My favorite book from the American psychoanalytical writer Michael Eigen is Emotional Storm. I read it years ago, and one of the lines has never left me. He’s writing about naming your feelings: anything from delight to surprise to rage to resentment, highlighting how quickly we can change feelings, or how many feelings can be simultaneously present at once. Then comes the line I’ve never forgotten:
“It is not just about feelings, but about the ‘feel’ of feelings.”
So it isn’t just about feeling stressed, for example; it’s about inquiring what the feel of this feeling is. There are different kinds of stress, of course: the stress that comes with a sense of impending doom, or a sense of possibility.
To pay attention to the feel of feelings is a kind of conversation. To step away from just the feeling, and to inquire of it: what is the feeling of this feeling like? This can help; it can create a small sense of distance. It can move us into the kind of noticing that mindfulness, or Buddhist meditation, or Ignatian prayer does for so many.
I remember the first time I heard Sylvia Boorstein’s conversation with Krista, which we offer to you again this week. There are so many things about this interview that are insightful, intelligent, and extraordinary. But deeper than any of those is the sense of spaciousness I felt when listening. Sylvia Boorstein is familiar — very familiar — with the stresses of life. In her own life, in her work as a psychotherapist, in her teaching work, she’s heard it all. But she’s cultivated an inner life that seeks a little tender distance between the event and the response to the event. Sylvia moves seamlessly from speaking of the inner life to the outer life; whether that of relationships, parenting (happy mothers’ day to those who celebrate!), of work, voting and social activism. Her insight nurtures the heart, and from that center, the public life is strengthened.
This hour is rich, and if you’ll allow me to give you advice, you might want to listen to it twice. Sylvia considers questions of equanimity and fairness, of self-care, anger, resentment, and psychic drives. She does all of this with great humor and with a voice that embodies the very wisdom she’s discussing. Her capacity to consider the complexities of everyday experience with care is an act of kindness — another favorite topic of hers — towards herself and others. Included in this interview is a clip of a metta meditation she offered to the live crowd there. You can listen to it in full on our website, and find it in our podcast feed as well.
Our Poetry Unbound episodes this week also offer opportunities to consider feelings, and the feelings of them. Monday’s poem was Richard Blanco’s “Looking for the Gulf Motel.” Writing as an adult man, he remembers a holiday from when he was a boy. Now, decades later so much has changed: the hotel is gone, his beloved father is gone, too. What happens when we remember? So much is lost, but we hear sweetness and love in this gorgeous poem. Friday’s poem was Marilyn Nelson’s “The Truceless Wars.” She juxtaposes the fights among animals with the fights among humans. The poem ends on a somber note: “nothing, nothing. Nothing.” But one of the poem’s deepest gifts is that it restates a vocation of humanity: “life struggles to evolve / higher in us, through questioning, toward hope.” Her indignation at destruction is matched by her resolution that this vocation must be protected, and cultivated. Without such commitment, we fail ourselves, and each other. In a time of war, her reminder of the fruitlessness of war is helpful; but deeper than that, her hard-won restating of our deepest vocation calls us to that kind of faithfulness.
Friends, there are many things that crowd your attention. And many things deserve your attention. May you find the space to pay attention to what is important, to feel the feel of feelings, and to find ways to respond with action, care, justice, kindness, time, and whatever else is needed.