I knew the cookie jar was hefty long before my father launched it in a fit of anger, missing my brother’s obstinate teenage mouth by less than a foot.
It left a dent in the wall before it found its way back to the kitchen counter where, from that day on, it reminded us, metaphorically, that while emotions can be powerful and scary, within them are tasty treats: the cookies of fear, anger, joy, sadness and elation—proceeds of a life fully lived.
Emotions aren’t what we think they are…because they have little to do with thinking. They are where thinking and feeling meet to work out their differences. Sometimes they do so loudly, other times with sweet tears or great fears—but always with free, untethered self expression.
Emotions scared my dad, like they do many of us. They reminded him that he wasn’t in control. I can only remember two angry outbursts from my father. The cookie jar was one of them.
My dad seldom expressed any emotions, which, looking back, seems like an opportunity missed. But like many of us he preferred thinking to feeling, and withholding to expressing. He knew that his emotions were outside of his control and led to a wild place he preferred never to go.
He viewed emotions as bad, and being in control as good.
What exactly are emotions?
Emotions are an overlap between illusion and reality.
When we think we’re greater than the power of an emotion, that’s an illusion. Feeling the emotion feels like losing—but the emotion is reality. When we think we will live happily ever after, but encounter a rough patch, divorce or difficulty, we settle the difference between what is and what we imagined with emotion.
Emotions, all of them, no matter how good or bad, offer release and then relief. They make life livable. Without them we ignore too much and feel too little. At their best, emotions tickle us, reminding us how happy we can be, at their worst they scare the living daylights out of us and trigger us to act horribly. But always, they serve this act of balancing what is and what might have been.
What emotions aren’t.
Emotions aren’t good or bad, they aren’t thoughts, but they aren’t feelings either. They are the how thoughts and feelings learn to cooperate: where mind and body come together. They are the playground between illusion and reality. They are both real and not real, they are the essence of full self expression.
Facts about emotions.
We are always emotional. Even my dad who seldom showed it. Sometimes our emotions get into our attention, other times they are behind the scenes performing an ongoing balancing act—making possible the consistent exterior, everyday life we depend upon to prove we are okay, one of the gang, and sane.
Emotions are always an inside job. And while it may appear that some external event triggered or caused an emotion—that emotion was already taking place inside of us. We justify our emotions with far-fetched stories about what caused them. “You made me angry,” we suggest, when it is much closer to true that whatever you did justified a preexistent anger. It is often easier to project the cause of emotions outside of ourselves than admitting that they are aspects of us. But growing up, and wising up has a lot to do with taking personal responsibility for our own outbursts, sensations and presence/absence.
Reclaiming our power.
Immaturity blames others for emotions we feel. And, at the same time, surrenders personal power to others, situations and events. To reclaim our power we need to feel our emotions from the inside out: invite anger, sadness and fear in for tea and crumpets.
Getting to know ourselves includes embracing our emotionality and every emotion no matter how lofty or horrible.
Emotions don’t mean anything. Because we are angry doesn’t mean we need to throw something or smack someone. Sure, that might be our first response, but we might just as easily, when angry, hug or laugh or write a sonnet or make french toast for someone we usually love but hate at the moment.
The wholeness of emotions.
Emotions are whole and complete. They don’t indicate a specific action to take—and getting comfortable with them provides an intriguing flexibility that mirrors reality. Being present to emotions has us be unpredictable and interesting to both ourselves and others.
Emotions have already done their job, balancing out illusion and reality, by the time we notice them. If we imagine we need to act on them, that is drama. And drama isn’t about balancing, it is play acting, pretending and posing.
While it may be terribly tempting to throw something when you get upset, it is much more beneficial to experience your emotions. Emotions are one ongoing expression of who we are. They contribute to our wholeness, grace and presence.
Living a full life is living a life full of emotions: all emotions.
Author: Jerry Stocking
Editor: Travis May