Yeah. So I woke up this morning thinking, “The goal is not to have no feelings.” A double negative there, I know. But let me try to explain. It’s not quite accurate to make it a positive: “The goal is to have feelings.” Because, honestly, we’re going to have feelings whether we want them or not. Even when we try to numb out, shove the feelings down into our stomachs, lose ourselves in endless tv, answer “fine” when anyone asks us how we are–even when we try to do that, we’re still going to end up with feelings. Somewhere along the line, we’ll trip over a crack in the sidewalk and find ourselves on our knees, crying and cursing and wondering why the world hates us.
The world doesn’t hate us, by the way. The world is just there, doing its own thing, and we’re not in control of very much at all when it comes to our lives, and that’s terrifying, so we make up things like we’re specially singled out for pain.
But anyway–I’ve cried a good bit lately. I’m doing something amazing that many people don’t get to do–taking a year to live in the landscape I love, with family, and re-center myself–but it’s still a whole ton of change all at once. And change, even when good, is always about loss. So I’m at the beginning of a year of flux, and I’ve got some crying to do.
More specifically, the other night I was walking down the country road in front of my sister’s house, at night, under the stars, beautiful temperature, endless sky, no cars or people–heaven for me–and crying so hard I went through all 5 of the tissues I’d stuck in my pocket on the way out the door. I was thinking, as I often do at such times, that I couldn’t bear it. I simply could not bear the sadness I was feeling, the loss, the grief, the fear, and how those feelings so often turn against me, until I feel utterly valueless in the world. I was thinking, “I’m not good at this living thing. I’m just not good at it. How can I go on hoping, wanting, when I don’t get what I want? Shouldn’t I just stop hoping, stop wanting?”
Luckily nothing said anything back to that–the corn, the stars, the asphalt road–except for some night-birds resting on the warm ground that exploded into the muffled feathered drums of wings when I walked too close to them.
And then, eventually, I went back to my room, talked to some people I love, and fell asleep.
A couple of days later, I heard from two friends who both apologized for appearing to be feeling sad, and assured me it wasn’t really all so bad. And I thought again of my own brain saying, “I can’t bear it,” and the lengths to which we will go in order to avoid either feeling or admitting to “negative” feelings. And I knew that I felt closer to my friends because they admitted to their negative feelings; I felt the humanity we shared. I was connected to them in their sorrow and fear, just as I am in their joy and hope.
And I realized that feelings are, really, everything we have. All of them. All the pesky, irritating, despair-driven, itchy feelings along with the comradeship and love and wonder. Do I want to live my life so I never cry? Nope. No, not really. I was crying because I cared, deeply, about myself and other people and the whole idea of trying to be a human. Would I cry less if I cared less? Sure. But I don’t want to care less. I want to be all in. I want to be passionate. I want to push my face into the cold water til I come up with an apple in my mouth or see the other world. Maybe I’ll come up laughing, mouth full of sweetness; or maybe sputtering and crying. But at least I’ll feel something.
Some people think the goal of meditation, the tenets of Buddhist and Yogic thought, are about ending desire and blocking out emotion. I don’t think so. Yes, I want to always have a part of me that’s aware of being connected to the universe, made of the same atoms–a part that notices I’m having feelings and doesn’t judge those feelings, a part that notices I’m dripping snot and tears on a country road and still knows itself to be Part of Everything. But I’m not planning on giving up the tears and snot part of me, either. That’s not my goal. Feelings–all of them–are what this human thing is all about for me. Meditation doesn’t take away the feelings; it just mutes the part of my mind that judges the feelings and analyzes and schemes to never have them again, to never feel that bad again, to never burden the world with my sorrow again. Meditation turns off the logic and opens up the contradiction and paradox: I am the one crying, the one laughing, the one cursing out the indifferent universe, the one loving other people, the one with her soul off in the dark sky, the one hurting, the one afraid, the one who doesn’t judge, the one who can be disappointed, the one who hopes, the one who wants to give up, the one who wants dazzling kisses.
So. The goal is not to have no feelings, because feelings are not problems in need of solving. They are, like all of us, Part of Everything.