In Search of OK

I haven’t been polictial on this blog, and I don’t think I’m going to use it that way. I could tell you that I was at the airport this Sunday protesting the unjust travel ban created by an administration I don’t support at all and in fact fear quite a lot. That probably wouldn’t surprise you. I could go into more details about my political preferences and current disgust, but I’ll spare you. I’m not interested in assigning labels to myself in any capacity, least not political leanings. My Facebook political views are this: “To live outside the law, you must be honest.” Buy me a beer sometime and we can hash some political debates. Instead, I’d like to focus this post on how I deal with negative feelings like the ones I have now, and maybe you can find something similar in you, dear reader. I think how to deal with it all is the larger theme I’ve been thinking about since November, rather than any particular (if offensive) set of events.

This won’t be a “how to” post. I can’t answer questions of how you’re going to feel OK, because I can’t answer that for myself.

I noticed tonight I was compulsively searching multiple news sources for some hint that things were not as bad as they seemed. Some words I could read between the lines to feel better. They weren’t there. If I had to estimate, reassuring words probably won’t be coming from the news for the next 20 years, if ever. So what mechanism was powering me to graze over cold, upsetting facts even though no good is to come of it?

I think Louis C.K. observed a related phenomenon: how we reach for our phones whenever we start to feel uncomfortable. I think we’re pretty bad as humans of knowing how to just sit and be humans. Negative emotions must be distracted away by something entertaining, or at least that’s the modern way. I admit I’m guilty of it. If not reaching for this very phone screen I’m typing on, I may find fleeting entertainment in alcohol or food that doesn’t nourish. The times I have sat and purposefully avoided leaving negative emotions turned out to be illuminating. One time I noticed how tears are quite hot on your face if you just let them run. Another time I noticed a particular pain in my body I had been ignoring that needed attention. I’m far from being a practicing Buddhist, but I come closer to being a sane animal when I don’t get caught up in words and simply feel. Maybe this applies externally to not getting too caught up in words from news or social media, and focusing more on the present sensations at hand.

I learned from a seminar on hope that “to stand with your face to the cold wind and move forward is the bravest thing you can do as a human” (paraphrased). Incidentally, I was falling asleep to a documentary about Antarctica and carbon dioxide history in ice this weekend. (I watched most of it, and enjoyed what I was conscious for.) I’ve been walking to work almost every day this winter in a cold region, and I don’t feel that brave, just beaten down. Maybe that’s what bravery really feels like. It’s not glorious at all, less a state of feelings than a state of integrity. The Finns have a word that I’m obsessed with that translates poorly to English and means roughly the quote above; that word is sisu. I believe my grandma embodies sisu. I would like to, but I’m afraid of not living up to it. Maybe you grow into it with more scars, windburn, lost loved ones, and time. Many cold winters probably also help.

I don’t consider myself depressed. (Mom, don’t worry too much.) Low energy lately. I think with some practice of quiet moments and breathing, along with long walks in warmer weather, my energy will be higher and better. I haven’t journaled or written essays or blogs in a while, and that likely also contributes. Something in me decides to write as a way of sussing it out when I’m upset. I like this maxim: “When in doubt, sort it out.” I will probably leave this post feeling slightly more OK than before I wrote it, if only for the increased understanding of my feelings.

Realistically, most things are decent or OK. I think we tend to focus more on the extraordinarily pleasurable or disgusting than the unremarkable decent in our lives. Breathing is decent and always there. Carpets are decent. Light bulbs are decent. Most people on public transportation are decent. If you graph out the majority of things along the acceptability axis, it’d look like a bell curve, with the enjoyable and the terrible as several standard deviations away from the norm. In that way, it’s probably not fair to expect pleasure as often as we do, and it’s likely damaging to our sensitivities to indulge in too much pleasure, or, for that matter, pain. Knowledge of this is probably part of sisu, but what do I know? I’m Swedish. 

My friend D asked me yesterday if there are any foods that I think taste bad. He is quoted as saying I have a “broken mouth”, i.e. an unrefined palate equal to that of a goat or a garbage disposal. But I threw the question back to him, and he couldn’t come up with anything. He used to hate cilantro, but doesn’t anymore. He doesn’t like some foods for the texture or appearance, but it’s not the flavor that drives him away. Maybe the tongue is a wiser organ than the eyes.



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