When I was a child I felt things too strongly or not at all. Full on breakdowns about the slightest injustice, a detached calm feeling about serious things. Now, I feel like I have evolved to a place where I feel and don’t feel all at the same time. I flow in and out of feelings so quickly that it’s like being on a roller coaster.
My mom and my aunt always tell me a funny story. When I was three years old, I went to stay with my aunt in California. I was at the “parrot” developmental stage where anything she said, I would repeat back perfectly. She thought it was funny and kept testing me with long lists of things to see if I could repeat it. “Star, would you like to go to the zoo, the park, the beach and downtown?” “Yes Auntie Mary, I would like to go to the zoo, the park, the beach, and downtown.” One day, my cousin said to my aunt, “I have figured out what is wrong with her. She has no feelings.”
Nowadays, my husband says I feel everything. He thinks I shouldn’t feel so much and that some things should just flow by and not affect me. He thinks that things affect me too much. “Don’t let everything get to you.”
I guess it’s just that I bear witness. I’m watching life happen and I’m feeling the happy and the sad and the ups and the downs and I’m riding the roller coaster and I’m looking around and I can’t understand why everyone else is pretending they are on solid ground. If everyone in the world is on a roller coaster, and everyone sits there pretending that they are on firm ground, isn’t that the crazy way to be?
I have this thing where, during the time that I am having the most fun, feeling the most alive, and feeling overwhelmed with happiness, I spend the entire time trying to figure out how I can replicate that experience again in the future, so much so that I am not even in the present moment. I am spending my happiest times panicked about the moment ending and not feeling that happy again, extremely happy, but with an overwhelming sense of dread that the happiness is going to end soon. I find that if I try to recreate the experience again, it doesn’t create the same feeling anyways. I’m wasting my time worrying about having the opportunity to repeat an experience that is impossible to recreate.
I have this feeling that the reason I flow in and out of happiness and sadness so quickly, and the reason I feel so much pain during such a pleasurable moment, is that life isn’t an old-fashioned roller coaster with well-defined ups and downs. It’s everything at once, more like fast modern coasters where the minute you realize you are upside down, you are already right side up. Happiness is twinged with the sadness of those that couldn’t be there, or the realization that that time is going to come to an end, or the knowledge that things will not always be that happy. Times of sadness are also filled with an almost inappropriate joy, as we feel held and supported by those around us and experience such love. Like the happy sad that I imagine feeling when I send my children off into the world, knowing that I prepared them, that they are confident and unafraid, and that they are my gift to the world that I am setting free, and yet, at the same time, feeling so sad that they don’t need me anymore and that they aren’t mine to keep and don’t belong to me anymore. I’m beginning to understand the AA Serenity prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.
I think that’s why I’m so focused on religion lately. The concept of letting go because there is something bigger at play, that you cannot control, is so appealing. It takes the fault and blame out of everything that happens because it means everything is not always someone’s fault, bad things that happen are out of your control, you can’t solve everything, you can’t fix everything, and you can’t anticipate everything. It means that hard work will not make everything better. That no matter how smart you are, shit still happens. No matter how good you are, shit still happens. Effort does not equal lack of pain. Maybe more effort actually equates to more pain because, you care so much, it hurts.
The happy sad roller coaster is running and I’m just along for the ride. We are all just along for the ride. When you feel happiness so deeply that it makes you sad at the same time. When you feel sad so deeply that you see the beauty in the pain. Feeling the feelings means you’re part of it. Otherwise we’re all just robots.
I keep asking my husband, “Are you OK? Where are your feelings? Why are you not feeling any feelings? How can you pretend you’re not on the roller coaster?” My husband is a man of control. He works out every day to control his body, always in competition with himself to best the record of the day before. We get in arguments when he stands there, overseeing how I’m doing something, explaining the “right way” that something should be done. I argue that there is more than one right way, and your right way might not be right for me. Trying to make him understand that sometimes, the weirdest, most crazy bizarre wrong way, feels right to me.
One of the emotions I flow in and out of is anger. When I look at that anger, I know that it comes from a place of judgment. When I get angry and judge others, I’m beginning to understand, I am really seeking to control them. Just like my husband is trying to control me. I’m asking, “Why don’t they do it my way? Why don’t they see it my way? Why can’t they appreciate my way?” When I really think about it, I’m doing exactly what my husband does in those moments. I am denying that they too, are on a roller coaster.
I am a person who wants everything to happen right away. I am the person you come to when you want something done right away. My least favorite phrase, “things take time.” I have always had a hard time with long-range view, but I am learning. The longer I live, the more I realize that I need to slow down. Give things time. This year, I am finding the strength to pause. I have worked hard on learning how to create time and space for many things, friends, creating, doing nothing, thinking. I have also been working on creating space between my emotions, and my reactions. The longer I can extend that space, the more time I take before I react or do anything, the more I listen and watch and let go, the easier it is to see the track their roller coaster is on. I am beginning to realize that they are not me, and that they are not on my ride. I have been pretending that they are on solid ground. I have been denying their right to feel, because they aren’t doing it my way.
For myself, right now, I see the roller coaster of my life, that is out of my control, and all I can do is let go. All I can do is own up to how many things I cannot control. The only solution I can find, is to just ride the ride. Feel the feelings. Be sad happy. Be happy sad.
As for everyone else, here is what I think we all need to focus on. We are not all on the same roller coaster. I see the anger in the world. I feel the anger in the world. We need to see that each of us is on our own roller coaster. This is why you don’t ride it my way, and I don’t ride it your way. They begin from different places, the tracks are constructed differently, of different materials. We are suspended in different ways, built in different eras, have been through different amounts of up and downs before we got to the point of coming close to each other. All we can do is wave, from my car to yours, to acknowledge that, I see you, to honor that we have both realized that we do not have solid ground beneath our feet and that we do not control the ride. All we can do is find a way to call, “Hello over there! You, who is riding your ride, your way, the wild bazaar way that I just don’t understand, I see you! And honey, you do it your way and I’ll do it mine. I get it. Let me know if I can help.”