If the work of truth and reconciliation were easy, it would be done.
If crossing a massive chasm of pain, erasure, harm, hurt, were easy, we’d be on the other side, dancing and singing and eating together.
If finding ways for two entirely opposite world views to align were easy, we’d be there.
But it’s not.
So we’re in this turbulent place. This discomfiting place. Where nothing feels easy and a lot feels barely possible and so many of us are just starting to recognize the immensity of the work:
this is HARD.
And others are saying, “you think THIS is hard? Thanks for finally realizing. And please don’t quit now. We’ve literally been waiting generations for you to make this baby step.”
Yesterday, I started listening to Brene Brown in conversation with Oprah Winfrey, about Brown’s new book, Atlas of the Heart. (Here are two women, who have been the emotional leaders for popular culture for the past few decades, and even they are just fumbling into realizations about our (dominant/mainstram culture’s inadequate emotional literacy.)
Brown argues that the language we have for the feelings we experience limits the terrain we can travel in life… If we don’t have the language we need to navigate big landscapes, we are limited in where we can go.
If we expand the language we have, we expand our actual range.
On average, most of us are able to identify and name three emotions : Happy. Sad. Mad.
There’s a whole landscape of possibilities we’re not able to explore, if we’re limited to happy, sad, mad.
There’s a whole lot of life complexity that we can’t really meet, if we’re operating on happy/sad/mad mode.
And I would say, we need a lot more range, if we’re going to build the bridges, repair the hurt, and turn towards the truth that needs to be acknowledged in a heart-felt way, for reconciliation to begin.
What if we put the feelings wheel in our pockets this week, as we move towards Orange Shirt Day, as Friday’s Truth and Reconciliation Day was previously known. And what if, when something came up, we tried to pinpoint it on the wheel.
Last week, I heard a story that was distressing.
It was an honour to be entrusted to hear it. And it was very difficult to know how to respond.
When I reflect on that moment, through the lens of the feelings wheel, I can identify several emotions that were rippling through my body: surprise/confusion/disillusionment; anger, that came with a weird and sudden wave of numbness, a protective shutting down; sadness, in a wave of deep despair and powerlessness. And back to confusion.
None of those feelings fixed anything. None of them undid the awful things that happened, or gave consolation to the people who’d shared. They muddied the room and they felt messy and yet… they were important.
Our feelings are important in this work. AND we need to metabolize them, rather than being run around by them. Or shut down by them.
I refer back to the Nagoski sisters, and another Brene Brown podcast, that we shared last year : Feelings are wisdom and they live in (and through) the body.
“cycles that happen in your body. They are neurological events, happening not just in your brain but your whole nervous system. The intelligence of your body extends to your nervous system from the top of your head to the tip of your toes and also beyond your skin. Emotions are an involuntary neurological response. They have a beginning, a middle and an end. You can think of them as tunnels, and you have to go all the way through them, to get to the light at the end.”
If we can allow ourselves to feel the feelings, to get to the other side, and then roll up our sleeves and get to work, I think something different will happen. I think the places and landscapes we are muddling about, will feel less like echo chambers full of sound bytes and virtue signalling and judging and retreating. And more like places we can hang out, and grow.
We need the efforts we make towards truth and reconciliation to come from the heart, not just the head, in order for them to become three dimensional — and so we need to expand our heart’s range, into an uncomfortable stretched out close to breaking apart sensation, and breathe through that, a few dozen times, and only then might we ask, what’s my best next step?
So, may you honour your emotions this week, may you honour others’ emotions, and may we commit ourselves, over and over, to being part of the work of healing, repair, reconciliation and relationship-building.