Maia Toll
What if you could feel what you feel… guilt free?

You could savor anger, lick up loneliness, and relish frustration. Roll it in your mouth and caress it with your tongue. What if you knew that tears cleanse the palette and bitter fuels the fire? What if no one ever again smiled and sweetly told you you’re “so sensitive”?

If you’re an emotional being, an out of the box thinker, or (oh, dear) both, people have probably tried to convince you that thoughts or feelings that weren’t sunshine and buttercups were not only character flaws, but a slap-down to the whole hierarchy of happiness. And we all want happiness, right?

After decades of being chastised by members of the Only-See-the-Light Brigade, you become like a Big Mac: lots of artery blocking fake cheesiness (and a healthy dose of genetically engineered meat) squished between two innocuous looking buns. You wear those buns on the outside so when you’re at a wedding and introduced to the groom’s sister’s best friend (whose perfect bob doesn’t seem to move an inch. Does anyone still use hair spray?) who corners you with “hysterical” stories about her seven year old twins, you can fake laugh while surreptitiously scanning the room for drunken waiters about to stumble into the wedding cake or senile great aunts who need to be escorted to the bathroom. You become Olympic caliber at faking it in social situations. Which actually isn’t so terrible. 

Sometimes we need a brave face until we feel brave or a smile until we're in a safe space to work through our sorrows and fears. Click To Tweet

And sometimes we need to suck it up and look at pictures of two kids we’ve never met, will never meet, and, if we’re being honest, couldn’t care less about.

The emotional suicide isn’t in the fakery (though some will tell you it is). The emotional suicide comes later. It comes when you berate yourself for not feeling what you think you’re supposed to feel whether it’s the joy of being at a wedding or actual interest in a stranger’s kids. When you tell your psyche it’s wrong or bad or flawed for not seeing every person and situation surrounded in pink light and dancing puppies. When you alter the truth of your experience to match the expectations of the people around you and jerry-rig your own emotions if no one else around you appears to be feeling the same thing.

(Appearances can be deceiving.)

News flash? Everybody (except maybe the Dalai Lama and a shaman I hung out with in Peru) has emotional baggage: hungry ghosts waiting to be acknowledged. When you expose yours, the people around you suddenly feel their own rage, or insecurity, or sorrow, or envy. Your emotions remind them of what they’ve stuffed down, what they think they’re not supposed to feel. So they ask you, through word or gesture or by making their face look like granite, to just give them the Big Mac, thank you very much, no need for real food here.

But here’s the truth:

There is no light without shadow,
No day without night,
No true joy without acknowledging the reality of what it took to get you there.

Any newborn baby knows this. It’s our very first lesson as we come screaming into this world, the birth canal mashing your face and smashing your bones so in your first out-of-the-womb appearance, you sport a pointy Star Trek head and a shih tzu nose.

But what if…

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
                                    — Mary Oliver (1935-2019), Wild Geese

I’ve lingered on these words for years You do not have to be good… You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.

You can feel your own feelings. You can relish being an emotional being. How much freedom is there in that simplicity?

Having permission to feel lets the emotions come and go, washing through you instead of sticking around becoming hungry ghosts demanding to be heard.

Give yourself permission. Savor your anger and caress it with your tongue. Taste everything: joy, longing, love, frustration, even despair and loneliness. Allow your feelings to nourish you, to remind you of the magic of being alive. Let them wash through you like water, leaving no ghost behind.

And if you don’t feel much while delivering a Big Mac to a stranger at a wedding, allow that to be okay.