When I want to distract someone (including myself) from something uncomfortable, I like to point and say, “Look! A puppy!” Because who doesn’t love puppies, right?
Feelings can be uncomfortable. That’s not understated elegance, that’s just a totally obvious remark.
Some feelings are really uncomfortable…or at least we think they will be, so we avoid them. We aren’t sure we’ll survive them. We’re pretty sure we’ll die from humiliation. Or hurt. Or rejection.
And our brain does not want us to die, so it teaches us to avoid these feelings at all costs.
And most times the cost of that avoidance is far greater than the cost of the feeling ever would have been, because we avoid by finding distractions which are usually not as cute as puppies. You know, the things we tend to do too much. The obvious things are like smoking and drinking and overeating and binge watching and video games and doom-scrolling. But even things that are good for us can become something we do too much when we do it to avoid feeling something.
I watched a great Ted Talk this weekend. It was about completing the cycle of stress. But as usual, I found a hidden gem on a different topic. Two doctors – who happen to be identical twins – talked about feelings. Here’s the link: Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski: The cure for burnout (hint: it isn’t self-care)
When we avoid feelings, we picture them as caves. Those caves are full of bats and snakes and spiders and rivers of poison. We’re afraid that if we ever go in the cave, we’ll never come out and we’ll be trapped with all of those horrible things for all eternity.
But guess what? Feelings are not caves! They’re tunnels! You go in and go out. Even when you’re in the dark part, you keep moving out into the light again. You just sit with the feeling, maybe sit through it and in a little bit you’re on the other side – like a ride at an bemusement park.
Sometimes, of course, when big things happen, there are waves of feelings. But each time, there’s a small reprieve, somewhere in the ebb and flow. Some tunnels are longer than others, that’s a fact.
When we tell our brain that we are not going to die in a cave – that we’re actually just going to go through the tunnel – the need for all the things we use as distractions diminishes. We wake up one day and suddenly realize that we have a lot more balance in our life.
Hey, how did that happen? What a surprise! This is great! To celebrate, I think I’ll go play with a puppy!
In the meantime, remember these things: You are loved. We are all loved. Let’s all be kind. And in all things – progress, not perfection!
Love, and light in the shadows,