I pick a Tarot card every day for guidance and inspiration. One day last week, I picked The Sun from my go-to deck, the Hanson-Roberts. It’s a lovely card–naked baby on a horse riding under a huge sun and bright blue skies. I wanted so much to feel that warmth, the happiness, the smiley, innocent joy. But there was competing feeling that morning—grumpiness—that, unfortunately, won out. And the more I tried to embody the happy, optimistic vibes of my card for the day, the grumpier I became.
I took another look at that Sun Card … and felt like it was judging me.
We Are a World of Immediate Gratification—with a Demand for Immediate Fixes
Suns and smiles are wonderful, and of course we all want to be happy. But when there is a rising pressure to be happy, to be and think positive—all the time–one can easily become exhausted. All-pervasive shiny, glowing social media posts may shoulder a good deal of the blame, but maybe they’re just the symptom of an underlying problem: our dependence on immediate gratification.
We have become a world of the “give it to me fast”—with a demand for immediate fixes. As Amanda Montell says in her wonderful article A Psychologist Explains the Trouble with Positive Thinking, “At the first sign of sadness, our impulse is to suppress it, medicate it, or feign positivity.”
That is sooooo not the solution, but I have to admit, I’ve been guilty of “suppressing and feigning” myself. Have you?
We Hunger for Immediate Relief
Hard feelings are hard! Of course, we’d want to push them away and opt for the sunnier sides—ASAP. When we don’t like the way we’re feeling, we want that feeling gone—pronto! We hunger for immediate relief.
“As a society, we have become increasingly intolerant of negative feelings,” says psychiatrist Samantha Boardman (in that same article), and, worse, our focus on thinking positive “makes it seem that a person’s happiness is completely in their control,” according to Dr. Peg O’Connor.
That’s where we cross a line into some nasty and dangerous territory. It’s easy to see how this type of destructive thinking can follow: If our happiness is totally under our control, then when we’re not happy, we must be doing something wrong—or maybe we ourselves are all wrong. Right?
“What Is” Today May Not Be What Will Be Tomorrow
We are complex beings with varied feeling—a full emotional realm. And all of our feelings need to be heard, even, embraced—all of them. This is nothing new for us on WomanPause. In the last post, Nicky Mendenhall talked about “touching fear” and how our feelings—even the feeling of fear—can’t hurt us. But ignoring our feelings, suppressing or fighting them, may cause us unnecessary harm.
Just last week, I had a coaching session with Sherry Danner. (She’s amazing—please see our interview.) My anxiety has been going through the roof lately, and she and I discovered that this was because I had been trying to push some deep, sad feelings away. Sherry suggested that I make space for those sad emotions, to accept what I was feeling and “what is” in my life.
“What is,” is not static. As we all know—but sometimes need to be reminded—change is the only constant, and “what is” today may not be “what will be” tomorrow.
Whether You Believe in God, Goddess, the Universe, Or the Random Nature of Events, We Will All Be Presented with Challenges
So, if we “sit with our sadness” are we giving up on happiness altogether? Of course not!
How do we find the balance? A great question!
Whether you believe in God, Goddess, the Universe, or the random nature of events, we will be presented with challenges in life—and with difficult feelings. Only once we accept them—as they are—can we grow from them.
We are all being challenged right now. Thankfully, though, the pandemic has brought to the mainstream a new perspective on mental health. More space has been created today for not feeling “okay.” Even if we have not personally lost anyone close, we have all experienced a loss of life as we knew it. One of the most common feelings brought on by loss is grief.
Our country, our world, is experiencing a collective state of grief. That’s heavy. And, unfortunately, grief cannot be turned off with a smile.
The Moments of Greatest Learning Came from Those Moments I Did Not Run from My Feelings
Whenever I encounter an extremely difficult situation, I try to remind myself to grow from the experience, to not let what I am going through become wasted pain. While I made many mistakes in those first months after his death, I began to realize that the moments of greatest learning came from those moments I did not run from my feelings. It was only then that I was able to face my fears—which were great and many—and take baby steps forward. It was only then that I was able to rebuild and find increasing joy and love in my life.
Taking a long walk outdoors, belting out your favorite songs (always better when singing into a hairbrush), or doing a quick–or longer–guided meditation (some of my favorites are those by Jon Kabat Zinn). All these can also help to shift a mood or perspective. You may also want to examine the feeling–even talk to it.
When you’re feeling a less-than-happy feeling, be it grief, anger, fear, it’s often helpful to ask the feeling where its coming from. Ask what the message is that the feeling is trying to communicate. What is it offering to teach you and how can you best learn its lesson?
AND ALWAYS be gentle with yourself in this examination. We are most often our own most critical judge.
None of Us Needs to Do This Alone
Lastly, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Asking for help is not a weakness! We should all know this by now, but for some reason, we too often forget—at least I do. Reach out to others, and if your feelings ever feel just too big or unmanageable, call a professional who can provide guidance. I know I have and will be eternally grateful for the support I received.
(I’m also grateful for celebrities who talk publicly about their own mental health journeys. They do the world a great service. I’m thinking today of when Michael Phelps first spoke out about his own painful experiences with depression and suicidal thoughts. His “It’s OK to not be OK” campaign provides a vital message that has given so many the courage to reach out.)
None of us needs to do this alone. Just as we are built to feel all of our feelings, we are also at our best when we share.
So … back to The Sun. I’ve realized the card wasn’t judging me after all. Maybe I needed to pull The Sun card that “cloudy” day to remind me I wouldn’t be grumpy forever. Sunshine would still be available for me, whenever I was ready to embrace it.
When have you pushed away painful feelings? When have you mustered the courage to sit with them? What have you learned?
As always, I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment or send me an email.
See you March 15th!