Years ago I was traveling in Guatemala and visited Tikal. It’s an amazing Mayan ruin site, the one with pyramids topped with elaborate roof combs reaching up from the jungle canopy. This was my second visit to this site. It was toward the end of the day. We had already explored all of the more-restored parts of the site and were venturing to some of the outer reaches. Walking down a wide path through the trees, vines and crumbling stone structures, we encountered a Mayan man sweeping leaves with a large palm frond. He likely spoke a Mayan direct as his first language but his Spanish was good enough that he could communicate with the member of our party that spoke it well. We were attempting to learn about the ruins he was sweeping but he said he didn’t know much about those. Then he told us he was a shaman and offered to give each of us a reading. He went through the group one by one. When got to me he said I had an extremely positive aura and the potential to obtain a superior level of astronomical power and cosmic knowledge. He recommended that I return to Guatemala to learn from him in the future. We parted ways and our group laughed about his comments to each of us. I liked my reading. I’ve always been a little narcissistic in that I arrived on this planet fully believing that I was special and capable of more than the average human. So I took his words as an affirmation of what I already believed about myself.
During my adult life, I realized that not everyone comes with this intrinsic bit of confidence. Or maybe we all do but some of us forget it earlier in life. I don’t think I ever completely forgot it (and I’m genuinely curious if anyone does because I think it comes from the piece of God that is within each of us) but for me, it morphed. I began to see my power in being able to control my emotions, expectations and responses. I grew up in a household dominated by female emotion and developed some contempt for that way of living. I felt my super power was in keeping all of the hormones and unreasonable female-ness in check. And I had some actual disdain for those things because they felt like weakness.
What I didn’t realize is that by abandoning those parts of myself, I was abandoning my emotions. I lived my life in a tightly controlled space of not-too-happy, not-too-sad, not-too-angry, etc. For a long time I congratulated myself on my mastery of this skill. I actually thought this was the key to being happy. I thought I was happy and so did most of the people around me. But I wasn’t happy. I was comported into a tiny box where medium, lukewarm was the only feeling. This is the closest thing to death without actually dying.
For the past two years, I have been trying to bring my emotional self back to life. I have been surprised by how much I identify with the writings of women who suffered from alcoholism and drug addiction. I have joked that I should have gone that route because it would have been more fun. Glennon Doyle is one such woman, who I’ve really identified with. She wrote that she used to think of herself as a mess but now has realized she is “a deeply feeling person in a messy world.” Initially when I read this, I thought, “Woah! Okay, that’s not me.” It brought back all of those feelings of judgement of emotions and female-ness. Even with all the work I’ve done, I still see myself as above those things. And this is not serving me.
I’m pretty sure that the pathway to happiness for me comes from being willing to feel. Willing to suffer. Willing to erupt with joy. Brené Brown teaches that you can’t numb the darkness without numbing the light. Protecting myself from negative emotion didn’t work because I was also protecting myself from positive emotion. For me, the numbing didn’t come in the form of booze or drugs or sex. It was with my own thoughts. I kept myself immersed in a current of my own thoughts which ensured that felt smart and safe and ensured I didn’t feel too much.
So today, I’m trying to embrace my calling to be a “deeply feeling person in a messy world.” I don’t think I have an extra capacity for feeling. It takes effort for me. It takes effort to feel the emotions as they come up. But there is power in choosing to feel today. This is the power of being present, of surfacing from beneath the current of my own thoughts. Some of life’s problems are better solved with the heart than with the head. Maybe this is the astronomical power and cosmic knowledge the Mayan shaman was speaking of.