For as long as I can remember I have felt emotions like tidal waves. If I am happy, I am elated. If I am sad, I feel like my whole body is heavy and the air around me is thick. For me, a good day is a great day and a bad day is often an awful day. You might be reading this thinking..."Yikes, Alie B. Get it together, girl.."
As an artist, I have grown to appreciate the rise and fall of my emotions. I feel that experiencing deep empathy and emotional depth allows actors, writers, painters, and other creatives to succeed in their work. But I think there is also a way to feel present and honest without being overtaken by emotion.
Recently, I have been feeling a lot of "big emotions" at the same time. I have had many days in the past month where I feel this mix of shame and compassion...love and disgust...joy and disappointment. Feeling two different emotions as equally true used to scare the hell out of me. In college, my therapist talked to me about dialectics. A dialectic is a method of exposing and talking about opposing ideas to find truth. I would say, "I can't handle the intensity of all of this....I am both angry and sad or I am feeling both excited and scared" (OK theatre nerds, that one was for you). I used to find it impossible to sit with one "unpleasant" emotion...much less two. And honestly, I still find it a little unpleasant, which is why I am un-packing it here.
But then my therapist would look at me and say, "But do you think both can be equally true? Can you sit with both ideas or thoughts?" And at first I would nod yes but in my head think: Absolutely not, I am crumbling because THESE EMOTIONS ARE HUGE and UNCOMFORTABLE and i like being in control. But recently, as I have felt such a rush of seemingly opposite emotions at once, I feel like I am back in the arena. And now I have the emotional awareness and mindfulness skills built up to tolerate multiple feelings.
BUT YOU GUYS, BEING IN THE ARENA IS HARD. It makes you feel mixed up and iffy to feel like you want to shrink AND take up space. It makes you want to run and hide AND also face the things that scare you. I have been reading a LOT of Brene Brown recently, and she calls this kind of thing "rumbling." Rumbling means staying curious, being OK to be in the "messy middle" of things, and being really honest about the narratives we tell ourselves about our struggles. I think rumbling is a first step to building resilience. And I think being in the messy middle of two emotions is brave and it is also a huge mindfulness teacher if we allow it to be.
I used to give up when I felt like I was in my own "messy middle." Most times, like now, a part of me wants to give in and numb out. But now, I think it is time to be honest about emotions and dialectics and uncomfortable feelings. You CAN feel two hard things at once, and they will pass, and then you'll feel more things later. That's how it goes. Let's get ready to rumble. (Yep, definitely just went there).