Your Birthright. And Mandate. (Thoughts on Emotional Literacy)

I was a teenager once and trust me I was no peach.

I understood two emotional states. The first being the absence of emotion, as in some monotone neutral state. The second being anger. I was angry when someone tried to extend love and angry when someone didn’t. I was angry when someone made a mistake effecting me and I was angry when they apologized.  Otherwise I was dull, keeping all my thoughts and feelings trapped inside. I never smiled. God forbid a smile crossed my face indicating a hint of happiness.

The only ways I understood how to express my anger was through explosion or implosion. Now, I never pulled a knife, physically abused or threatened harm. But I lashed out. I yelled. And when I say yell I mean screaming banshee yelling. The kind of yelling and slamming doors that would make you call the cops.  But the yelling was a reprieve from the lashing in at myself. My chosen knife were the two fingers I stuck down my throat daily, sharpened by my stone-cold willpower to shut out family and friends and experiences.

I did not just grow up and out of this.

I learned other emotional options (like happiness, sadness, etc) as I matured, but frankly it wasn’t until my late twenties that I actually truly developed the capacity of emotional literacy.  I am still learning this. Emotional understanding seems to be forever evolving. Though I do believe we can learn the foundation well. At least I have that, even though I am still becoming. We do not one day understand how our emotions work and how to best express ourselves. The expression of our emotional repertoire is a practice. If yoga helps us to stretch and expand our bodies then there must be ways to stretch and expand our capacity for emotional expression.

By emotional literacy I mean the capacity to identify, experience, and express emotions productively in oneself as well as seeing that and withstanding that in others.

I will never forget the argument I had with my husband several years ago where he shook his head and said to me clearly, kindly, but very firmly, that my anger was welcome but my explosive behavior was not. It was the first time I not only understood how abusive my behavior was but that I could actually DO something about it to be better. I was incredibly touched by his statement that my anger was welcome. I was never in a relationship (other than one with my therapist) where it was overtly stated that my anger was welcome. In fact, I bet that because he said my anger was indeed welcome and okay in such a tolerant way, I felt I didn’t need to expressive myself in such dramatic fashion. Trying to shove someone’s rage into a corner does not work. Fire must run its course.

As a society we have become sterile and compartmentalized in the expression of emotion and then it leaks out like sewage or explodes in fits of disaster. Unlike my enlightened husband, We do not allow people to feel anger or rage. And by people perhaps I mean anyone other than a white man. White man expresses rage and he is showing power. But if a woman expresses wrath she is a bitch. The black man becomes a menace to society and the trans youth becomes mentally ill. Grief, quietude, melancholy, downtrodden is more the acceptable box for those of us not in the white male iteration. It is a birthright to experience emotions. Not a burden. Often when we acknowledge, welcome and work with emotions within tolerable ranges we grow and we sequence through their healthy and useful expression.

Most people I come in contact with have some pretty significant wounding around base emotions such as fear, anger, grief, and excitement. Most have stories about being too big or too much or too emotional or not enough forth giving in their emotions. It is a human skill set to identify and move emotions. It takes skill to steward ourselves and so often we need the help of others to help us cross at first. Over time though, we learn to navigate our emotional riverbeds and we can cross the raging rapids skillfully and often alone.

When was the last time someone celebrated your capacity to express your emotions fully? We have put a valence on our emotional life. Something akin to happy equals good and sad/angry/spiteful equals bad. In the body at a cellular level these emotions are electrical charges not value judgments. We made the value judgments.

I wonder how different our lives would be if we learned how to effectively direct our emotions not necessarily at each other but just as a natural process of releasing a charge. Imagine all the free space possible when our emotional lives are given voice overtly instead of suddenly, subconsciously and covertly taking us over and co-opting our lives. 

Cosmic Mulching

For most of my life I have had a consistent experiences of consciousness. That experience being of a consciousness that flows like a River. This River Flow Consciousness (or we could also call her Saraswati- the goddess of the river, of thought, of order, of culture, of music and arts.) I experience as direct and clear. Sometimes swift and rushing I am able to express my ideas in prolific manner. Sometimes being so driven by her that I find myself powerless in anything other than surrounding to the rushing and pouring power of this liquid streaming through my mind and into my whole being. I take what is gushing inside and make it into order outside. I write. I speak. I make shapes. I change directions. I make decisions.

Thought.
Feeling.
Action.
Like that.

Sometimes the thoughts become like wild rapids where so much water--so much thought and feeling--must be navigated or else I could fall into the cosmic abyss of a waterfall ahead. It can feel like a torrent. That I must navigate to either stay afloat or risk being taken under. Sometimes this consciousness overwhelms me and floods the boundaries of my body-mind. When I was young and learning to write essays, my parents would proofread my work. Sometimes they would ask me; "Well what do you mean here? This doesnt make sense. I think you left something out." The thoughts would come so quickly that I could not write fast enough to keep up. I would leave words, phrases, whole sentences even out and be certain I had written them. My parents assured me each time I must have thought it but not gotten it out. So you see I had to learn to slow down enough, to build levees, and river banks for my thoughts. 

Sometimes I experience this consciousness of the river as much more meandering. Thoughts stream in and I can float with them a while.

Thats always nice. 

I love the spaciousness I get with that. 

Since having Olive I have experienced a very new kind of consciousness. I call it Mulch Consciousness. Now, I have the same amount of thoughts, the same intensity, the same longing to carve my thoughts and feelings--all that is my consciousness-- out into the world in some way. But I have little or no time to ever do so because the various demands of being a Mother. And so the thoughts stream in, but I cannot direct them outward. I feel them fall like overripe fruit into the earth of my Being.

Thought.
Feeling.
Splat.
Woops.
Like that.

At first I was so very disheartened by this. Frustrated. Resentful even. Feeling like a primary identity and capacity was cut off. At first I tried to desperately tread water. Clamoring to find space to write what was arriving and arising. This was futile. Futile against the diaper changes, the feeding, the simple but necessary acts of living.

More and more I come into deeper understanding and even savoring of this new mode of consciousness pulsing through me. Actually, pause, let me reframe. Consciousness no longer pulses though me. It pulses AS me. Mulch Consciousness does not course through. It is the actual consciousness herself living not only inside a body but making the very body. Thoughts and feeling and ideas of a wild absurd plethora may rise, bloom, become fruit and then with the lack of harvesting to make a product, they over-ripen and fall to the earth. They fall deep into my being. Into the dirt. Way down into my mind. Into my unconsciousness once again. There it is mulched and churned into something I have yet to see.

Rivers are sacred. They flow. They cast away our sins. They make us clean. They sanctify and purify. All creatures come to the river to pray, and bathe, and be made holy once again. Plants live by its nutrients. Life is prolific at the banks of River Consciousness. And water is what makes life on this planet. 

We need this kind of consciousness undoubtedly. Let us bow to that which flows through us and into the world so powerfully. 

But.
Don't forget. 

Mulch is made from that which is decomposing. It's our cosmic recycling plan. Mulch is shit. Holy shit. That sweet pungent smell of decay that is too often tossed away and overlooked as yuck. Mulch makes fertility possible. You plant seeds in the ground. All that grows must come from the rich dark soil. And the mulch? The mulch is that rich and unapologetically potent mix of all that was, making life begin again.