I was eavesdropping on a conversation many years ago at Puffers Pond in Amherst, Massachusetts. It was a conversation between a young child and her mother. The mother was clearly in a bad mood, talking in curt little sentences, shoulders hunched, plowing her body through the sand and dragging the kid alongside her. The child asked,
“Are you angry, mommy?”
“No. I’m fine.” was her abrupt, angrily spoken answer.
“Oh. Okay!” The child cheerfully replied.
I watched them, and had a moment of revelation. That child had a great intuition. The child was correct in picking up on her mother’s obvious body language. At the same time, she was too young to say, “Are you sure you aren’t angry, mommy? See, you are walking much faster than me, your shoulders are showing obvious signs of tension and your voice is coming out in a rather abrasive manner…”
My concern was that from then on, the child was going to have similar intuitions, and think back to this day, even subconsciously. She was going to remember that if her mother had similar body language, she was probably not actually angry. This is a huge problem.
The child had a blind trust in the mother, as many of us do as children, especially if our parents are generally kind to us most of the time. We sort of have to. They feed us, protect us, and we know that we need them.
And yet, they are usually a bit crazy. They have to go to work, sometimes to a job they do not enjoy. They have to make money, they have to feed us, they have to give up some dreams in order to tend to ours. They have to conform to a society that is inherently working against their nature, working against their ability to touch in honestly with their emotions. And they pass that perverted blessing down to us without even realizing it.
They have to. We have to. We grow up and get some of our intuition back, but it takes work. And then, after those blissful years of thinking that we can change the world if we try hard enough, we realize that actually what we need is a job and an iPod and someone to marry us. Then we have kids and lack the patience to truly deal with our emotions, so we teach them to do the same. This is how I see the situation in an egg shell, even though there are many more bits and pieces.
The problem is that touching in with our emotions takes time. Not time tomorrow, not time next week or on our next vacation; time. Time. Right. Now. It requires us to stop with the work, stop with the incessant thinking, and sit down. It requires us to be vulnerable, to express that vulnerability, to truly feel ourselves being in pain or being scared or being happy, even. It requires some spaciousness in the present moment, and this is precisely what many of us lack.
We all have our ways of touching in with our emotions and allowing ourselves to be. For some of us, there is meditation. For others, there are long jogs where we let our brains shut off. Everyone figures out some way to do this, but rarely do we have in-depth discussions about it. Especially with our kids. It is hard to teach these things, and we definitely do not learn about them in school.
And this is why the mainstream nuclear family’s ability to deal with emotions is steadily going down the drain. Everyone has their own room, everyone has their own music device and personal television, everyone can isolate and pretend that they are the only ones who have crazy emotions. The world around them is basically telling them that no one else struggles with these things, everyone else is fine, and their parents “love” them.
My earlier post about magic words dealt with this issue. Here, I want to go more into the idea of “I love you.” These words require almost nothing to say. Saying them out loud burns a half a calorie at most, depending on your personal metabolism.
Your parents may have said this to you a lot when you were little. Maybe they still do. But what do they mean? Sometimes they look at you with pity and ask if you really need that second serving of dessert, but they love you. Sometimes they yell and tell you that you’ll never be a good driver if you use your brights on a side street, but they love you. Sometimes they look at your new partner with condescending eyes and barely listen to a word they say, but they love you. Is this love?
Personally, I don’t think so.
Or, maybe it is. Maybe it’s love, but not respect. Either way, it can cause a lot of confusion down the road. Whenever someone, especially a parent who you still have some respect for, says “I love you, but…” you are getting a very mixed signal. You are hearing that they love you, you are trying to figure out what this means (or at least, at 28 years old, I still am) but you are seeing that there is clearly not a sense of respect at some moments. Sometimes there are even a lot of conditions on this so-called love. And then, there is the almighty “If you really loved me, you would…” and this is utter nonsense.
If someone is claiming to have unconditional love for you, and then treats you horribly, maybe they do love you in their own twisted version of the word. But they are not showing you respect, and you have to stop the wheels of your mind for a moment in order to touch in with how you feel.
No matter what someone means when they say they love you, you have to listen to your own feelings. How are they treating you? Try not to think about it in terms of concrete examples of what is love or not-love, but just think of how you feel. You can tell when someone is genuinely spending time with you, and you can also tell when someone is in their own head while with you and is hardly present at all. You should pay attention to the same things within yourself.
The problem is that our culture teaches us numbness at every possible moment. You are supposed to get a job, make money, come home and turn on the TV. You are supposed to work yourself to death to pay for things you never really needed. You are definitely not supposed to sit in silence, taking breaths and feeling the air come into your body and fuel your very existence. This would be a waste of time, I mean, you could be working.
And this is what our parents have been taught. This is how they grew up, and this is how we are growing up. I love you is a set of words that is supposed to mean something, but often times, even coming from those that we have known the very longest, they mean nothing. They symbolize an intention, a play of power, an excuse. They are often times backed up by nothing, and yet we can hear them and turn into ourselves, trying to figure out why we feel insane.
The reason we feel insane is that we have been the little girl. We have all had intuitions that have been true, and yet the people we were intuiting about have told us we were wrong. We believed them. We repeat the process, hiding our fears and moods from those around us, telling people we love them when we have no clue what that means. We say it while thinking of other things, we say it without truly feeling anything. Even though we know the feelings are in there somewhere, we don’t have the time to stop our minds and touch in with them.
This is the problem. And the only solution is to stop. To listen. To trust your feelings, and let go of trying to make the square peg fit in the round hole. To realize that sometimes, people say they love us, and what they mean is something different. Sometimes, a parent or partner is truly disrespectful, regardless of how many calories they burn on words. The words I love you coming from their mouth does not need to make you second-guess your intuition. The words do not need to make you feel as if you are crazy, or not seeing something that you should be seeing.
All I’m saying is that I’ve been there, feeling crazy, trying to make myself believe something. God knows how many calories that burns, but regardless, my wish would be for myself and those around me to remember that our intuitions are valuable. Our time is valuable. Our lives are valuable. When someone calls us out on something, it may be hard to admit that they are right, but the more that we can foster this intuition in ourselves and others, the more this culture of isolation will be put in its place.