Untangling Emotions

When I pay attention, I notice that it can be difficult to really identify what I’m feeling. I think most of us react quickly when we perceive the beginnings of an unpleasant emotion. We shift our focus away and look for a distraction to avoid experiencing the discomfort.

This morning as I was browsing the wonderful, complicated world of Facebook, I came across a post about singer Joey Feek. It was a photo with caption about how Joey said goodbye to her young daughter (before she dies). When I saw it my eyes instantly welled up and I felt nauseous.

Without thinking, I quickly grabbed my nearby cell phone and started to scroll. It was a desperate effort to focus on something else – to make myself feel better.

And that’s how it happens.

We abandon negative emotions without barely noticing them, or naming them, attempting to run from our suffering.

So this morning when I caught myself, I paused. I put down my phone. I sat quietly and paid attention to what my body was experiencing. I asked myself what emotions were underlying.

Without a lot of effort, I recognized that the unpleasant feeling within me was a mixture of sadness and anxiety. The Joey Feek story touched on a deep fear of my own: that tragedy would strike and I’d be forced to say goodbye to my own children. It fills me with such heartache to imagine being taken from my kids, for my own sake and for theirs. Having lost a father myself at a young age, I know about the pain and grief of missing a loved one.

But there is nothing to protect against this (hopefully distant) possibility. We can only give up our stress over it to the reality that it’s out of our control.

In that moment I decided to sit patiently with my emotions. I observed the tightness in my chest and abdomen, the stinging in my eyes, the pressure in my brain. I watched as the wave of emotions swelled, and then I followed it calmly as it passed across the field of my mind.

My heart aches for Joey Feek, and my heart aches for her precious daughter. So today I honour them both by choosing to be present with my own children, to really appreciate them as we play together, as we talk, and as we cuddle.

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