Feeling the Feels

This is really messing with me. Feelings are foreign to me; at least feelings over which I don’t have some sort of control. The feelings I’m feeling right now do not fall into the “controlled” category.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going.
No feeling is final.

Rainer Maria Rilke

So I keep on going. I’m letting everything happen. It’s beautiful. It’s terrifying.

One of the greatest take-aways from my suicide attempt (there’s a phrase you don’t see every day), was learning the practice of mindfulness, or “being in the present”. So much of my life has been oriented around past regrets or future concerns, and it’s in both of those places that I inevitably find myself in places of profound sadness and paralyzing anxiety. Why in the world would I want to stay in those places?

But I did stay in those places. I do stay in those places. I do, you do, we do. It’s how we’re wired. Especially those of us wired to think too much. And I’m not calling for a halt to thinking (I think we’re seeing enough of that in the world to know that is NOT the answer), nor am I calling for feelings without thought. I’m calling for (or, rather, echoing the myriads who have been calling for) thinking and feeling in the NOW without tying it to past disappointments or future concerns.

This. Is. Not. Easy.

Most of us can’t do it on our own.

I have help:

  • I have a great therapist.
  • I have a fantastic wife who asks, “are you OK?” and “what would your therapist say?”
  • I have great friends who listen without judgment or suggestions.
  • I have a simple practice of “cleansing breaths” I can do anytime, anywhere.
  • I have phone apps like “Calm” and “Breethe” (the paid subscriptions are worth EVERY PENNY).
  • I have my time with Jesus.

I know some of you rolled your eyes at “time with Jesus” (I know my readership), but Jesus was a pro at mindfulness:

25 “Therefore, I say to you, don’t worry about your life, what you’ll eat or what you’ll drink, or about your body, what you’ll wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds in the sky. They don’t sow seed or harvest grain or gather crops into barns. Yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth much more than they are? 27 Who among you by worrying can add a single moment to your life? 28 And why do you worry about clothes? Notice how the lilies in the field grow. They don’t wear themselves out with work, and they don’t spin cloth. 29 But I say to you that even Solomon in all of his splendor wasn’t dressed like one of these. 30 If God dresses grass in the field so beautifully, even though it’s alive today and tomorrow it’s thrown into the furnace, won’t God do much more for you, you people of weak faith? 31 Therefore, don’t worry and say, ‘What are we going to eat?’ or ‘What are we going to drink?’ or ‘What are we going to wear?’ 32 Gentiles long for all these things. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 Instead, desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore, stop worrying about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:25-34 (boldface mine)

Yeah – he may have been on to something long before smartphone apps.

So, let me talk about my current feels. This may fall into the “too much information” category for some of you, in which case you have my permission to exit now with the generalized mindfulness knowledge you’ve gleaned so far. Have a great day!

For those of you still with me:

In case you aren’t a friend or regular reader, I’m gay. I’m also married to a woman, who is my best friend. I’ve known I was gay for probably 40 of my 52 years, although I lived in deep denial for at least half of that. My wife has known for 20 of our nearly 24 years of marriage, and some of our closest family and friends over the years have known because we’ve felt it was/is important for key relationships to “know” us as we truly are. Some people disagree with me on this point – “It’s nobody’s business but your own!” – we can agree to disagree. For me, it has been a sanity saver.

Then came June 2020 (hey, pandemic year, let’s throw some more weirdness up into the ether!). I decided it was time to stop being ashamed and stop worrying whether I/we would be rejected for living our truth out loud. So I “came out” fully to the world (this included coming out to my children, which was amazing – but that’s another story).

The feels were fantastic. Freedom from shame like I’ve never felt before. Permission to talk about feelings in ways I’d never felt the freedom to talk about before. Connections to new “communities” who affirmed and celebrated my decision.

I also started feeling things I hadn’t felt in forever (sometimes, quite literally, FOREVER). Long denied and repressed feelings of homosexual attraction and desire began to surface that I guess I foolishly thought would dissipate by being more “open” about myself. Looking back now, that was kind of dumb. I should have known pulling the cork would let things begin to flow.

Then the wheels fell off, and I stopped “being in the present”.

These new feelings of desire (which feel good; not gonna deny it) made me regretful of past choices, sad for the people whose lives I’d upended with those past choices, and sad for myself over lost experiences I might have otherwise had. I began to worry what these feelings might portend for my future. Is this the beginning of the end of my marriage? Was everyone who said we were kidding ourselves right? Is there a “non-binary” solution that lets life stay as it is while still welcoming in the new feelings? Man, did that mental journey suck.

Then, my mindfulness training kicked back in.

Feel it. But stay in the present. Don’t let the feelings dredge up regret or manufacture possible futures. And above all else – share the feelings with those who matter. If you’re married, that partner is there for a reason.

One morning, I wrote a poem about these new desires, “Fire and Ice“, and it scared the crap out of me. I knew I couldn’t post something with such raw emotion without first talking through it with my wife. And so, that’s what I did. Guess what – I didn’t die. The world didn’t end. We aren’t filing for divorce. We aren’t agreeing to have satisfying sexual partners “on the side”. We’re just sharing feelings. Being in the present. Letting everything happen to us.

Fear and worry evaporated almost instantly.

Is that the end of it? Of course not. I’m learning there is no “end of the road”; only more road ahead. But instead of looking down the road for what’s next or looking back over my shoulder at miles long gone, I’m looking around. Seeing, feeling, being where I am. Right here. Right now.

That’s enough for today. That’s enough for every day.

Tomorrow will worry about itself.

Jesus gets it.

“Go to the Limits of Your Longing”

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

Rainer Maria Rilke

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