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In the Bullring of Feelings

bullfightmorgue“It is not the same thing to talk of bulls as to be in the bullring.” -Spanish Proverb


The gap between the genuine visceral experience of feeling and the more common mental masturbating we do to distance ourselves from our feelings is everything when it comes to healing and growing up. We know our feelings most clearly in the mess of them. Their expression creates indelible memories, whether the breakdown belongs to us or someone else, which explains why I have so much empathy for any mother dealing with a screaming child in a grocery store. We know our raw emotions in the mess of the moments they flow through and out of us. Sobbing, laughing, even vomiting our emotional highs and lows are the true visceral markers that leave us cleansed and emptied of the power and intensity of feeling.

I have been reminded of this abyss between feeling and over thinking feelings of late as my growing children circle back to me when they get stuck in the middle. At first they are indignant when I tell them; it doesn’t matter about the small story details that sent them spiraling.  Unresolved emotions have millions of triggers, which explains why it takes so long to get over someone you once loved deeply. The words “I am over her or him…” are always premature to the real work of the feeling body. Mentally preparing for loss as I have been for the empty nesting phase of life soon upon me does little for the powerful loss and empty space that rattles inside of me as much as it rings in my big empty house. Moving towards real feeling is the most vulnerable slide we can take towards true healing. It is so vulnerable in fact, that many of us can’t even remember how to get there. I remind my son of when we were last together and he tapped the deep sadness inside; tears flowed.

It’s way easier to just talk about feelings- so much easier that many of us are consumed with the stories of betrayal, disappointment, neglect or abandonment that are repeated so frequently they become part of our identity. All of this does nothing for us in terms of healing. Arguably, it is this mental perseveration about our feelings that keeps them stuck inside of us. The more mental attention we give our feelings without having the courage to physically experience them, the more sticky and dense is their existence inside of us. Our relentless dialogue about our feelings is a hollow shell of retreat that often sounds like blame and resentment. There is no release from this cave; the feelings haunt us, our emotional ghosts that keep us feeling separate.

And yet, going back to one of the moments we can all easily find, where our feelings got the better of us and we fell head first into a crying, sobbing tantrum or an uncontrollable fit of laughing until we cried, is a peace that fills up the space of spent emotion. I have vivid memories of being a young woman and being terrified of experiencing the feelings of loss and abandonment from my violent childhood. I was sure that they were so huge that they would swallow me up whole. Each time I would let go and feel (even things that had been stored up for years), I was amazed how even after 15 minutes, the storm would pass. Even the fiercest of my fearful memories had no more teeth after that. There is an odd kind of gratitude that grows in a heart that has the courage to feel. It is not unlike the gratitude one feels after a strenuous workout. Exhausted and spent, but also stronger and more confident, opening up to the raw and wild experience of feeling is weight lifting for the heart. It is how our heart muscles flex and open to their most important work of keeping us connected to ourselves.

Admittedly, it is also counter-intuitive to dive into the messiest and most out of control aspects of being human. Who doesn’t prefer the tidiness of standing by the side of the bullring with our hair neatly tucked into our hat? Maybe our fascination with the toreador is the massive heart of courage he projects, facing the bull and the full weight of his emotions with only a cape for protection. Be grateful for your ability to feel, it is where healing occurs.