able to move forward and do anything I wanted because I was loved, supported, cared for, and I wasn't alone.

And as I drove home from work that day, I thought to myself, "I feel so alone in the ordination process, or lack of process as it's turned out.  I just feel so incredibly alone." 

But I had never given voice to this feeling.  I had never allowed myself to acknowledge it because I live in my head.  I live in my head, and I know, without a doubt, that I'm not alone.  I have an entire community of people near and far who love and support and care for me.  I have people who are willing to continue walking with me as the process is temporarily put on hold.  I am not alone in this.

So, because I know I'm not alone, I had never thought to express my feelings of alone-ness in the process.  Feelings do not always and often rarely coincide with reality.  I live in my head.  I know I'm not alone, thus my feelings of alone-ness are inaccurate.  Because my feelings of alone-ness do not  reflect the reality of my situation, I will reject them, and not give them voice in my life.

Sometimes I forget that feelings are important.  I forget that feelings, though not reality, are still valid.  Neither right nor wrong, yes.  But valid.  And they deserve to be honored.  Even if it simply means acknowledging to myself that, reflective of reality or not, this is how I feel

Once I acknowledged that, the wrongness that lay somewhere in the region of my chest and gut completely disappeared.  Which was good.  Because people were starting to notice that something wasn't okay with me.  And they were starting to worry.  And to check in.  Which is all the proof I need that the reality is, I am not alone.  I am deeply loved.  And it's okay to acknowledge how I feel, because those feelings don't change a thing.  But honoring them allows me to let them go.

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