A couple months ago I read a book called “The Velvet Rage – Overcoming the Pain of Growing Up Gay in a Straight Man’s World”, by Alan Downs. It was one of those “life changers” for me.
Toward the end of the book, Dr. Downs has a chapter of various “Skills for Leading an Authentic Life”, which are not necessarily “gay life skills”, so anyone of any orientation could/should benefit from looking at these with me, unless you’ve already got it all figured out, in which case, “Well done, you!” For myself and the rest of us, I’m going to take one “skill” a day and blog about it. Some may be brief, some may be more protracted, who knows?
So, I’m not gonna lie.
There are more skills in this chapter than I feel like writing daily about. I bit off more than I care to chew, so I’m going to shortcut things a bit.
(Skill #20 – Live in Integrity. Boom.)
But that’s not the only reason I’m combining. As I’ve mentioned previously, a lot of these skills lean upon one another and are interdependent in order to “work right”. These 3 (4) skills are like that.
Here are the three I want to put into our psychological/behavioral mélange for today:
Walk your way out of distress.
When feeling uncomfortable emotions like sadness, fear, or anger, deliberately engage in a behavior that “changes the channel.” In these moments, arguing with yourself or trying to think your way back to serenity isn’t feasible – only engaging in behavior (i.e., contrary action) will make the difference.
No feeling lasts forever.
When life isn’t going as we expect and painful emotions are running high, we often tell ourselves that this feeling will last forever. Nothing could be further from the truth, as all feelings come and go, wax and wane, over time. Challenge your own thinking that because life isn’t pleasant, this unpleasantness is going to last forever. Nothing lasts forever.
We rarely, if ever, feel just one way about virtually anything in life. You and I are ambivalent creatures – we naturally have competing feelings. Allow yourself permission to hold competing feelings without denying or forcing feelings that are inconvenient or unpleasant for the sake of premature clarity.
I mean, you can pretty much read those in order,smoosh them together, and be done with it for today. But then you have to actually DO IT, which is, of course, why it is a SKILL and why it needs to PRACTICED.
I want to make just a COUPLE observations regarding each skill, show you a Disney clip, and leave you with a poem you’re probably sick of by now if you read me regularly (just give in and memorize it – come on). It’s probably going to read like a big ol’ jumble that I’m not going to be happy with.
Gonna hit publish anyway.
(Skill #20 – Live in Integrity. Boom.)
“Walk your way out of distress” can sound or look like avoidance if misunderstood or practiced poorly. It’s not about pretending distress isn’t there, it’s about CONTINUING TO MOVE FORWARD even as we are in distress. Yes,some of it is about shifting focus away from that which is distressing (some of us are unhealthy wallowers), but as we shift away, it’s not a denial of distress. We still FEEL THE FEELS, but as we do so, we keep moving.
“No feeling lasts forever” may sound like a minimization of what you are currently feeling. It’s not. Your current feeling, whatever it is, is valid. Feelings are ALWAYS valid. No one can tell you how to feel or that what you are feeling is “wrong”. But here is where it ties into the above skill: Feel the feels, but just keep moving, recognizing that what you are feeling right now IS NOT ETERNAL (even if it feels like it). The recognition to yourself that “this too will pass” and continued forward motion WILL have an emotional/psychological impact on you. Try it.
“Embrace ambivalence”. People often define ambivalence (incorrectly) as being in the middle and not really having a strong feeling about something one way or another. It’s actually way more intense that. The etymology of the word is a little sketchy, but I’m going with the Latin ambi (both ways) valentia (power). Rather than being in the middle and not having a preference one way or the other, you are in the middle being PULLED BY BOTH POWERS.
Oy. Been there? Of course you have. We have all been there. We all ARE there. Always. There are always “powers” pulling at us. And, unfortunately, it’s rarely as easy as a pull between “good” and “bad” or “right” and “wrong”, like the little angel and devil sitting on Fred Flintstone’s shoulders. It’s often a pull between “right” and “also right” or “bad” but “also bad” as the other option. Or we could go crazy with it: what’s bad for me may not be bad for someone else. Sometimes the “powers” that pull are not clear cut. Let’s throw in another “ambi” word” – ambiguous. LIterally translated, “to drive both ways”. I say we put both words together for this skill: Embrace the ambiguity of ambivalence. Life ain’t easy. Choices are hard. Some decisions will make some people happy while making others unhappy. Some decisions will make you happy while also meaning it will cost you something.
Allow yourself permission to hold competing feelings without denying or forcing feelings that are inconvenient or unpleasant for the sake of premature clarity.
Just. Keep. Swimming.
And now, for a complete jarring of your system,
Feel the feels, and
Go To the Limits of Your Longing…
Feeling lots of feelings?
Go to the Limits of Your Longing
Written by Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated and read by Joanna MacyListen
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.
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.
Book of Hours, I 59