Monday, November 21, 2011


Over you! Cry-yyy-yyy-yyy-ing, over you! (Remember that song?)

I guess I have had problems with emotions overtaking me, always. One of those is anger, and I still struggle with it. It's easier to see this quality (more like weakness) in others, like my son tonight when he lost some essential college paperwork and was storming around his room, tossing things around. (He got accepted to A&M and UT! We knew he would, but it's still exciting.)

Emotions can be so powerful. Sometimes, I have the experience of being an emotional barometer for others. I can sense the mood in a room or a group of people, and it's a natural tendency for me to pick up those emotions, like a chameleon, and put them on. Does this sound familiar? Someone else is angry, so you are too. Everyone's upset -- including you. People are crying, and you feel like crying, too.

This is a universal human tendency, to be influenced by the emotions of others. I think that Type 4's (on the Enneagram) can have this ability in a more pronounced way.

Recently, I was driving home and passed a serious auto accident that was causing a huge traffic jam on the other side of the highway. There were lots of emergency vehicles, mostly fire trucks, and I could see at least one vehicle that had been badly damaged. As I approached the accident, I felt sadness wash over me, and spontaneously started crying. (Praying, too.)

This evening while taking my 12 minutes of meditation, another wave of sadness crashed over me. Extreme sorrow -- the kind that temporarily locks up breathing in its intensity, then releases. I experienced it just for a short time, and then it passed and I was at peace again.

Both these times, it felt as though the emotion was originating outside of me and passing through me. Of course, this would be a delightful fantasy for any particularly melodramatic person -- these tears, they aren't self-indulgent at all! They are expressing the great pathos of our existence, the endless sorrow that is out in the world, and serving a noble purpose.

It's hard to tell the nature and quality of tears. Dorothy Parker wrote a short story that is seared like a brand in my memory, because it described one of my lifelong habits. The protagonist of the story would read about all the terrible things happening to the poor, the oppressed, and children around the world, and she would just sit and cry so hard about all these things. That's all she ever did -- have a good cry about it all. Anyhow, I was just looking online to try to find the story I remember, without success.

I've gone through stages where I banished crying. The tears seemed completely selfish and, more importantly, useless too -- just didn't help matters at all that I could see.

But the reality is, life holds an ocean of tears. Just to dip a toe in that ocean is all I can manage, because it would be all too easy to be submerged and not come up for air ever again. How else could anyone respond, but to share the tears?

A newer quality that I have enjoyed is being overcome, completely bowled over, by joy. You're not supposed to label emotions as good or bad-- they all arise, they all have the same amount of validity (this is my friend Karen's advice) -- but some are definitely more fun than others!

The most important lesson I've learned is that being gripped by emotion does not require any accompanying action -- none at all! Wise indeed is the person who can let the emotion arise, and observe it and its causes without doing anything, at least at that moment.

In fact, a strong emotion of any kind is a warning to pause, take a deep breath, and not make any hasty decisions. Don't hit the send key, if texting or emailing! And please, please don't vent on Facebook for hundreds of "friends" to see. (It's one thing for young people to lay it all on the line on their Facebook status. This is their socially safe place to express themselves. But adults? "Discretion is the better part of valor," or some such.)

By the way ... check out the newest blog I'm following, "The Happiness Project." One thing I love about this blogger is that she posts often! (Note to self ...)

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