Proud of having our own feelings about the world

There are no good or bad feelings, on healthy and unhealthy ways of expressing them.

And if channeled in a meaningful way, every emotion can be of service.

Dayton coined the term emotional sobriety, which means being in charge of our own inner world and able to experience deep feelings, understand them and talk about them rather than act them out in destructive ways.

In the spirit of that concept, here is a list of some feelings, in no particular order, for no particular reason.

If we are going to feel guilty, let us feel guilty for not working harder to understand people earlier.

If we are going to feel fear, let us feel fear for judging others before knowing the full context they’re coming from.

If we are going to feel sad, let us feel sad for all the times we tried to fix people instead of just loving them.

If we are going to feel jealous, let us feel jealous of those who give us a lifetime pass despite our past life.

It reminds me of a line from a movie about artificial intelligence. The man complains to his computer that sometimes he thinks he’s felt everything he’s ever going feel, and from here on out he’s not going to feel anything new, just lesser versions of what he’s already felt.

It’s a valid thought, but that’s the beauty about emotional sobriety. The longer we stick with it, the more expanded our palette becomes. Once we learn how to actually feel our feelings rather than ignore, suppress or medicate them, we can step back from ourselves and feel proud of having our own feelings about the world.

Even if they’re dark or bizarre or unpopular, they’re still ours. Nobody can take them away from us.

On most days, there are certain thoughts and feelings that course through my mind and body that take me by complete surprise. Like feeling sad and lonely and afraid while imagining the death of a loved one.

That happens all the time as I get older. Whether it’s my wife, my parents or my friends, the absolute gut punch of loss just overtakes me sometimes. And in many cases, it compels me to make a phone call, offer a compliment or even give a gift to one of those very people in that moment.

It’s my profound gratitude for having them in my life right now, and my deep fear for knowing that one day they won’t be.

None of those are good or bad feelings. But they are of service to me anyway. And the fact that ten years ago, they didn’t exist as much as they do now, that makes me proud.

My emotional sobriety continues to deepen. Still a long way to go, but my progress isn’t insignificant.

Considering how many taboos against genuine feeling are in place in both childhood and adulthood, this feels like a worthy accomplishment.

Remember, when we regard certain feelings as good and others as bad, we build inner barriers that prevent us from processing and understanding our emotional reality. 

What if the only thing to do with our feelings was to receive them completely?

The forceful reckoning with what is

Workaholism isn’t exhausting because we’re working all the time.

It’s exhausting because we’re running around playing defense all the time.

Medicating ourselves with all these tasks and projects as a way to stave off feelings of loneliness, insecurity, sadness, whatever. Protecting our auras, guarding our egos, armoring our hearts. Facing only inwardly.

That’s defense. It’s definitely comfortable and secure. And the upside to operating in this mode all the time is, it literally pays off. Society rewards us for being addicted to work, dangling that golden carrot in front of our face, satiating our hunger with every delicious bite, until we either burn out and hit bottom, or destroy ourselves and our relationships completely.

And when the bottom does finally fall out, there is what’s known as a forceful reckoning with what is. And we can either dig in our heels, or strip off our armor and raise a white flag in surrender.

Option two worked for me. If there was ever a reason to let go and start believing in a power greater than yourself to restore you to sanity, this would be it. Just the sheer energy of not having to play defense all the time is worth more than you can possibly imagine.

Firestone, a renowned author and cognitive behavioral therapist, wrote a compelling essay in my favorite psychology journal about living defensively. There are several passages worth sharing:

There is a core conflict within each person that centers on the choice between contending with painful realities or avoiding them. The question is whether to live with emotional pain or to defend ourselves and escape into an unreal world. We are all presented with this fundamental dilemma. And the resolution of this conflict toward a more defended way of life has a detrimental effect on our emotional health and overall functioning.

His contention is that when playing defense, desperately clinging to our addictive attachment of choice, our capacity for offering and accepting love is impaired.

Makes sense. No wonder I was so lonely all those years. Working all the time energetically interfered with my ability to develop genuine and satisfying relationships. How could I be emotionally close to other human beings when my defensive system never shut down?

My friends and loved ones deserved better.

This has been a conscious pursuit of mine for the past decade. Trying to deactivate those defensive maneuvers that once ensured my survival. In fact, the whole process of retiring from entrepreneurship actually meant retiring from the mindset that success would save me.

That was the real work. Facing outwardly. Learning how to actual feel my feelings of anxiety. Grappling with the complicated reality that is life. Connecting with others in a present, intimate way.

Becoming more porous so that things could actually come in, without my attempts to control them.

That shit is hard, still to this day. But you can’t do it if you’re playing defense all the time. To quote the psychologist mentioned before, people who are relatively undefended generally feel more integrated, are able to live more fully and authentically, and tend to be more humane toward others.

That’s the future we’re working for.

It may take longer to get there than we’d like, but it is possible. 

Are you using your mind as a defense system for your image of who you are, or as an instrument for creation and connection?

Less critiquing, more complaining

Complainers annoy me, but they sadden me more.

Because people who bitch about everything and everything under the sun are signaling to the world that they have no power over their attitude.

And in this confusing and chaotic circus of a world we live in, attitude is really the only thing we do have control over.

Look, we all get upset when things don’t go our way. Show me a human who doesn’t and I’ll show you a robot.

But the chronic inability to respond to reality in an appropriate manner, that’s just immaturity. It may be a quick and easy way to get attention and gain authority and connect with others, but after a while, the only people who want to be around complainers are other complainers.

Rollins, my favorite punk rock spoken word artist, had a few things to say about this:

Stop whining about how today’s music sucks. Kids write me and tell me that their band will go nowhere because of all the bad bands in the world. I tell them there has always been awful music and that no great band ever wasted any time complaining, they just got it done. Their ropey ranting is just a way to get out of the hard work of making music that will do some lasting damage.

Are you complaining while others are taking your place in line? Maybe it’s time to update your channeling process. Finding healthy outlets for your frustration that actually create value in the world, rather than just soil people in your vicinity with your toxic bile.

That’s the advantage of complaining through making things. Not only the invaluable process of feeling your feelings of anger or frustration or disgust, but also converting them into something more meaningful.

Hell, most of my books and songs have been complaints, but the creative process assured that by the time those feelings came out on the other side, the toxicity was purged and only art was left.

Alchemists have been conducting this process thousands of years. Mystics transmuted base metals like lead into noble metals like gold and created elixirs of mortality that cured diseases.

Was it just mythological hogwash? New age superstition? It doesn’t matter. We should read those stories literately, not literally. Alchemy is a powerful analogy for personal transmutation and purification, and any of us can engage with it.

Moore’s book on the care of the soul says that life is our prima materia, aka, the ubiquitous starting material that’s required for the alchemical magnum opus and the creation of our philosopher’s stone. If we could learn to reframe our complains in that light, perhaps they would transmute into something else.

Remember, the fastest way to take ourselves out of the victim position in regards to life is to strive for complete abstinence from complaining about it. 

How might you form an alchemy where the lead of your rage is turned into the gold of your heightened consciousness?

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