22 Dec this is what it feels like
Driving home from the movies yesterday, I began to cry. It wasn’t the movie; it was the moment. The season. The sadness. The overwhelming loneliness. I used to fight the tears. I’d try to hold them in, toughen up, shake off the cloud as it moved over me. I soon learned that was futile. Tears come and there is nothing to be done about them. Now I just let them flow. I pour them out, knowing that the moment will pass and I’ll be okay. I’m learning to sit with the grief, hold its hand, let it flow through me and leave me exhausted but freer than I was the moment before. So I sat in my car in the parking lot of the Red Rock and cried huge wracking sobs of loneliness. It’s in moments like these that my awareness is raised not only about myself and my journey, but also about others and theirs. I had just enjoyed a great movie, scarfed down some fattening and super delicious popcorn, and then had a total meltdown in my car in a public place. I really need to get my windows tinted.
It occurred to me that we frequently chastise ourselves for having meltdowns and we beat ourselves up for having feelings. We often pile on a bit of shame as if the chastising and beating isn’t enough. “You should be grateful. You have so much to be thankful for. There are people who have it far worse.” And on and on it goes until we’ve permanently reinforced the idea that we have no right to grieve, and no reason to cry, and our feelings are unjustified. We further perpetuate the flawed argument that because other people ‘have it worse’ that our pain is somehow irrelevant. I’ve heard it so many times from my own friends. “I feel bad sharing this with you because your situation is so much worse…” I’ve written about this before, but I’ll write it again: pain is pain, and we should not be in competition with each other or look for ways to measure whose pain is greater to determine who has a right to be sad, or hurt, or grief stricken.
I’m learning this. In my forties, I am still learning this. I’m committed to reminding myself that it is absolutely permissible and beneficial to let my feelings exist, to give them permission to be expressed, and to embrace and affirm them when they surface. My mother used to offer me Valium whenever my feelings were too close to the surface. Anger, sadness, hurt feelings… they weren’t meant to be felt or processed. They were meant to be masked, suppressed, numbed, and medicated. I have several memories of defending the idea that it is okay to feel. I clearly remember standing in my own kitchen, desperately attempting to explain that we were created with emotions to enable us to process the inputs of life; that it is normal and healthy to feel things all the way through, that it was part of our unique design. Where I learned that, I’ll never know, but that knowledge now serves me well. I’m committed to feeling the feels and writing about them and talking about them and crying about them and laughing about them. (I talk to students about feelings and how learning to cope and process is one of the best gifts we can give to ourselves, and probably the most important skill to develop if we want to live our best lives. Oh how I wish we taught this in schools as part of our core curriculum and left trigonometry for the electives of the super brilliant…)
So I cried in my car when the feelings of loneliness came. And it occurred to me in that same moment that I am so very loved. I am surrounded by people who want to spend time with me, who include me in their family time, who want to be the friend I lean on whenever I feel lonely. I am so loved, yet so very alone in my thoughts and grief. I reminded myself that it is okay to feel that way, even if I do not have the words to clearly articulate it, even if I cannot describe why I can feel so alone when surrounded by so much love. I could have ripped myself apart, berated myself for being ungrateful, distracted myself with irrelevant and unhelpful thoughts like, “Other people have it worse. You’re so ungrateful. You are feeling sorry for yourself.” What good would that do me had I said those things to myself and wiped the tears away with disgust? How would those derisive thoughts grow me into a better human being? How would those negative corrections encourage me to face my feelings and encourage me to truly live? They wouldn’t and so I didn’t. I just sat there and let it out the way it wanted to come out. Like a whistling teapot… when the water boils and the pressure builds, the teapot whistles. That’s your cue to come! To pay attention! To make the darn tea! We don’t yell at the teapot for doing its job, we just take it of the burner and we are grateful because what comes next is delicious.
“I’m a little teapot. Short and stout.
Here is my handle, here is my spout.
When I get all steamed up, I just shout.
Tip me over and pour me out.” Get it?
Here’s what happened next:
I drove home, tears flowing. I plugged my phone into the charger and my music automatically came on. A song I don’t remember downloading and hadn’t listened to in a long while filled my car with lyrics my soul needed to hear. (No, it wasn’t the teapot song…) I was a little surprised, actually. I have an eclectic group of songs I’ve collected over time, but my favorites are sorted into a Faves Playlist, which is what comes on. This song isn’t in that playlist. I cannot even remember when I listened to it last, so when it was the first song to play on the drive home I didn’t even recognize it.
My mind didn’t.
My soul did.
Wait. I have to ask you… What do you do with a moment so big you cannot make sense of it? When your soul responds to something so cosmic and perfect and divine but your mind cannot compute the input or make sense of it at all? My instinct is to reject it as coincidence. My mind tries to place a logical overlay on top of the moment, like adding a filter to a picture to hide its flaws and improve its appearance. Nothing makes sense when you turn over a divine moment to your mind’s preprogrammed and learned biases. Your mind (well, my mind) says you cannot possibly be so special that the universe would pause to pay attention to you. Your mind has learned from repeated input that you do not matter and it has been trained to apply protective filters to every experience. Filters of low self-worth disguised as a reality check. Filters of toxicity dressed up as realism. Your mind is designed to protect you but over time it can get a little clogged with misinformation, incorrect calculations of your worth, flawed formulas to qualify your place on this world. It is designed to keep you alive and to keep your systems running. It receives input, records, and directs based on what it has observed over time. Sometimes the input the mind receives can best be described as ‘bad’ or ‘corrupted’ data.
But what about the soul? The soul is often in conflict with the mind. Have you ever noticed that? The soul wants to believe. The soul feels. It loves. It hurts. The mind tries to protect the soul, however it can, to keep you alive. I believe this completely and totally. The mind is powerful and cleverly designed; it is a machine of unmatched precision. It records and remembers and strategically defends (mostly to our benefit, but sometimes to our detriment). The mind is a machine; it is tethered and grounded. There is no good and bad. There is only survival. Ask anyone who has been severely abused or who works with survivors of abuse. Ask my friends Kristi or Daisy or Melissa or Briana or my therapist, Emily, or my friend’s therapist, Kim. Ask them what the mind can do to help someone survive. They’ll tell you how incredibly strong and capable the mind can be. The soul, however, is not a machine. It is a living thing; it is free and it can soar! It knows so much more than the mind will ever learn, but it gives way when the mind asserts its control. For some strange reason, we have been conditioned to empower the mind and limit the soul. It is a lifelong lesson pounded into us from birth to death and I believe that very few ever learn to reverse this. I know a handful of people whose souls are growing and flexing and expanding and learning to live in harmony and balance with their minds. It is a practice; an art. Very few will pursue that journey because, holy mother of god, it is a scary one. To undo years of programming? Listen, to challenge norms outside of ourselves is one thing, but to challenge norms within… requires a soul to be so on fire, so incredibly hopeful, and oh-so-ready for pain.
Let me pause there for a sec. I’m not crazy, I promise. I’m pretty well adjusted, all things considered. I’m just mapping this out carefully to lay the foundation for something I want to share with you. A tiny moment that happened yesterday, in the middle of my loneliness and grief, that impacted my soul in a huge way. So huge I couldn’t absorb it all at once and I’m struggling to write it all out in an understandable way. Please don’t have me committed. This is as real as polish on your fingernails, as the phone in your hand, as the tracks your tires leave when you peel out from work on your Friday. This is real.
When the atmosphere whose sole purpose is to protect us from all that exists ‘out there’ abandons its job and allows something to pass through, we marvel and quake and jump into action. We track its movement, its trajectory, and we try to predict its impact. Yes, I’m referring to a meteor or a space rock, an inanimate but tangible object that captivates us and holds our interest and makes international news. But what happens when the intangible thing crosses the seemingly impermeable boundary? What happens when the veil of separation is lifted and your soul lights up and recognizes the love it has been seeking? The mind will do its best to block the moment. The mind will spring into action, call upon its data, apply its filters, use terms like ‘logic’ and ‘coincidence’ and ‘impossibilities’ to divert your attention from the soul expanding moment you are being gifted with. Don’t be mad… the mind is designed to protect you from big things that could hurt you. Big things like hope that could end up as disappointment. Big things like God-sized love that seem impossible to prove. Big things like intangible signs and messages that repeat in forty-seven different ways that you are so loved. Why doesn’t a big thing like that make international news? Why don’t we marvel and quake and jump into action? Why aren’t we tracking its movement and its trajectory and finding ways to measure its impact???????? Our souls want to! Our souls recognize the very sign our minds are conditioned to reject.
I know this because I live it every single day. I struggle with accepting the idea that I am so loved that ‘someone’ would split time for me. Someone would play a song for me. Someone would speak lyrics into an artist’s heart who would then write a song that would move me and cause me to love myself just a little bit more. I am learning that labeling my specially created, artfully crafted, universe-pausing, star-colliding, gift-wrapped moments as simple coincidences doesn’t feed my soul, it just kills my hope and reinforces my loneliness. I’m learning to reset the balance between mind and soul and pay attention when my soul recognizes something. I’m learning that in order to fully become who I was designed to be, I must find the balance between self-preservation and soul-liberation.
Back to the song. The song is called “This is what it feels like” by Armin Van Buuren (feat. Trevor Guthrie). I don’t even recognize their names as I type them out. Here are the lyrics that spoke to my soul in that moment… (click the link to listen to the song on YouTube: this is what it feels like )
I am fully aware that this song might not move you or even impact you. After all that lead in, you might even be thinking, “That’s it?” But the cool thing is that it’s okay. It was for me. It was a song played for me by Someone my soul recognizes. It was an old song that queued up on my playlist from ages ago to meet my deep need to be seen. It was a conduit for the tears that needed to flow. It was a message of Love so perfect and so private, planned and delivered just for me to facilitate just a little more healing. I have a few more of these special gifts that I haven’t shared in the blog. I’ve kept them tucked away and may write about them one day… like the leopard butterfly who followed me along the Camino trail to keep me company, or the bunnies that appeared on the runway as my plane was taking off for places unknown, or the name of the detective that helped me save someone’s life, or the out of state license plate that appeared on a car in front of me while I was contemplating one of the scariest decisions of 2015. All signs that my soul recognized and my mind tried to explain away. All gifts presented to me privately and perfectly when I felt so very alone. All messages of Love that crossed the unseen boundary to blow my mind and bless my soul. Maybe one day, I’ll write about those too.
Sometimes, I feel embarrassed sharing these thoughts. Not because they aren’t real or because I fear you won’t believe me. I feel embarrassed at my inability to share them adequately, to do them justice, to describe them as beautifully as they deserve. I hope somehow the veil lifts when you read these words and your soul recognizes what it’s meant to see. That’s all. That’s what I hope for.
It’s Just Me…
The blog, It’s Just Me, is written by Holly Chamberlain who makes her living as a sales manager but who makes her life by working with teenagers, teachers, and parents to redefine the criteria for self-harm and suicide. She is the Founder of the aMasongrace project and shares these core messages with students to help build resilience, offer hope, and improve self-esteem: Moments Pass, Please Stay, & You Matter. To subscribe to the blog, please visit the website and enter your email address, www.aMasongraceproject.com. Follow the aMasongrace project on Twitter and Instagram @aMgYouMatter. To invite the aMasongrace project to speak at a youth group or school, please contact Holly via aMasongraceproject@gmail.com.