Feelin' the Feelings

A while back, I decided to get in touch with my feelings.  Unfortunately, I'm an introverted white male with strong logical tendencies, so my feelings are not only hard to find, they may be actively hiding from me.  Plus, I'm not sure that everyone really wants me waving my feelings around all the time.   They have better things to do than deal with my schtick.

This is a problem that we introverts, or "quiet people," as we prefer to be called, have had for years.  We aren't loud and showy to begin with, so people aren't sure what to make of us when we start making them notice us.  Extroverts are already out there, talking to everyone, interrupting meetings to see what's going on, walking up to strangers and offering their opinions on Asian fusion cuisine (or as they like to call it, "Fasian!").  We already know everything about them, so all those feelings are just icing on the chatty cake.   When an introvert starts to share their feelings, on the other hand, it makes people nervous.  They say things like:

"What's up with Chuck?  He's kind of all over the place today."

"Why is Andy so angry lately?  Do you think we need to talk to Security?"

"Aaah!  You startled me!  How long have you been sitting there?"

Extroverts with feelings are "dynamic."  Introverts with feelings are "moody."

Despite this bias, I was determined to try.  My inner child was in there somewhere, and I was sure he had something to say.  I wanted to be more mindful, more "in the moment."  I wanted to listen to that little voice and benefit from its guidance.

When I was a young man, I pretty much had two feelings: "hungry" and "sleepy."  Sometimes, usually before or after lunch, I would combine them into "hungrily sleepy" or "was hungry, now sleepy."  But now I'm a grown man -- with children and everything -- so my emotional range has widened and deepened.  I've added "irritated."

No, I jest.  I haven't really delved into the richness of my psyche yet, so it's too early to categorize these new feelings.  Let's not be all about the labels, people.  Let it develop.

The first step to getting in touch with your feelings is to recognize when you're having them.  I learned that what my younger self mistook for hunger was actually a wide range of emotions.  They all just happened to affect my stomach, so I naturally assumed that I needed a Quarter Pounder.  It turns out that what I really needed was love.  Or to punch something.  Or a good laugh.  Or, sometimes, a Quarter Pounder.  As I stopped and took stock of these sensations, I realized that I was having feelings.  The second thing I realized was that most of these feelings involved wanting to pound someone.

There's a problem with asking men to get in touch with our emotions: we're men.  We have testosterone, a chemical that God (or evolution if you prefer, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster if you're a smug Internet smartass) put in our bodies to make sure that we didn't ever join together and unify the world under a single benevolent government.  As long as there's testosterone, we'll never get along. We'll be too busy pummeling each other, lifting weights, and making up stupid competitions to see who's the lifetime office champion in Office Chair Rugby or fantasy football.  The true story of the Tower of Babel isn't that God created hundreds of different languages to stop the people from building the giant ziggurat.  He just introduced the idea of the keeper league with a snake draft and all the men went home to start working on their cheat sheets.

As a man, I spend a large part of my day annoyed at almost everyone else within my line of sight, smell, hearing, or memory.  I start my day in the car, surrounded by morons and maniacs, to drive to an office where everyone is either too slow, stubborn, or misguided to recognize that I'm right, and the sooner they all get with the program, the happier we'll all be.  Let me point out that this has nothing to do with my current job, which I actually enjoy.  I have felt this way since I worked at the Dairy Queen in high school.  I am the center of a small, irritating universe, and my testosterone tells me that I'll feel much better if I just kick a little ass, consequences be damned.  Of course, I'm also a civilized man, raised by a good mother who taught me that hitting people just because they were annoying or wrong was a poor long-term strategy, so I do not  kick anybody's ass.  Instead, I tell the testosterone to go away and it returns to chewing on my stomach lining.  This is what we call "stress."

I had found my inner child, and he was yelling for everyone to keep it down and get back to work.

I decided to dig past the superficial levels, beyond "annoyance" and "irritation," past the rocky section of "what did I ever do to you?" and the sedimentary layers of "Oh, right, that's what.  Sorry about that."  I'm a complex man, damn it, and I have levels.  I discovered another feeling: insecurity.

We all want to feel good enough, as though we measure up to whatever standards are being applied to us.  We all want to be told that we're doing a good job.  Behind the anger, the frustration, the "why won't you listen to me?" we secretly wonder if it's because we aren't worth listening to in the first place.  This is the motivation behind every jingoistic politician, every legalistic preacher, and every hedonistic Paleovegan: we all want a measuring stick, and we want to make sure that we score higher than everyone else.  When we can't find one, we pick the things that we were already good at and we make them the standard.  Ta-daa!  Instant winner!

My insecurities were pretty pedestrian: was I a good enough father, husband, and boss?  Was I ever going to fulfill my dream of becoming a professional writer, actor, or playwright (possibly, probably not at this point, and maybe)?  Was I funny enough or not taking things as seriously as I should?  Was I putting people at ease or scaring them?  Was I making every place better because I was there or was I just taking up space?  In other words, was I enough?

Now my inner child was in the corner, sucking his thumb even though he knew he wasn't supposed to.

I dug deeper, past the worry, past the blame, past the noisy voices of "should," "ought," and "too late."  And suddenly it got quiet.  I looked around, but it was dark.  I called out, "Hellooo!  Is anyone here?"

A deep voice said, "Shh!  I'm thinking!"

I followed the voice through the dark, the quiet deepening around me.  I found a statue.  Head in hand, it sat, quietly pondering.

"What are you thinking about?" I asked.

The voice spoke again.  "Really?!?  What part of 'Shh' was hard to understand?"  I proudly realized that I could recognize that emotion now: that was annoyance!

"Sorry.  It's just that I've come a long way.  I don't know if you realize it, but it's a mess out there!"

The voice sighed, "Of course I realize it.  Why do you think I'm in here?"

I looked around.  "Where is here, exactly?"

"This is your core.  Your heart.  Your soul.  This is where it all starts."

"Funny, I thought there'd be more here.  A few posters, at least.  Some pictures, maybe?"

"Pssht.  Distractions.  I need quiet if I'm going to do any good."

I hesitated.  "And... who are you, exactly?"

"I'm your mind.  Duh."

"My mind?  And did you just say, 'Duh?'  That seems sort of counter-productive, coming from my mind."

"Be quicker on the uptake, then."

"Now you're just being mean."

The voice laughed.  "Look, you want filters?  Go back outside.  Here we deal in truths.  And cravings sometimes.  I could really go for some pizza right now.  But mostly truths.  This is where we see clearly, listen openly, and speak truly.  It's here, in the silence, that we can hear The Still, Small Voice.  And if we can get through all the noise out there, we give you insight."

I looked around.  "Um... who's 'we'?"

"Never mind that," the voice replied hurriedly.  "Do you need anything else?  You laid some heavy problems on me today, and I have to get back to your subconscious with some answers before midnight."

"Just one more question: have you seen my inner child anywhere around here?"

I got a sense of a hand waving vaguely.  "He's around somewhere, probably coloring on the walls or eating paste.  You never really developed there, did you?  Now go!"

I went.

I don't know what this all means, but I guess I learned a few things from my emotional experiment.  First, women are much better equipped to deal with all of these feelings and things.  I don't know why, but I suspect it has something to do with shoes.  Second, not all feelings are bad.  Scary and powerful, but not bad.

Third, I like it when it's quiet.  But I guess you already knew that.
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