I think I had a feeling. I remember a guy saying that once. It was the third day of a week-long senior management seminar. About 20 of us were working on how our own feelings heavily influenced our effectiveness as leaders, and I wanted to improve my leadership skills. This guy announced from day one, that he never had any feelings, absolutely none, he said. He was an accountant. Then BAM, it happened on day three, the guy nearly screamed, “I THINK I HAD A FEELING.” A lot of laughter followed, he laughed along with the rest of us.
I’ve never had that problem, just the opposite; my feelings encase me like chocolate on a chocolate-covered raisin. Often, trying to understand exactly what I am feeling can trigger my panic button, and I feel like a tangled wad of monofilament fishing line. My mind loves to lie to me, lead me down the wrong trail, to think about sunshine when I need to be examining the clouds.
I would prefer to not own bad feelings. I’d rather blame them on others. This started in childhood when my buddy would tempt me into some painful enterprise. Like jumping my bike over a large log, and I would painfully holler, “Look what you made me do!”
Or a little later as a young man, a love interest would say stuff that infuriated me. My knee jerk reaction, “You make me so angry when you say stuff like that!” Now after a lot of years and a tiny bit of wisdom later, I know that I was probably experiencing fear when I felt angry, because being a southern male didn’t allow me to express fear. It was not masculine to be afraid, but anger is an accepted masculine feeling. So it was OK to be angry.
Dread, fear, sadness, depression, frustration, anxiety, anger, can get all mixed up in my mind; when I’m upset, I don’t know which of these I’m experiencing. It seems very important for me to be able to identify a bad feeling, as if identifying it will eliminate or minimize the pain. This does not work. Trying to name them is just a trick of my mind, because naming them is much safer than owning them. I do not want to own them but they do happen inside me, so where else can I place their ownership?
Well, how about my good feelings? I haven’t worried much about these, until recently. A few years back I could feel joy, exuberance, delight, love, wonder and it didn’t matter. I was feeling good; I was enjoying myself, having fun. But, was I denying ownership of good feelings as well as bad ones? Probably, sometimes I get a nagging feeling of guilt when I perceive that I have more than my share of good fortune. As if I haven’t done anything to deserve an abundance of joy.
Here I am today, tiptoeing around (hoping not to be seen) in the middle of my seventh decade and a strange thing is beginning to happen to my already confused, understanding of feelings. I feel intense joy and deep sadness simultaneously. Dang!
I am filled with the warmth of joy as I watch the sun set across the mountains, or a grandchild at play. At that same moment, I experience some sadness; the joy and pain are present together. I probably will not live long enough to see that granddaughter achieve full adulthood, and how many more sunsets do I have? Ironically this is in some way liberating. These polar opposites lose their power over me; they seem to neutralize each other. I cry a little, and I laugh a little, it’s really OK.
So after being around this old planet for 70-plus years, do I have a clear understanding of my emotions? Well, almost all of them, but probably not all the time. But some of the time I do, maybe. At least I think so.
Rod Hunter lives in East Bend and is an avid hiker, biker, photographer and nature lover. He is the past state chairman of the Sierra Club of NC. He volunteers as a court appointed children’s advocate for children in foster care and with Cancer Services Inc. He is a two-time cancer survivor. He has backpacked in Alaska, Arizona, California, Utah, Oregon, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Georgia, Virginia, and of course North Carolina.