I have a confession. Every time I take a flight, as we’re taking off I make peace with my life. I think about how grateful I am for the beautiful, fortunate journey I’ve taken thus far and I think about how much I love and appreciate those who have earned my confidence. I suppose it’s the equivalent of a little prayer of thanks because you just never know what might happen. I am not fearful of flying but, like most people my age, I’ve seen my fair share of air disasters. LOST remains one of my favorite tv series ever, so I am acutely aware of airplane crashes. Even with all the uneventful air travel I’ve enjoyed, the thought of plummeting from 30k feet crosses my mind. Call it fatalistic. Call it macabre. Just don’t let anyone say of me that I was ungrateful for this life or that I was unaware my life, like all lives, had an expiration date.
This morning as our flight was taxiing out of PDX, I did my usual rundown and rehashing and the tears clouded my eyes as they always do when I think about my life and loves. And as I was flooded with the gratitude of a full heart, I reflected on how emotion adverse we humans are. We don’t want to be sad or lonely or frustrated or ashamed and we will do almost anything to avoid feeling uncomfortable. We seek only positive, happy, or joyful experiences. In the absence of those feelings, we will settle for zero feeling because neutral is better than pain. This is why we numb ourselves with all the usual vices, alcohol, drugs, busyness, food, gambling, video games, whatever it takes to move us to a place where we can forget our emotions.
There is something, though, to the exhortation of therapists to feel your feelings. Our emotions are what give our lives life. They comprise the sum total of the human experience. Barring any mental hardwiring that makes experiencing darker emotions unbearable, feeling our feelings is the most important thing we can do to live our lives fully and completely. Is it easy? No. It isn’t. But feelings are the only constant in life. The goosebumps you get when your favorite song comes on the radio, the rapid beating of your heart with anxiety before a presentation, the tears that fall when you lose someone or something precious, the butterflies in your stomach when you realize the person you like likes you back, they are everything.
I’ve long been impressed by Buddhists who shun alcohol and drugs because they alter our ability to stay aware and present. It takes courage to live with ourselves 100% of the time because we are not always likable and our actions are not always honorable. Numbing makes the most horrifying parts of our life travels palatable. Choosing not to numb means we must suffer. We must sit with our darkness and our light. We must feel. I honor Buddhists (and any other individual or group) who choose to say yes to all of life. I’d like to say I could be that brave throughout my entire human experience, but I am not a Sith and am therefore unable to deal in absolutes. I like to keep all options on the table. Still, though, I think their path is probably the most honest way to experience life.
So, I take my therapist’s advice and feel my feelings as much and as often as possible. The anxiety, the heartbreak, the love, the anger, the boredom, the joy, the stress, the fear, it’s all necessary. So if you see my eyes tear up when I am sitting on a flight about to take off (or at any other time, really), no need to ask me it everything is all right. It is. I’m just feeling my feelings, grateful for the opportunity to do so.