Did your mother ever tell you, when you were upset and sulking, to just smile and everything would be alright? To “turn that frown upside down” – a sentiment that always seemed so silly and irritatingly cliche, guaranteed to make me snarl more than anything else. Yet, in another one for the “things Mom was right about” column, it really works. Not necessarily turning a frown upside down, but acting in ways that might seem counter-intuitive to how you feel changing your mood. It’s the physicality of affect; how our bodies react is tied to how we feel. Don’t believe me? The next time you’re angry with someone you care about, give them a good hug, and see how you feel – dollars to donuts your anger cracks and you smile and, while holding them, remember how much you care and dissipate out a lot of the negative feelings.
It’s interesting, and fascinating for me on the academic level, but also relevent on the personal. In order to follow the maxim of living with no regrets, I have to be a lot more open to vulnerability than I find comfortable. I have to think about how I behave and what would hang over me to cause regret; at least once recently this has meant forsaking a pointed exit to return for a hug and kiss goodnight. And as a I noted recently, I apparently can’t be irritated with someone if I’m helping out on a project – I get too caught up in the fun of what I’m doing to be able to hold onto the negative, or do anything other than experience the joy of the work.
It’s good for me, I think, to learn to let go of the negative emotions – to acknowledge their existence but not become attached to them. I’ve always been good at nursing a grudge; a holdover from being an overt drama-queen. Grudges help when you need that self-righteous drama to defend yourself from getting close to or with anyone. It’s not who I want to be anymore, but who I do want to be is someone who needs a really strong core of inner strength, and I wonder if I really have it. Can I actually be so open, so vulnerable, and live the life I want to, damned the consequences? Because the consequences will be hurting and pain and people letting me down and all sorts of negative things – can I live the way I want, in the face of all that? I don’t know, I guess I’m afraid to.
And if I do, if I can, how do I know when it’s okay to draw the line? When to say “yes, I love you, but I can’t be around you because it’s hurting me too much, and I need to take care of myself”? …I suppose as I type that out, I realize it for the cop-out that it is: I managed to say that and enforce it with Mars, so why couldn’t I do it with anyone else? (It’s amusing how much that has become a barometer for my life; I lived through X, I can do/get through Y, Z, and the rest of the damned alphabet.)
Intellectually, I know that a life lived in fear is a life half-lived. It doesn’t change how I feel, but maybe it should change how I emote – and then just trust that feelings, as always, will follow the emotive.