I used to think that good life meant you feel happy all the time. Banish all those “negative” emotions from my life. Begone, sadness! Get outta here, anger!
But I was wrong. I am learning that a good life means feeling everything fully and freely.
People have different comfort levels with different emotions. Some people fly easily into road rage when they see misbehaving cars. Isn’t it fun to blast someone from the safe anonymity and distance? You could interpret that as cowardry, to get mad and judgmental only when you are safe, and I agree with that. But my point is not about whether it’s right or wrong to go into road rage. Rather, it’s about how that sense of safety frees you up to fully express and experience exactly how you feel.
If we all felt truly bullet proof and nobody could hurt our feelings, we’d have no problem fully engaging in any and all emotions. You may yell when you get mad and you may sob when you are sad, with or without other people around you. And after all, why do we need to censor ourselves for the sake of others? Each individual is fundamentally free to experience any emotions s/he encounters. Nobody’s pointing a gun to my head saying “don’t feel sad!”
But for most of us our heart is not truly free to experience everything that comes its way. There are many feelings that seem just too much. Then there are social expectations of how you’re supposed to behave in company of others. Being emotional, especially with certain emotions, is seen as inappropriate in some cultures. Sometimes for good reasons, others not, but all the same, we are not truly free to experience and express all emotions.
Some feelings we become so distant and unaccustomed with, that when they come up they feel overwhelming. So we get in the habit of looking away. Just the other day I was having a meaningful conversation with a female friend of mine, and in the midst she suddenly burst into tears describing a deeply joyful development in her life. I felt, though, that acknowledging that she was crying may embarrass her, so I carried on our conversation as if I didn’t notice. Afterward, however, I realized that I carried on because I was the one who was uncomfortable with that pure expression of joy. My friend was comfortable (and felt safe enough with me, I suppose) and allowed her body to express it physically. And that’s a beautiful thing. I would have a hard time doing that myself in front of anybody, and that’s a shame.
It’s a shame because as human beings we are emotional beings. Showing and expressing true and honest emotions feels fulfilling to us, and when we connect to other people’s feelings it creates a sense of camaraderie and community. Anger is not acceptable in many social circumstances but go to a political protest and you’d feel united in your expression of anger.
In truth I am not advocating that we change our culture to say and express whatever you want in any and all circumstances. But while we restrain at least outward embodiment of our emotions, ideally we do it out of our concern for others (not to overwhelm or give false impressions), not because we feel unsafe to really feel it.
My vision of freedom goes like this: you laugh out loud when something is funny and awesome. You cry when you hear a sad story. You get mad at unfairness and injustice. Like a small child, you throw a tantrum and then go back to feeling content. You don’t judge whether a feeling is good or bad, desirable or not. You feel everything.
That’s freedom. Because when you feel everything, you don’t carry them around in baggages. Your emotions constantly flow but you are there every moment to fully experience it. There’s no running away, hiding, or mapping out your life to minimize any chance of hurtful experiences.
And the kicker is, it’s available to everyone — though few have it. Many of us are blocked one way or another. For me, joy and anger are my weak muscles.
That’s why I turn to music, to help me feel some emotions. Music creates a safe place. It makes life more vivid, like wiping a layer of dust from your screen. When I bang my head to metal, I am fully embodying my passion for life. When I shed tears listening to songs, I’m getting back in touch with a vulnerable and tender part of my insides. Music is the doorway to freedom, a baby step toward a truly good life. I hope to eventually become comfortable experiencing and expressing anything anywhere, but you start with a lighter weight before you move to heavier ones.
To be human is to be emotional, and to be free means to have no need to run away from any emotions out of fear. I am getting there, and I am grateful that music can help me. I feel freer the more I exercise my emotional muscles. And while I go from a moment to moment feeling whatever is evoked inside me, my fundamental contentment and love of life becomes more and more solid. My life is getting better.
I hope your life is filled with great music that frees you up to laugh, yell and cry. After all, life is an experience — it feels truly fulfilling to experience it more deeply.