Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Balloons, emotions, and bushwhacking.

Do you ever feel like your heart is so exposed, it's going to explode? Like it's a gas, and the more you hold it open, the more it expands to fill in the space. But like the balloon that fills until bursts, there's a limit to how much the walls of your heart can stretch. So there you are, the heart drawn dangerously taut by all the feelings welling up in side. It's a feeling that you want to share, and yet that process of sharing would almost certainly push you over the edge, as sharing only increases and intensifies your vulnerability, which is precisely what you're afraid of overdoing, because it's what causes the expansion in the first place. That vulnerability sits at the root of emotions such as joy and love, as well as fear and disappointment. That vulnerability is what makes life scintillate and what makes everything appear dangerously close to falling apart. That vulnerability is something we crave and we cower from.

That's part of what is so terrifying about living with your heart open to the world, in all its senses. The more you open up, the more you allow your heart and life to be influenced by the people and circumstances around you, the more you surrender control to the universe and allow flow to take you where it will, the more the heart cries out for security, certainty. The more you lean into the uncertainty, the more the vulnerability is felt. The more that vulnerability intensifies the joy of your life, so does your life fill with even more emotions. The highs get ever higher, making each low all the more painful. As we release ourselves and let the universe grant us brilliance and love and happiness and belonging, our heart screams ever louder in fear that it's all going to go away. It can seem like too much to handle: feeling so much you're going to go supernova.

In these moments, I want to do something simple like watch The Daily Show. But I realize: I'm trying to numb the feeling. Just occupy myself with something else until they subside, until they drop back underneath the surface. So here I sit, writing down these raw thoughts, watching them magically appear across my screen. As I write, the emotions swell and swirl, they change shape and meaning, and they push outward from inside my rib cage with ever growing power.

These feelings are natural. Emotions are natural and healthy, because it indicates that you are engaged with the world. Emotions give you clues into what is actually going on in your heart. Emotions mean you care about connection and seek to keep it in your life. Emotions cannot be controlled or destroyed. Emotions will always be there, what counts is what you do with them: do you acknowledge them, judge them, ignore them? When you expose yourself, when you live vulnerably, the barrage of emotions is more constant because they are ignored less often. Aligning awareness between heart and mind creates a whole new intensity of feeling, an awareness necessary to process the wave of emotions ushered in by living with greater vulnerability.

Living with your heart open to the world is about feeling. Feeling more than you thought you knew possible to feel, as the universe constantly gives and takes. Feeling like you're going to break from all the vulnerability, because you're so exposed, because it would be so easy for everything to go to pieces, because you can't control your future. Rationalization about this feeling -- that you can never actually control your life, that we are all subject to the ebb and flow of the world -- does little to sooth the burning ache in your soul. 

Connection gives us meaning as humans; it then follows that the fear of disconnection is one of the most compelling and crippling emotions in life. When you open up the borders to your heart, you allow in all sorts of amazing people and experiences and states of being, but it means those lovers and opportunities and life paths can also leave at any moment. A porous barrier with the world requires strong conviction and a constant investment of energy to reinforce those passable walls. 

Herein lies the struggle of forces over the human heart. Emotions push outwards from inside, expanding us, exposing us, stretching us. Meanwhile other emotions, other fears, they withdraw us, enervate us, collapse us. We struggle to find the perfect balance to maintain a permeable separation with the world: preventing it from crumbling inward or exploding outward, giving in to fear or giving up our self-identity. The desire for connection lies at the root of this struggle, yet it paradoxically aids in the balancing act. We reach out to the important people in our lives -- to our given and chosen families, to our friends, to our loved ones and lovers -- in search of stabilization, support, and solidarity. These people are right there with us when the walls falter; they say, "Yes, I hear you, I understand your pain and your hurt and your fear. I know it, I know you, and I am here for you." They join you in your struggle, just as you join them in theirs, to live fully and sincerely and openly.

When we acknowledge our fears, we gain power over them. Thus: 

I acknowledge the fact that I get scared, I get weak, I get fearful of my future prospects, I get anxious over my path and whether it will end in happiness and what it will look like, I lose faith that I am walking the right road. I am terrified that I took a wrong step somewhere along the way, that I will end up destitute and alone, and I will be able to point to that moment when I shirked society's definition of career and success and meaning and love as the moment when everything went awry: when I stepped off the beaten path in this mysterious, impregnable forest called Life with a cavalier leap into the brush, only to lose my way and my bearings and die in the middle of nowhere. 

Right now, I have not stepped too far off the worn trail, I can still see it in the distance, looking safe and secure and well defined. I turn around and look ahead into the dark thicket, unable to see what lies even three steps ahead. I am powerfully drawn into this underbrush, somehow convinced that this is a more interesting journey to take, perhaps because I saw enough people whom I admire and respect step off the traditional path and into this uncharted territory, and I trusted there must be something to it. I allow myself to think my life could end up happier and fuller if this gamble pays off. I take timid steps forward, exploring just a bit more; with each step I check over my shoulder to ensure I can still see the old road. But the more steps I take, the more the road is obscured by the forest, by my steps, by my past decisions. The more it seems less and less likely that I could ever find my way back if I lost my nerve and retreated from this crazy quest. 

I am absolutely scared to the deepest part of my being that I will lose it all: that I will keep walking forward until I realize I can't handle the thorns of this messy path or that it is indeed impenetrable when trailblazing on your own, and I will turn around and find the road has disappeared, that I have lost my way and have lost myself. In that moment, I see myself losing it all. Right now, I can still retreat and return to the safety and surety of the worn road, return to the comforting promises of a happy ending; but, with each step forged ahead, the moment to secure my bid for that happy ending slips through my fingers rapidly like sand. I do not yet believe with absolute certainty that I can survive in the wild, that I can avoid the cliffs and brambles, that I can thrive in this environment, that I can find my way.

Here, then, is to daring greatly. To driving onward into that mysterious brush, with no guarantees or control or assurances of what will come of it. To doing what feels right and in line with your values and goals in life. To remembering that I have people with me, I am not traveling alone; when I grow tired of bushwhacking, they will join at my side to press forward and allow me to rest; when I grow fearful of being isolated, they will remind me they are in my company and on the same mission, blindly pressing forward to some imagined Shangri-La hidden deep in the forest (or perhaps even just for the sake of cutting your own way through the forest); when I grow uncertain of my path, they will serve as my compass with which I can find my bearings; when I grow weak, they will be the base I need to find my strength. 

To all of you who join me on my journey, whether by briefly crossing paths with me or joining forces and venturing deeper into the forest together, whether by sending me support from afar while on your own path or by being in the thick of it right there with me, I say: thank you. Thank you for being there with me, for being a part of my life. Thank you for inspiring me to walk this path and guidance along the way. Thank you for giving me the support and the bravery to walk my path and to dare greatly.

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