When asked why she cried so often, author Glenn Doyle Melton replied, “For the same reason I laugh so often. Because I’m paying attention.”
Lately I’ve been hearing a lot of stories in my counseling office about loss, grief and disappointment, and I’ve been processing some of my own losses as well. The further I’ve dug into the idea in my own life, the more I believe: if I’m not walking through a degree of loss regularly, I’m probably either 1) not very well connected to other people and what they’re going through or 2) I’m being particularly adept at stuffing my feelings down and not addressing them. I’m not paying enough attention. The former does a disservice to the people in our lives, and the later does a disservice to ourselves.
I love this idea of both/and. Melton says she laughs AND cries OFTEN. As humans we can tend to get stuck at one end of the spectrum, when true health is freely experiencing both. The problems come when we pick an end of the spectrum and camp out there. Certainly, people are aware of the risks of unaddressed depression and anxiety, but I would suggest that forced positivity is equally devastating to an individual. With so much cultural pressure placed on constantly being “soooo excited!!!!” about every day life and on experiencing life as constant “adventure,” (check out any popular Instagram feed to see support for this cultural observation) it seems like dealing with loss and disappointment can feel very foreign and even out of style. All of the focus on (forced) positivity feels pretty unkind to ourselves, as it severs off about half of the human experience. In Christian culture, this sounds like, “I’m so blessed!” and “God is good!” We most certainly are, and He most certainly is, but not to the dismissal of the hard things in our lives.
Some of us may think that if we lean into the negativity at all, it will over take us — almost like we’re afraid of falling into the dark hole, feeling like we’ll be unable to get out. I find the opposite to be true. I’ve learned that if I can pay attention to my negative feelings and give them the space they deserve, they pass through me more quickly, and I don’t experience the ongoing negative effects that “stuffing” can bring to a person. And, if I can offer the people in my life the space to experience their own losses and disappointments instead of rushing to help them find the silver lining, I’m honoring their human experience as well.
To experience the full gamete of being a human is to make room for the AND in life. It’s joy AND sadness. Contentment AND longing. Peace AND struggle. Laughter AND tears. If you try to only attend to the positive in life (be it yours or the lives of those around you) you will find yourself in a pretty shallow existence with surface level friendships. (As a side note, if emotional health isn’t enough of a reason to not live this way, the medical research also indicates that living an emotionally suppressive life opens yourself up to a full range of chronic health issues.) Be kind to yourself and honor those around you. Embrace the AND. Therein lies your power, health and freedom when you stay present in the moment as life unfolds.
So, if living with the tension of AND is important, how do you live there if you’re not used to it? Two thoughts: 1) slow down…notice instead of rush and 2) build into your daily schedule a time to reflect on the good and the bad of each day.
If you’re thinking this sounds good but you’re not sure how to make this a practice, I’d love to set up a time to discuss it! You can get ahold of me here.