November 2015 By Suma Varughese As we progress through the spiralling evolution of feelings, we will find our equation with them shaping and shifting as we gradually take charge, says Suma Varughese Many years ago, while I was editing a lifestyle magazine, I had an ebullient young intern called Dennis. One day, Dennis came in to work looking rather wan and forlorn. His girl friend had ditched him, and Dennis was heartbroken. “I just don’t know what to do with my feelings,” he confided. I, who had started walking the path only a couple of years before that, but already conversant with the central role of feelings on the journey, was blown away by this succinct expression of his situation. Or any troublesome situation for that matter. Isn’t the issue always just this: What do we do with our feelings? Let’s face it, thoughts are not troublesome in themselves. Yes, they have an irritating tendency to buzz like incessant flies in our heads, but it is the feelings they stir up that really stymie us. What do we do with all those oversized feelings that threaten to submerge us, possess us, or force us to act? What do we do with the consequences of the damaging actions that anger, hate, greed, lust, jealousy, resentment, arrogance, guilt, shame, can enforce? And how, oh how, can we free ourselves of them? Indeed, these feelings are considered to be deadly vices in most scriptures, including Christianity, Hindusim, and Buddhism. From the time we are old enough to understand, we are warned against them, punished for feeling them or acting on them, and indoctrinated to judge ourselves and others severely for feeling them. Indeed, society on the whole, has rejected these feelings so summarily that they form humanity’s vast shadow self. No wonder each of us has to grapple with them for ourselves; and because we do not know how, we fear them, abhor them, suppress them, rationalize them, work on them, justify them, and strive to free ourselves of them. We recognize that as long as we are trapped within these feelings, we are not our own master. And that through them, our lives threaten constantly to spin out of control and submerge us in suffering. In the beginning So where do we start? Perhaps as little children, when for the most part, we are blissfully accepting of our feelings, lustily crying when wet, uncomfortable or wanting to be fed, and chortling and chuckling gleefully when happy. No issue with feelings at all. You feel them and let them go. How simple can it be? How loud our voices are as children. How unashamed and assertive. And how steady and assured our gaze. But socialising soon starts and not only do the decibel levels of our voices drop as does our gaze, but troublesome feelings take root in our bodies. Fear, anxiety, hurt, sorrow, greed, all begin to assert themselves and because we have by then learnt that they are not good to have, we resist them, and so they persist. Meanwhile, life happens. Kumud Adlakha: Yoga helped her deal with the vicissitudes of life Says Delhi-based fashion designer, and yoga teacher, Kumud Adlakha, “When I was eight or nine years old, I got molested by a stranger in a park. That was the first time I experienced real fear and terror. I was so confused about what had happened to me that I couldn’t share it with my family for a few days and fell sick. Then when I finally confided in my mother, I don’t recall her saying anything comforting to me. She didn’t advise me as to how to deal with such a situation if it were to occur again. Subsequently, for a few years such incidents did occur, leaving me paralyzed with shock and shame and with no one to turn to for any solace. It was a terrible time for me as I felt disgusted with my body, would be scared to go out of my home, and would eye every stranger with suspicion. I immersed myself in my studies and hobbies and excelled in them, but also developed very bad eating habits and became overweight.” In my own case, I recall that I was a constant enigma to myself. I reacted excessively to what for others were just ordinary pinpricks. At the age of five, I attended my eldest sister’s wedding in Kerala. At the reception my new brother-in-law briefly held my sister’s hand while standing on stage. I broke into a loud wail and demanded to know who that man was who was holding my sister’s hand. My outrage could not be appeased and later when he and my sister came to our house in Bangalore, I hid under the bed so I would not have to meet him! At school any form of teasing no matter how mild, would induce nothing less than trauma in me. In comparison to others, I was fortunate to have been spared any large scale disaster, and yet the tiny turmoils of my life lodged like shrapnel in my heart and bled it prodigiously. My life, therefore, from my earliest memory, was filled with huge dramas, where hurt, fear, anger, and so on formed a deadly cocktail. I later understood that as the last of six daughters born to parents looking for a son, I must have been unconsciously subjected to rejection at birth, though to do them justice, my parents were the epitome of love and care thereafter. My excessive fears, poor self-esteem and a sense of not being okay probably stemmed from that rejection. It is no surprise, therefore, that I had absolutely no idea about what to do with my feelings. They dominated my mindspace and controlled my actions. Childhood pains Anjli Baxi, a Mumbai-based co-founder of Soul Route, a self-empowerment centre, also recalls a childhood fraught with emotional turbulence. “I was a very sensitive, timid child. I had difficulty expressing need for any material comfort. I recall numerous occasions of not asking for something I wanted such as toys, or clothes. I coped with the bottled-up feelings by falling sick often or crying.” Harshada Khanolkar, a Mumbai-based yoga teacher, says, “My memories of childhood are mostly of loss and solitude. I loved being alone, staring at the sky, or creating my own make-believe world and playing by myself. Also, as I was the oldest I was expected to give my toys to the younger cousins, expected to understand when my mom cared for my younger brother more… all this gave rise to a feeling of loss which gradually turned to anger. I remember flying into fits of rage. I once tore my dress because I did not get what I wanted. On another occasion I banged my head on the side of the bed repeatedly because my mother wouldn’t listen to me.” Nisha KripaJyothi Sangla, a Delhi-based healer, also went through a difficult childhood. “I was not allowed to speak for myself or take decisions, and this suppressed my self-esteem to such an extent that I developed a tumour in my left parotid gland which I got operated at 18 years.” Nisha KripaJyothi Sangla: From suppression to full and free expression Even those who can seem relatively composed on the outside can battle within themselves. Anuradha Ramesh, a Hyderabad-based holistic therapist, recalls arriving at the conclusion early in life that her feelings were not as important as that of others. “It was more important to take care of other people’s feelings…not to make my parents unhappy, not to get them angry, not to get in the way as they attended to my younger sister,” she says, adding, “I learnt to be good. I was obedient. I only remember having the nice feelings…happiness and good cheer. I was known in my family and the extended family to be a very pleasant natured, obedient, submissive child.” At this point, there is no clear answer to the question, “What do I do with my feelings?” Children generally lack the self-awareness and self-control to distance themselves from their feelings long enough to deal with them. At the same time, if their self-esteem is sound enough, coping with feelings happens naturally. Self-esteem enables them to experience their feelings without feeling bad about themselves, and free themselves of them. If parents and teachers could implant self-esteem in young ones by treating them with love and respect, by assuring them at all times that they are okay, they would be giving them one of the most precious gifts they possibly could. Above all, adults should consciously ensure that they do not pass on the old programming that negative feelings are bad and that one should not have them. Children should be encouraged to own their feelings and come to terms with them. Of course, this is easier said than done, for parents are struggling with their own programming, and the last thing I want to do is impose even more pressure on them than they already have. So parents, just putting it out there! Moving on As for those of us who went through adulthood without the support of enlightened parents, we too eventually find succour. Watching over us and guiding us, is the Universe itself and somehow through the tortuous twists and turns of life we are led to what in retrospect, is a journey. Often, though, some of its first moves can seem like a descent into disaster. My first attempt to come to some kind of terms with my colossal feelings happened when I left the cloisters of home and ventured out into a girl’s hostel in Mumbai, to pursue a BA. An intensely shy person, the shock of dealing with strangers after years of living in the safety of a township, and the pressure of coping on my own, completely destabilised me. Unable to cope with the volcano of feelings festering within, I unconsciously chose to suppress or numb them so I would no longer hurt. The feelings became dimmer and dimmer until they faded away, and with them went my life force. I descended into a low-grade depression, where I lost all enthusiasm for life, and all capacity to feel happiness, love or empathy. The negativ
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