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Soulful Sundays: Letters Between Friends


Dear Jim Feeling,

I haven't written to you in a while. I hope things are going well. I've been reading a lot about you in the news. You are definitely becoming popular. I would describe my reaction to your fame as jealousy, but I think that is more your domain than mine. I'm not certain how to label my other reactions. Your world has words for these things I'm told. I am sad when people do not act in their own best interests. I am angry when they blame their poor choices on me. I am worried about the future of our species. I am fearful that we are running out of time. I am joyful when I see change. I am frustrated that I don't have all of the answers. These are just words, though. What they actually mean is beyond me. Perhaps you can help me to understand these emotions. What are they? Where do they come from? How can I use them to better function?

Sincerely,

Blythe Logic


Dear Logic,

I am so glad that you wrote. I know what you mean about being sad, angry, worried, fearful, joyful, and frustrated. I go through a little bit of each every day--on some days a lot more. Emotions are like flavors. They tell us things about our environment. They exist to lead us to satisfaction and also protect us from harm. Sweet things are usually safe to eat while bitter is a sign of potential poison. A well-constructed meal will have elements of all of the tastes. In this way, you can think of emotions as the spices that make life worth living. Without them, you would lose your will to experience the world. Emotions evolved before we developed language to describe them so that may be why you are frustrated. The best way to put your emotions to better use is to let them be expressed fully. They are neither positive nor negative, just indicators of your intuition. Good luck. Let me know how it goes.

Warmly,

Feeling


Dear Feeling,

I took your advice and it was very unpleasant, not just for me but for almost everyone around me. The obese woman in the grocery store did not care that I was sad about her buying doughnuts. The waiter cursed me when I let him know I was angry about his poor service. No one could allay any of my worries or fears for the future when I said them out loud. I got the strangest looks when I thanked all of the pedestrians I passed for sharing in the joy of walking. I'm very confused. If all emotions are better expressed than why was I treated this way? Am I the only one experiencing these things or are other people just holding back? Please help.

Thoughtfully,

Logic


Dear Logic,

I'm sorry you had such an unpleasant experience. I should have been more specific with my advice. It is 100% a good thing to allow yourself to feel your emotions, but we must use our judgement on which emotions we choose to share and which we keep private. Our emotions have the power to affect other people's emotions--even more so when spoken. My general rule for sharing is this: when I think that what I might add will benefit my relationship with the other person, I express the thought. If it will hurt the relationship instead, then I will keep the thought to myself and journal about it later. This can get tricky; sometimes not sharing does more harm than oversharing ever can. Finding the right balance with every situation is a practice. I know it can be hard, but it is worth it. Hang in there and let me know if I can be of any more help.

Yours,

Feeling


Dear Feeling,

Your suggestions were useful--much fewer awkward interactions this week. However, something you wrote last time has caused me to ponder deeply. You said that our emotions have the power to affect the emotions of others. I do not see how this is possible. Let's say someone is sad. What use is it to have an emotional reaction to their sadness. It seems to me that what they need is someone to listen and help them with the problem they are sad about. Shouldn't everyone also see this as true? I find that all of my emotions arise in response to actions, not other people's feelings. Isn't treating emotion with emotion a bit like trying to put out a fire with gasoline? Don't we need the opposite to reach balance, or am I missing something here? Wouldn't it be best if we decided in advance what will affect our emotions so that we could use the energy they afford more precisely?

Stoically,

Logic


Dear Logic,

You are asking excellent questions. The best answer I have is that we often don't get to decide how we feel. We just feel things. Yes, emotions are cumbersome and not exactly expedient to solving actual problems. Yes, they are based on a myriad of pre-existing variables. Yes, we can train our brains to be more open to certain emotions over others. No, there is no way to predict how something will make you feel in advance. It's a bit like Schrödinger's cat. The act of observing a situation produces a fixed emotional state. We may know the probability of what is prompting that state based on past observations, but until the observing happens we won't know for sure. My advice for you, and anyone interested in reducing the chaos in their lives, is to keep a close eye on what emotions arise most frequently. These will solidify in our minds the longer they persist. We risk losing the ability to experience the full spectrum of the other emotions if only a few become ingrained. This is why honoring all emotions, no matter how diminutive in our chorus, is essential to preserving the full range of emotion. We are only blind to what we refuse to feel and when we are blind we can be hurt. You are not alone on this journey.

Love,

Feeling


Dear Feeling,

So, what you are saying is that emotions are like joints? The longer they sit in one configuration the less range of motion they are able to express. That makes sense in theory. Emotions turn into moods, moods turn into narratives, and narratives are difficult to change. I'll let you know how it works out for me in practice. Thanks for your explanations.

So long for now,

Logic


Dear Logic,

Don't believe everything you think. Honor everything you feel. And just because you feel something doesn't mean you have to let it control you. You know this better than most. All people go through a similar struggle in understanding this. Thank you for helping me articulate my message.

All the best,

Feeling

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