|Photo by sxc.hu user astoram|
As a teacher, my days are completely filled. If I’m not at school, I’m usually thinking about it or doing work at home. Add to that the fact that I have countless interactions of all different kinds with well over a hundred people on a daily basis. Then there’s also the residual thoughts and feelings from situations and interactions outside of my job… all in all, that’s a lot of feeling, none of which occurs in a setting conducive to noticing, naming, or processing them.
Whether your lifestyle is similar to mine or completely different, we live in a time with constant distraction at our fingertips. Don’t want to acknowledge your feelings? Check your phone. Watch TV. Read a blog (haha). Go to the gym. Down time is not something we are comfortable with. A big reason down time makes us anxious is because it’s easier to hear our emotions when we’re not focused on something, and often feeling is something we just don’t want to do.
When I first started going to counseling, there was a lot of me describing a situation and my counselor patiently responding, “It sounds like you felt ________” or “Didn’t that make you _________?” I was repeatedly surprised by how helpful it was just to have someone identify my feelings for me. I never really thought about how rarely I was aware of what I was feeling. Even when I was somewhat aware, I could not see how my beliefs about what I “should” and “should not” be feeling twisted and blurred my own assessment. I once told my counselor I felt like a clogged shower head that had not been used for some time, with sudden pressured bursts coming out in odd directions.
- I started to sleep better. Usually, when I got into bed, it was the first time since getting up I had been still and quiet. The unprocessed events in the day took the opportunity to push into my less crowded mind, and I would push them right back down as I struggled to ignore them so I could sleep. When I took a few minutes to invite those thoughts and feelings, however, once I was finished, I was ready to sleep, and the actual sleep was much less fitful.
- My feelings were directive. We have feelings for a reason. At least part of that reason is feelings help guide us in navigating life. Yes, our feelings can misdirect us and should not be our sole basis for acting, but we cannot ignore them, either (I wrote more about this in my post, Be Careful About Seeing “Signs,” among others). As I made a point of noticing what I had felt throughout the day, I realized feelings that I needed to act on, whether there was someone who I needed to follow up with, a person who had been kind or helpful I needed to thank, or a problem I needed to directly address.
- I started the next day “more empty” and more ready to be filled. Richard Rohr, Fransiscan priest and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation, explains this concept beautifully. In this short message, “A Process of Self-Emptying,” he describes “the leftover memories, undone, unfinished relationships… unfinished emotions from a phone call or a spat” that fill us up. He explains, “as long as those are churning around inside of us… if there’s been no practice of self-emptying, it doesn’t go anywhere.” He pinpoints this as the reason many sermons fall on deaf ears. Even Jesus’ audiences often missed his point because “they were just too filled up with leftover emotions, with garbage, with unprocessed hurts, with memories of abuse and rejection and betrayal and abandonment. As long as you’re processing all of those and commenting on all of those there’s no room for a bigger message, for a better message, or for a more loving presence.” Instead of filling ourselves up as our consumer culture would direct us to do, Rohr recommends we empty ourselves, to create “room for God and grace and mercy.”