maandag 25 januari 2016

Thank you, sour uncle spilling your guts at our festive dinner table

I am grateful for finding this article online. Thank you, New York times, for publishing this prompt.

Yet, the idea of cultivating gratefulness awakens in me resistance. I refuse "having" to feel anything. The Arthur C. Brooks quote you give makes me happy. Brooks describes that many people struggle with this. Thank you for starting your article with that quote. A choice that confirms  my experience.

After completing this read, something about it continued to nag me for days.

Why is it we are supposed to be thankful for the positive things mostly?

I sat with that nagging feeling. Is it just me, I wondered. Or is this idea present in the article? I read it again.

Ah, there he is: the sour uncle, venting his complaints about politics at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Here in the Netherlands, we do not celebrate Thanksgiving. But the sour family members and friends - female too - complaining about politics or taxes - yes, those we do encounter here, too, at many gatherings. We know who they are, remind one another of not starting on any of those topics when they are within earshot… tiptoeing around sensitive issues, staring at our hands or the ceiling when someone is so clumsy to stumble over one of them, anyway. Restraining ourselves.

“Thank you for sharing your thoughts” - would that not be an appropriate response? To the plaintiff? What they say is usually - in varying degrees of intensity and polarity - felt by many of us. Yet, we feel we should not complain. And why?

I read on. Ah, there it is. What rubbed me the wrong way.

One explanation is that acting happy, regardless of feelings, coaxes one’s brain into processing positive emotions.”

Interesting labeling you’ve got there, Times Magazine. “Positive” emotions. Sounds like there’s “negative” emotions as well. Ones, we’d rather negate. There it is. Positive emotions: goooood. Negative emotions: oh no!! We don’t want those! Run away! Bury them deep! Disinvite the bad fairy!! Ring a bell anyone? Waking up, yet?

I’ve had to learn, that allowing all types of feelings to flow freely through me, is what makes me “happy” - the deep down, enduring kind of content and fulfilled happy, not the smiling fleeting kind. Hanging on to any one emotion - either sad, happy, angry, afraid or any mixture of these - blocks this flowing. When that blocking happens, is when my deep down kind of happiness gets wobbly.

I am grateful for this idea: what if feelings are just passing perceptions? There’s the primary ones, big and bright: anger, fear, hurt and joy. Then there’s an infinite number of blends, such as sadness, contentment, insecurity… There’s an axis of vulnerability, and an axis of being seen that add to the quality of the sensation.

Helped by practices saved in rituals of ancient but still vital spiritual traditions, such as Hawaiian, Maori and tantric, I come to life, awakening in the 20eth century - and I practice being grateful for noticing any and all feelings. Including those of despair, fear and entrapment by circumstances. This is quite a struggle, but just the idea of having to deny such feelings creates one of the worst circumstances of all, to be frank. A mental circumstance that does not help me.

Then again - feeling genuinely grateful about such feelings, that I have learned to label as negative all my life, may be too tall an order for me, at this point.

Kind curiosity and wonder might be a more workable starting point. Could I allow all sorts of feelings to flow through and inform me? Not easy, when part of me is involved in an old and ingrained effort to deny them. An effort that is fuelled by what I feel is expected of me. Aha. There is that knot again. The sense of expectation. Interesting. Thank you for helping me elicit this aspect. I feel genuinely grateful for it.

Also, for the curiosity. Maybe I could feel grateful for the effort put into denying feelings and their complexity as well? I sit with this thought, it is a tough one. The struggle makes my head hurt, and I am having trouble feeling thankful for that hurt. Maybe allow it to be with that wonderful curiosity again, though. When I sit in kind, silent wonder about that struggle and the complexity (going back to that, closing my eyes for a bit) there is a subtle tingling sensation in my abdomen, spreading out to my legs as I pay attention to it, sending a chill down my calves and shins. Upstairs, the headache is still there. It seems centered around two points, one on the left behind my ear, like a spear pointing upwards towards that point, one on the right a little higher up behind my right ear, a spear pointing downwards.

My mind seems to just breeze a heartfelt wish: "just nothing, finally!".

As I intertwine my hands to rest in my lap and close my eyes, to pay some more attention to all sensations, I my hands and fingers feel cold. I wrap my hands and arms into the shawl that I folded around my upper body, warming it.

I am grateful for feeling prepared to forgive myself for not showing positive emotions all the time.

Also, I am grateful for knowing that it is possible to say “thank you” inappropriately - when you don’t mean it.

Thank you, New York Times, for this trigger, that has helped me think about what I am grateful for this whole last month - while writing this reply.

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