Even the Good Stuff
Saturday, May 31, 2014 at 11:02AM
Elena Taurke in Feelings, Feelings, Happiness, Method

Sit with it, psychology supervisors would say in grad school.  She needs to sit with her sadness, guilt, dilemma, etc.  In practice, I learned that most clients interpret this as submitting to their inner attacker until it hurts a lot, really really enough, and then, having done their duty, getting back to what’s actually fun and lively.  Fortunately, as I sat in my own meditation, I was able to clarify the process and then guide clients through it.  Sitting with it means that we allow the connection between thoughts and feelings to dissolve.  When they stop reinforcing each other,  we are freed from repetitive loops and we can actually move on, not just push through.  

But here’s the thing:  When stuff feels awful, we work pretty hard at this.  We get good at identifying our inner critical introjects and naming them as thoughts and not obeying them and returning to our sensation and All That.  Because we want to feel better, right?  But then we do.  We feel better.  And then we’re done, we think.  No more pain.  I graduated.  But…  then… alas.   It slips away.   What happened to that good feeling?  

That’s the question in the air, along with the spring which has almost completed its brief, splendid display.   The other day, it seemed like every session was about what happens to the good stuff.  A brilliant artist, whom I shall call Lavinia, was describing the warm community she was establishing.  Many good things were happening: exhibits, connections, new projects.  But naturally there was also torment in the form of a boy.  The object of great passion, affection and appreciation, he was also cagey and possibly unavailable.  Asking about feelings is where I start and end almost everything, so I learned that she felt both longing and sadness.  It’s like a pendulum, she said, so I wondered how she got from one to the other.  Through anger, she said, gesturing toward the low end of the arc.  I wondered, then, how she got from desire and longing to anger?  It turned out that as soon as she felt desire, she would mentally anticipate rejection, which would trigger anger, which would (mentally) end the relationship, which would make her feel sad.  

Desiring something and not having it is a quintessential human experience, and certainly it makes us vulnerable, but it doesn’t have to bring us to our knees.  Mark Epstein writes eloquently about the importance of tolerating the gap.   I encouraged Lavinia to describe what she appreciated about the boy, and we enjoyed imagining his masculine texture and aesthetic.  The longer we stayed there, sat with it, the stronger she felt.   Think about it; since we can appreciate art, or a beautiful day or good food, why not appreciate a lovely boy whether or not we have him at the moment?   From there, we could see how the mind tried to protect her by leaving the field of pleasure and longing, and begin to prepare for rejection and then subtly, perhaps, influence events in that direction.  I am not suggesting we ask for bad stuff to happen, but on occasion the mind’s preference for certainty overrides desire, and we sacrifice what we want for the comfort of bitterness.  

Later that same day a brilliant academic, whom I shall call Olivia, had a really lousy experience, which she shared with a store clerk, which made her feel better but not forever.  It was an aside, really, the vignette about the clerk, but I asked her to develop it because of my earlier experience with the brilliant artist and her boy.  The more she talked about it the better she felt.  We lingered there just because, well, why not?  Why not enjoy the good stuff?   We are wired to be more alert to the scary and the bad so we can solve problems, but since so many things can’t be solved, chasing safety puts us on a tread mill.   Being able to sit with the good stuff gave Olivia a way practice savoring satisfaction.  Even the good stuff changes, she said.  Yup.  So let's practice taking it in before it's over.   Cheers! 

Article originally appeared on PsychoZen (http://www.psychozen.org/).
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