Friday, December 24, 2010

bring da funk

I've been a bit down and disconnected the past few days. It will help if I reduce my computer and coffee intakes, so that's helpful. It's also a natural cycle that will swing back with time.

Years and years ago, one way I tried to make sense of the world was through simulation: imagining, in detail, what an experience would be like. The sensory details were obviously incomplete or wrong, but the goal was more to create the experience for myself and see how I reacted, to gauge how I would react if it actually happened. While I would never recommend this as anything more than a guide, I am surprisingly good at this--I have a good imagination and I know myself well. I've found I'm pretty good at predicting my emotional response to events.

(If you're wondering how this works, it's simple: we have emotional reactions to stuff in our imaginations all the time. Just think back to something that made you really angry, however long ago. Really bite down on it. Remember how angry you felt and why. Your heart beats faster, your blood pressure rises--but nothing real is actually happening. You're getting angry at a memory.)

One thing that came up, as a boy watching boy-type movies, was: "What happens if I ever need to shoot somebody?". This is something I don't want to do, I'm very much against me or anyone else doing it, and yet, there are circumstances where that's the appropriate thing to do. In thinking about it, I realized that we can set our feelings aside sometimes in order to do what's necessary. That's what courage is: for some reason I'm afraid to do this thing, but it needs doing, so I'm going to set my fear aside and do it. We can do that with anything in our minds: thoughts, emotions, beliefs, morals. It's not uncommon to do it unconsciously; doing it on purpose is rarer.

The further thing I noticed is that there's a price to pay when we do that. We have to engage and process all our feelings eventually, in some form or another, and if we don't do it in the moment, we'll end up doing it later, and it'll probably be harder. One of the many functions of Zen practice is to understand the dynamics of those moments and their consequences, so we can make a better decision about what to do in the moment, and hopefully process the aftermath a bit more smoothly.

As you probably noticed from reading the blog, teaching in Chile brought up a lot of emotions for me: memories of my own bad school experiences, anxieties about managing a classroom for the first time (in the chaos of the Chilean system, no less). There was also a lot of basic friction over doing something so contrary to my temperament, which, if you didn't know, absolutely does not involve my primary responsibility being to talk to people all day.

I set all that aside, though, because I went there to teach, and however I felt about it, holy crap, it's 10:03 and here comes a class full of students who need me to be a teacher. And then outside of teaching, I didn't really have a safe space to process those reactions: without someone like Anna there to really listen and provide that space, everything was negotiation, a mediated and careful interaction. Without aikido, and without being able to choose my food, my body awareness diminished, I got steadily less healthy, I couldn't maintain the kind of integrated self that I'm used to. I lost, to one degree or another, all the tools I use to experience and accept my emotions as they happen.

Now, though, I'm home, in my safe space, with all my tools, and this is what the processing looks like. The awesome hippie chiropractor helps me get my body back into alignment, which releases all sorts of muscles, which allows emotions to filter up. They're not tied to anything in particular: here's some sadness, here's some anger, here's some joy. They're left over, like when you eat too much food too fast, so everything isn't completely digested, and you get the flavors of the food when you burp later.

They'll pass. Everything does.

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