Sitting in the Quiet, Allowing Emotions
John Michael’s newest Life Is a Sweet, Tender Bruise column, “Sitting in the Quiet, Allowing Emotions,” talks about embracing emotions rather than distracting from them.
I always feel like I should be doing something, and I feel guilty when I’m not. This idea has kept me in motion perhaps more than I want to be. Our society rewards “doers” and “accomplishments” and this is perhaps what drives me, drives us. However, there are rewards in doing nothing, internal as they are.
I’ve spent a couple of days over the last week or so doing nothing. Literally, just sitting in my chair, falling asleep, waking up, and just sitting there, going to the bathroom, back to the chair, falling asleep, and waking up, just sitting there.
I skipped a camping trip to an area I love, to do this nothing. But I have been very active this summer so far and needed the down time. It was a little hard because some friends tried to guilt me into going. No judgment from me, guilt-inducing statements are an American tradition and one I indulge on occasion, until I realize what I’m doing. I’m proud, actually, I was able to stick with my “no.”
Live quietly is a thought I sometimes have and the quiet feels delicious in the mind and in the body. When I say “quiet,” I mean being aware of the presence of God. God is always present, but because our minds and emotions jump from worry to worry, most of us are rarely aware of God’s presence. The Saints would tell us that we are that presence, and I’ve experienced myself enough as that presence to know they are right. Many Buddhist traditions say that securing this presence, what they call awareness or enlightenment, should be a person’s only goal.
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Sometimes I approach the quiet and then distract myself with doing and noise, maybe because I don’t think I deserve it or I’m afraid of where it might lead. Other times, buried emotions will arise in the form of panic or rage and I spend a week or two processing them outside the quiet. Other times, this presence overtakes me, in a coffee shop, when I’m dancing or driving. And when I’m in it, I’m blissful.
I’ve been hyper-verbal, clever, and provocative much of my life. But those ways of interacting with the world are wearing thin. At the end of all this process, I may even be a laconic person, which would be highly ironic considering how I’ve spent most of my life in a verbal fest.
There is a parable in the Bible of the Sower who sows seeds in many different areas; but only those who find good soil, grow to maturation. Those in rocky soil, with too much sun, surrounded by weeds, die off. Christ says it is a metaphor for God’s word and of those that receive God’s word. I was listening to a modern guru, Mooji, and he made the point that all of these types of plantings, including the good soil and the rocky, can happen within one person in a lifetime.
Reflecting on that, I realize that has been my case. I remember several deeply spiritual phases of my life only to find myself falling back into anxiety and the hard soil of my emotions for years at a time. I feel like the word found fertile soil in me, my last year on the streets. I just knew that, although I still sleep away from the presence of God, it will never again be a long slumber.
“And no matter where I roam / I will find my way back home / I will always return to the Lord” —Van Morrison, “Full Force Gale,” Into the Music, 1979
I was down at the Alibi sipping on some whiskey, throwing out clever quips to the right and the left, waiting for my turn at the karaoke mic, when I had the thought, I’m a serious person. I have noticed I’ve been getting a little frustrated with my constant quips and jokes, like the clothes aren’t fitting as well as they used to.
As I was having my I’m a serious person moment, the barback had the bar gun in her hand. Depending on what button you push, determines what beverage comes out. They can be programmed for a lot of different drinks. Anyway, the barback asks the bartender, “What’s Dr. Pepper?” Meaning, What number do I push to make Dr. Pepper spring from this all-powerful gun? When she said, “What’s Dr. Pepper?” I deadpanned, “It’s a soft drink.” Which I consider a great line and it did get some laughs.
The problem is my mind looks for lines like this in literally every conversation I’m in. I think the intention is good; distract others from their pain and me from my own. I noticed when someone is having a rough moment in a public situation, which happens in bars a lot, I can ramp up the funny. But me being constantly “on” allows for little serious conversation.
Lately, a different approach is developing. I noticed when I’m driving someone around who is having a rough moment, instead of trying to distract them with humor or talk them out of it, I’m just letting them feel the mood and move into God’s silence and presence as deeply as I can.
Lately, a different approach is developing. I noticed when I’m driving someone around who is having a rough moment, instead of trying to distract them with humor or talk them out of it, I’m just letting them feel the mood and move into God’s silence and presence as deeply as I can. When you get comfortable with and allow your emotions, whatever they may be, you soon find that when other people are sad or angry or jealous, you allow them these things, without it triggering your own discomfort.
Distracting from pain doesn’t heal it; feeling pain heals it. I think, over time, my merging quiet approach will make for more intimate friendships as others realize I allow them whatever mood they are in.
James, in his Gospel, tells us the word of God is implanted in us all. So, I’m using the silence to nurture that seed within myself and within others.