As the holiday season surrounds all of us, it is important to be conscious that for some it may be the most difficult time of year. It is such a powerful milestone of the year which can force (perhaps unwanted) reflection. For someone who may have had a rough year, is experiencing the season for the first time without a special loved one, or is currently experiencing an unwanted life transition it can be far from a joyous occasion. Could you also believe that some families are actually ‘NOT’ that supportive and in fact could even make someone’s uncomfortable thoughts and feelings grow in intensity?
I know it’s shocking but true. If you or someone you know is in that place where the holiday season might be a tough stretch, here is perception shift that has been interesting to explore. Please know that I am not trivializing the pain or suffering anyone may be going through. However I personally am always looking for mental exercises that switch cognitive processes and reduce dissonance. This one came to me through an observation of the human body. As mine gets older, it becomes more difficult to be aware of the little changes (the big ones are easy to remember- I see you hamstring). But much like comparing a new car to one nearing the 100,000 mile mark, some of my parts are simply worn down from life.
This became clear to me by watching my kids. Now we all know they have endless energy(except when they completely pass out like someone hit the off button). What I did not expect was the crispness with which their senses experience everything-simply because their parts are brand new. Color just springs off of objects for them. As adults we can only experience this with substances we hope they will never try. They are so sensitive to light and sound. There are so many noises that they have begged me to turn off that I barely even noticed with my ears dulled by years of woodworking tools and live rock shows. A child’s reaction to a blender or a vacuum is like someone electrocuting them. Taste seems to hold steady, but I can remember clearly two very specific times where my kids minds were blown. The first time their little taste buds that had been previously impressed by mushy peas and blended carrots were introduced to the marvels that are chocolate and bacon.
I could have sent them in a rocket ship to the moon and I don’t think they would have been as impressed. Everything is so much more vivid and intense for them. I can think back to being a kid and having that same intensity in some of my memories. How I would play with my toys, the color of a favorite t- shirt, my dad taking me to a special dinner. The power my new sensory parts had back then made those memories have extra power. As you grow older, you get desensitized to the awesomeness of life and that makes sense. We experience driving, flying, hanging out with friends all with the same senses that have done it hundreds of times before. We simply become accustomed to the experience.
I truly tried to analyze all of the experiences and emotions that we experience as children and adults and felt many were still good, but without that rawness of experiencing them with a fresh mind and machinery. I found that to be true for everything except trauma and love. Now trauma is not a subject anyone can quickly assimilate into a blog metaphor except to say that the mental survival of such an experience should be celebrated as a personal triumph on the same scale as the incident itself. However the presence of love as the other all encompassing timeless emotion was fascinating to me. I remember the first heart break I ever experienced. I made a valentine for a classmate who told me she didn’t want it and that I could throw it in the gutter if I wanted- which I did. That damn construction paper heart stayed stuck in that gutter until June I think. I also remember love appearing in its purest form. The buzzing energy in every skin cell as I drove to see the person who made me believe in a god because a higher power needed to exist to make this person possible. Both of my young children will one day come to me with a broken heart. It hurts already just thinking about the pain they are destined one day to feel. But the one thing I will not be able to say is that one day it will get easier. Life thankfully still brings me the chance to experience the mountain top highs and the woeful depths of love. Perhaps less than an uplifting thought for some, but is it not a testament to its amazingness that love is more powerful than time. You have to keep living, have to keep moving, have to fight all your defensive instincts to stay open for its return. With this concept in mind, I started trying to assign numeric values to emotions based on intensity instead of good or bad. For example, extreme Love and extreme Sorrow are both 10’s. Now this is a stretch- but if you see value in the idea that a life well lived is one filled with intense connections and experiences than an intense positive or intense negative experience should be equally (maybe not equally) appreciated as being a powerful example of what life can bring. Basically Live Big, Love Big, Hurt Big. It’s all worth it. So if you are feeling a level 10 of hurt for something or someone that is not in your reality this holiday season, take a deep breath and be proud of yourself. Some people only experience life at a 3 or 4 because it is too scary to try anything more. You gave yourself the opportunity to feel life and love at a 10 and who knows, maybe your heart goes to 11.