“I thought that keeping who I am to myself was the same thing as being myself quietly. I discovered it is not.”
It’s evening, about six months ago.
As I write, I feel a burning in my heart. I try to ignore it at first. I have to finish this chapter, anyway, and I fear that expressing this burning would only get in the way of my work.
But as I write, the burning increases and increases. My muscles start to fill up with an excited static, and I can’t sit still.
Something pissed me off earlier in the day and now my response to it is slowly rising from the pit of my stomach. I fear that I will look crazy if I start to express my anger. I fear it will make me look like a bad person, or a person who is not in control of himself.
But then I remember: anger is a perfectly natural emotion.
Recalling this truth, I quickly jump away from my laptop, grab a pillow nearby, and start hammering away at the surface. The energy pushes through me, and the force of my anger hits the pillow.
All the excited static starts to dissipate. The burning in my heart decreases, and decreases, until it is extinguished. I relax.
There is a knock at the door. I open it. A loved one at the other side looks at me with concern and asks:
“Are you okay? I heard someone punching something.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I’m fine. I’m just getting out all my anger by punching this pillow.”
The loved one looks at me strangely, nods, then walks away.
“She probably thinks I am crazy,” I think.
There are times when your emotions are perfect for that scene or chapter in your book, but this isn’t always the case. Sometimes we just have to learn how to deal with our emotions in a healthy manner, so that they don’t build up and get in the way of our writing.
Now, I haven’t always known that expressing my emotions was okay.
For instance, for the longest time I believed that expressing my anger was a bad thing. A lot of us are taught to believe this. I think the reason we think anger is bad is because many of us only witness anger when it is expressed in an unhealthy manner, like in the form of physical or emotional abuse. We encounter anger in this way so much of the time that even when we encounter anger being expressed in a healthy manner it still frightens us.
It’s because of this fear of anger that people are often told that they should repress their anger.
I did this for a long time.
Bullies in middle school were fiery balls of anger and when they would push me, I wouldn’t push them back for fear I would become one of them.
I thought that by letting them push me I was being like Gandhi or like Martin Luther King, Jr.: I was being a loving, non-violent soul who would one day be admired for his virtuous approach to life.
But I was wrong. First of all, Gandhi and MLK were not passive leaders. They were assertive leaders. It’s true that they were not violent against their bullies, but even so, they still asserted themselves. Even though Gandhi and MLK allowed themselves to be pushed back, they did not back down. These great leaders were still willing to express their anger, just not in an unhealthy manner.
But I didn’t understand this as a child and so, my anger, having no way to escape, began to pack itself in my heart.
Fortunately, through counseling and after reading a ton of books on the subject, I have been able to embrace my anger as a dear old friend. Nowadays, whenever I feel angry, I will try to release this anger in some healthy way, so that it doesn’t get bottled up inside of me and later become a block to my creativity.
What I learned about anger is the same thing I am learning about sadness, worry, fear, and all the other so-called “negative” emotions.
Most importantly, I am learning that feelings need to be felt and that all of us, including me, have trouble dealing with this very simple, obvious truth.
EXERCISES TO HELP YOU WORK THROUGH YOUR EMOTIONS
Thich Nhat Hanh recommends sitting in a quiet place and beginning this mediation:
As you sit, he says, pay attention to all the emotions you are currently feeling. See each emotion as a single leaf floating down a river, each one passing by in front of you. Label each “leaf” as it passes by. Say: “I see anger, I see fear, I see love, etc.”
Notice how you are always a carrier of so many different emotions, positive as well as negative. But notice how each of them floats away, and doesn’t stick to you.
Realize you are a vessel for your emotions, and not a storage tank.
Punching a pillow, running, hiking and any kind of physical activity always helps me deal with feelings of anger, frustration, and anxiety.
Whatever emotion it is, you should find an outlet for it and then set it free.
Sometimes our emotions are telling us that all we want is for someone to hold us and to listen to our story.
If you struggle with your emotions on a daily basis, seek a professional or read books by experts on the subject of emotions and psychology. If money is a problem, search your community for free counseling centers or centers that work on a sliding scale according to your income.
If nothing else works, try drawing your emotion.
After you are finished, look at the image you drew with you heart and not your mind. (Your heart will tell you what the picture means. Your mind, however, will only start to criticize what it sees.)
Once you have taken a look at the image with your heart, you are now going to look at a way to change this image: allow your heart to come up with a solution that will turn this negative image into a positive one. Then take a similar action in your life to help you deal with your emotion.
Here’s what I discovered when I tried this technique:
I was feeling anxious one day, so I drew an image of a man hanging off a cliff, holding on to a string. The string was the only thing holding the poor man up and away from his demise. The man’s eyes were tightly closed. He was terrified.
But then I looked at the image more closely. To my surprise, I found that I had also drawn wings on the man.
You see, the man was holding onto a string he thought was saving him, but in reality, the string was holding him back from discovering that he had wings. The man’s clinging hid the truth from him: he was not in great peril, in fact, he was at the cusp of flight.
When I looked around, I immediately found evidence that I WAS holding on to this “string” from my past.
So, I closed my sketchbook and took action.
I let go of “the string.”
After I did, a weight of great emotion came over me, and then it was released.
I looked up (I was outside at the moment) and saw the night sky filled with stars.
It was then that I noticed that Orion’s belt twinkled. I mean I always KNEW that stars twinkled, but this was the first time that I had actually FELT it.
It was breathtaking.
Has there been a time when your emotions got in the way of your writing? What did you do to help you work through those emotions?
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