Emotions make great indicators, not dictators. I was reminded tonight as I sat in Traveler’s Cafe at Solano in Beijing, across from my friend Rob, who, in his 60’s, is living the adventure of a lifetime residing here, that emotions are designed to be put into words.
Science tells us that societies which articulate their thoughts and emotions are significantly less likely to act out violently, and vice-versa. Jordan B. Peterson points out that the act of writing moves primal information about ones past, that may be charged with emotion, from primitive parts of the brain to conscious, crystallizing, word parts of the brain. Words take emotions and feelings on a journey to a new place, shifting them from the place in our subconscious where they drive our behavior, where they act as dictators of our daily choices and actions and perceptions, to a place where they are no longer charged with emotion.
Since meaning is one of the primary pillars of a healthy psyche as pointed out by Victor E. Frankl, who wrote Man’s Search for Meaning, writing and expression of ones reality, whether past, present, or future, is a powerful way to distill what certain events mean, and to remove the emotional charge from them, as Dr. Peterson points out. It also become a way for someone to dramatically increase the likelihood of success. There is something like a 30% increase in the likelihood that goals will take place if they are written down. But I digress.
The track record of my emotional self management is to attach tremendous shame to what I feel, and to keep those emotions to myself. Tonight, I admitted to Rob that I feel like a failure because I have yet to published a book, even though I know writing is my destiny, and even though I’ve received a number of unambiguous signs from God and people pointing to that fact. It turned out that he is a 4 time published author, wants to connect me with with his agent, and helped me to understand that perhaps, instead of feeling guilt and shame over my unending ability to procrastinate to publish, that perhaps it just hasn’t been God’s timing.
This reminded me that when I open up and tell trustworthy people about my inside life, about my emotions and feelings and why I’m feeling them, good things happen. Because I took a risk and shared the feelings I’ve been having, I no longer felt alone in my struggle, and the additional perspective Rob provided helped me see my calling in a new way, and to realize I’m not a failure.
“Tell People”, was the note I made in my brown notebook when I realized that telling people what I feel increases the quality of my internal and external life. Even the act of writing this blog post is theraputic.
In Storyline by Donald Miller, who wrote Blue Like Jazz, I did an exercise where I documented the critical events of my life, positive and negative, and was asked to derive the underlying messages of those events once I had reinterpreted each one individually to find their value. The message was, from my divorce to my friendships and other events, INCLUDE PEOPLE, or PEOPLE ADD VALUE.
Moving negative and positive events charged with emotion and feeling through the writing process from the near subconscious of ones history to the conscious, then from there to honestly express them to a trustworthy person, and then to receive the visceral, kinetic experience of his verbal and non-verbal feedback communicates a simple, powerful, and affirming message; you are a normal human being, you are okay, and your emotions and feelings are valid and not weird.
Perhaps this is one of the most important of human experiences that God created us to have, with ourselves, others, and him. Perhaps this is one of the fundamental pillars of human experience that continues into eternity. Perhaps, in five hundred thousand years, you and I will be sitting in a circle, and the miracle of existence will be expressed in my inquiry, “What did you learn today?”, your answer, and the ensuing discussion. Somehow, if this cycle of going out to learn in whatever field of experience one finds pleasurable and fun, then coming together to talk about it happens over and over again, I’ll look forward to eternity with gentle anticipation and hope.