Living Just to Find Emotion

There I was, navigating afternoon suburban traffic in the middle of a busy day of momming, singing along to Journey when it happened. The familiar well of emotion swelled in my throat, making me garble the lyrics… quickly followed by the instinctive reflex to swallow them down. 

Then I chuckled at the irony…

Here I was, singing about folks “living just to find emotion” as I worked to suppress my own emotion. 

I was alone in the car (I hadn’t yet picked up the kids from school), so why did I care who heard me? And I was wearing sunglasses, so it’s not like anyone could see the tears gather in the corner of my eyes. But I was BUSY… there were things to be done, and I couldn’t let such a thing as (normal, human) emotion get in the way, right? 

Despite the judgy voice in my head making me tamp down my emotional display, I quickly reminded myself: here goes that jerk capitalism again. It’s no wonder so many of us go about our days ignoring our emotion, not tuning in to the feelings that come up from day to day and from moment to moment. Because we’ve been trained by capitalism… to let those emotions be and let ourselves feel them would get in the way of the DOing, the productivity. Get in the way of the to do lists, the tasks at work and the chores at home… all the things we think (or have been taught) we must do… 

The reality is I don’t need to do much to find the emotion anymore. It is often there for me to find, just beneath the surface, if I only take the time to look for it, take a moment to breathe into my body and let myself feel what is coming up for me in the moment.

But I have been one (and have known those) who struggle to find emotion…  who have spent so much of life just surviving, putting aside emotion or learning to turn it off in favor of the DOing, in favor of being what everyone else needs or wants from them. Or there are those whose only emotional modeling was the expression of anger, so emotions became associated with feelings of fear, where avoidance became the only safe option. 

These survival strategies are no accident, though, right? In a capitalist world, where productivity and profit reign supreme, our emotionalness–indeed our very humanity–gets in the way. 

Like so many people, I learned to put aside what I was feeling emotionally and physically in my body because there were things that needed to be done. Particularly for Americans, with our national ethos of rugged individualism and climbing the social and corporate ladders, we adopt the value of productivity… to create a sense of worthiness and in order to deserve care, nourishment, attention, love, and rest, I must first DO. It’s only been recently that I’ve begun to unlearn these ideas and see them for what they are: capitalist constructs.

Sometimes life’s emotion is right at the surface, waiting to be found… other times, I fall back into resistance. Some days I live from a place of fear and control, and other days I’m able to choose love and compassion. 

So, just like physical awareness, emotional awareness also begins with noticing… noticing when I feel emotion, what it feels like in my body, how I react to those feelings, and what I might be needing in those moments. Just as I often tell my children and my clients, I must also remind myself that emotions are information, and when I learn to pay attention to them, I begin to better understand and care for myself. 

So, in some ways, I think Journey was onto something… part of living is about finding emotion, but the more I connect with myself (my body, yes, but also my thoughts, habits, patterns, beliefs, and emotions) the more I realize that life is about making the time for emotion–finding it, feeling it, maybe learning from it, maybe just letting it be and letting it pass. This precious human life certainly isn’t meant to be spent running from or ignoring my emotion; and connecting with my emotional self opens the door to honoring the parts of ourselves that capitalism wants to squash… emotion, connection, rest, joy… our humanness.