Dealing with Emotions

When there is nothing left to feel, all that remains is peace. Last night I had the best sleep I’ve had in a long time. I normally sleep well needing an average of about 9hrs per night to feel rested, but this morning I woke up punching the air with energy after only 6½ hrs. That’s because yesterday I finally found a way to express something I’d been holding in for months.

Sunset2

I have learned from an early age that my emotions are inappropriate. No-one intended to teach me this lesson. It just happened. Every time I reacted differently to the others around me I received subtle disapproving looks and I therefore became really good at suppressing my impulses. I actually suspect that my natural ability in this area is precisely because of being on the spectrum (and being much more cerebral than most). Ironically it is my extraordinary ability to decide if and when I allow my feelings through that can lead to such unhealthy emotional habits.

When there is nothing left to feel, all that remains is peace. This is a lesson I’ve been learning a lot recently. It can be so tempting to try and avoid strong negative emotions: feelings of sadness or loneliness, of depression or anxiety, anger, fear, frustration. No-one wants to feel that way, and for better or worse, I have the ability to use my brain to change that.

Sometimes my thoughts end up going round in circles, raging at the injustice of a particular situation and leaving me feeling angry and powerless for example. When this happens I simply break the cycle and think about something else.  If ever I feel my stomach churn or my chest tighten, I take a few deep breaths to calm down, using my physiology to change how I feel. Similarly, if I am ever feeling sad or lonely I put in my headphones, pump out some energetic metal music, go for an invigorating walk, and come back bouncing off the walls.

These are great strategies, and very effective, but all they really do is serve as a temporary distraction. They help me go about my day and keep me in the zone of a functioning human being, but when the dust settles the feeling will return.

When there is nothing left to feel all that remains is peace. Emotions cannot be ignored forever. They have a purpose. They exist to serve one function. They have an important message and they will not rest until it is heard. However, emotions don’t have words because the limbic brain (emotion centre) evolved before words. This means that to receive the message the emotions must be felt.

I am reminded of some fascinating stories from academic research on how children naturally process emotional trauma. (Some are described in the book Emotional Intelligence, by Daniel Goleman.) Essentially, the children played games where the traumatic event (in this case a school shooting) was re-lived again and again.

It seems so counter-intuitive, but once the message has been heard, once the feeling has been adequately felt, there is nothing left to feel. Its mission has been accomplished and it kind of just evaporates. And what is left behind when there is nothing left to feel? (No points for guessing!) Peace! Nothing but a deep sense of exhausted peace! It’s actually blissful. It is the kind of feeling where there is no place I’d rather be, and absolutely nothing in the world I’d rather be doing. Everything is perfect. Everything is right with the world. There is nothing I need to do… because there is nothing left to feel.

So often these days people search for happiness. But happiness is an emotion. It comes and goes. It seems pretty clear to me that if we want to be ‘happy’ we need to seek peace. Many spiritual traditions speak about ‘inner peace’ and my life attests to this ancient wisdom. When there is nothing left to feel, all that remains is peace.

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