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Book of Emotions

Not many of the roads are open. Snow hangs thick over the lake and the surrounding ridges. Most of the facilities are asleep even though the park is accessible to the public. I drive around, wondering what to do. I stop by one of the few unlocked buildings. Inside, I stroll through the small museum store displaying geologic dioramas. I study the area map. “All the trails and camps still closed,” I mention to the lone person on duty. They shrug. “Yup.” “Any idea when things will reopen?” They shrug again. “Depends on the weather.” I wait for more. Only as I walk away do they add, “could be tomorrow, could be next week.”

I sigh and amble out, a jumble of emotions. I’m frustrated by the closures; though, happy to have made it to Lassen Volcanic National Park, grounds of the Atsugewi. But, after years of planning to get here, I’m doubtful about what to do next. The blanket of snow is delightful, yet I wish I could explore what lies underneath. 

In the parking lot I observe a car sticker. “Keep Calm and Carry On,” it admonishes. I balk. What exactly should I be calm about? And why? I’ve seen this popular slogan — on social media memes, mugs, tees, and posters — flourishing as our world vacillates from one crisis to the next. What, I speculate, is the objective behind such a mantra?  

Some of the people I poll regarding the catchphrase say it soothes them in moments of uncertainty. Others point out that the motto helps them brace for the worst with determination. But, the message either shames me or stresses me out. I feel it urging me to shun my true reactions; to tamp down my instincts. 

Motivational quotes like this profess to encourage us. “Be happy,” they proclaim, “rise above it…stay strong!” But often within these injunctions there is an avoidance of pain, a suppression of grief, a negating of trauma. I’ve heard similar advice all my life. “Never let them see you bleed,” a teacher advised. “Get over it,” a friend pronounced. So, I ascertained that exhibiting sentiment was a weakness, that there were appointed behaviors for designated circumstances. I stopped permitting myself to sort through my emotions. I wasted effort trying to smother my feelings.   

The Stoics were a Hellenic philosophy school founded by Zeno of Citium in the third century BC. They emphasized virtue as being the sole good and that a system of logic should inform human ethics. Today when we say, “be stoic,” we are teaching others to endure their experience, to “grin and bear it.” But, the original stoics were not condoning the quelling of emotion. Rather, they counseled against basing decisions solely upon sensation. Their ideology was not one of perpetual calm, but of not allowing fear or anger to dictate our moves. 

Consistently squashing my natural emotional fluctuations, I’ve subjected myself to carry the wounds of my past. I’ve denied my cultural history and impeded personal growth every time I’ve categorized my intuition as “proper” or “improper.” I realize now how often I’ve persuaded myself into “appropriate” feelings in order to belong. How I’ve failed to deepen connections by policing my emotive conduct. How I’ve failed to partake in community by adhering to specific sensibilities. 

When I call my companion to check in I relate my irritation upon seeing the “Stay Calm” sticker as well as my roller coaster day. “I don’t know what’s going on with me,” I tell them, “I’m a muddle.” “Sure,” they reply, “I understand. Sometimes you just have all the feels.” I chuckle in appreciation. “Yes,” I think to myself, “exactly…sometimes I do have all the feels.” Not understanding how to manage them isn’t a deficiency. Processing those complex range of emotions at my own pace is not an inadequacy. So, instead of keeping calm, I shall pay attention to my book of emotions — hoping to learn from its many pages. 


TRAVEL NOTE:

Lassen Volcanic National Park is one of the last places where you can spot the Sierra Nevada red fox. They often use human ski and snowshoe tracks to facilitate their winter migrations. As with all wildlife, please respect their presence by keeping your distance. 


What are some of the ways you are acknowledging and caring for your emotions in these days?

107 replies »

  1. “Keep calm” generally irritates me. Two phrases work better for me:
    One comes from a great blogger Named Vihasi Shah, which I have printed and taped on my desk:
    “Can you just smile?
    “Can you?
    “Please.
    “Breathe. Smile. Breathe.”
    (Works wonders)
    The second comes from learning to ride:
    “When you fall from the horse – and you’re bound to – just get back on the horse. Like ‘Now!'”
    Stay safe.
    🙏🏻

  2. Bonjour Bespoke Traveler, j’ai lu votre beau billet avec la traduction en français et j’ai beaucoup apprécié vos mots sur les émotions. Merci pour vos belles photos et je vous souhaite un bel automne.

  3. Good post. I agree that we are not always ready to receive positive statements or slogans but they usually contain some truth and once you get it, it is calming. I do feel that on a subconscious level, it helps to realize that everything is impermanent and changes are part of life, good and bad. It is important to find something to feel good about these days. Loved the pictures!

  4. Insightful indeed! And I thought I was the only one among people I know that cringe at those motivational words. In my head, I would ask why must I? Why should I do that? Like you said so well, emotions are not meant to be suppressed. Suppressing it would eventually brings danger to mental health I feel. I think it is better to learn how to regulate all these different emotions, particularly the difficult one. 🙂 Lovely snowy photos by the way.

    • Thank you! Glad you enjoyed the snowy photos. I’m always wondering if I’m the only misfit around and always happily discovering I’m not. ☺️ Wishing you a safe and happy October.

  5. I think it’s so very important to feel our feelings, to express our emotions. I think that more than anything allows us to heal (as long as we don’t wallow). I tried for years to suppress them, wishing I could be one of those people who are always calm and dignified, and adult I suppose. Ha! Then I learnt better. Thank God. I’ve given my emotions free reign for years now (not in public, I save them up until I have private space) and now I experience them as clouds moving through. I can be in the depth of pain over something or other and sobbing my heart out and at the same time observing it with kindness and the knowledge that when it’s spent there will be peace and clarity on the other side.
    This is such a beautiful honest post. I hope you find a way to unravel the past, and the ways in which you’ve limited yourself because of a false set of rules. We all get them, the rules for appropriate behaviour that do little but stifle our natural selves. I guess this unravelling is what life is all about really.
    Alison

    • Thank you for your beautiful advice and for sharing your own struggles, Alison. It’s so strange how I had a lot of misconceptions about what being an adult meant. The “unravelling” as you so beautifully put it is both beautiful and disquieting.

  6. Hello Atreyee.

    The snow is wonderful. It hides things under it covering the ugly and thus revealing the beauty of the nature. If the winter and snow last “too long time” then man starts to long for the spring and summer. In my country we do not use these: stay strong and stay calm. Maybe this due to the different culture or our history.

    I enjoyed your photos very much. Thank you.

    Have a wonderful day!

  7. I thoroughly dislike these trite expressions. I can understand that such mantras could potentially boost spirits in a difficult situation, but I feel that their overuse minimizes any impact they may have had when brought forth in a more meaningful context. And for me, the imperative form makes it even worse.
    As for Lassen Park, I hoped to visit it a couple of years ago when I was in Northern California, but the roads were closed, as well! And that was when I read about the narrow window of time between snows in many years. So instead, I visited Mt. Shasta and the Redwood Park. I do love those gorgeous trees, so while I was disappointed, I stayed in a little cabin surrounded by the trees for a few days, and how could my disappointment last for long?

    • Yup…I think you’ve hit it on the nail…it’s that imperative that gets me too about these slogans. As you say, there’s such a small window to explore it…but I loved the little bits that I could get to.

  8. It’s always great to read your honest posts, BT. “Keep calm and carry on” is all well and good, but its meaning is lost due to its excessive use.

    Sometimes we cannot be calm, even when we wish it, but we can still carry on with rage, sadness, fear, and a host of other emotions. Sometimes being calm is not an option, and anger is what’s needed for action to happen.

    I suppose I go back to my practice with Vipassana meditation, to learn to observe the range of emotions because that’s what we have as human beings. We are fortunate in this way, but it also means we must learn how not to react every time something pushes us to an emotional brink (far from calm).

    These times are testing every one of us. Be good and kind to yourself.

    xox
    eden

    • Thank you eden for such thoughtful advice. Managing and sorting through emotions is continuous work and unlike riding a bicycle it really does take the sort of commitment and practice which you are putting in. I’m in the very beginnings of my journey with it. XOX

  9. Those motivational words often make me cringe, especially when they are used liberally by people who like to tell others what to do. I think emotions are meant to be felt, not suppressed. But I also believe that once we allow ourselves to feel, we should also think of what to do next if I want to get that feeling out of me (in the case of sad emotions). On a lighter note, I wish you a pleasant autumn!

    • I agree. Progress is going from suppressing emotions to accepting them as part of being human and then parsing our particular emotions to figure out why we’re feeling the way we are so that we may understand ourselves better. Hoping your autumn is going well.

  10. Isn’t it at least a little funny how well-meant advice can, at the wrong moment, have the opposite effect from the one intended? It’s totally ok to balk in those instances, but I have also been surprised by what may happen when I allow myself to get over myself. 😊

    • Yup. There are definitely cases where I’m just grumpy for no valid reason. 😁 I think the key for me is to admit the particular emotion I’m experiencing and then to parse why it is I’m feeling that way, rather than suppressing the whole gamut of my emotions in order to “bear and grin it.”

  11. I agree with you.

    I think that that admonition, “Stay calm and carry on,” is particularly inappropriate in the covid context. In London during the blitz of WWII, much more so. People had to try to stay as focussed and calm as possible because they had to try to ward off as many deaths as possible in the next half hour. They had to take immediate action in a concerted, collective way. No dissenters.

    My mother was one of the teenaged radar operators posted to London during the blitz and she took comfort from the slogan. I don’t think she would agree with its present use.

    The covid age is different. It’s the “carrying on” that’s helping to spread this virus. If people were a little more worried and a little less calm, perhaps they would remember that they can easily transmit it to the more vulnerable.

    There are different ways of looking after ourselves and others, and sometimes the better way is the emotional one. Well said.

    • Thank you for sharing how your mother felt about this British WWII slogan! I’ve been curious as to how the government initiated motto affected Londoners during that time and it’s interesting to hear that as someone who needed to exercise speed and accuracy during strategic moments, she found comfort from it. How wild is that! I love what say at the end: “there are different ways of looking after ourselves and others,” and I think it would be good if we could accept this complexity into our lives. Wishing you well.

  12. These types of platitudes used to make me even angrier/sadder/etc. I don’t even pay attention to them anymore. I’ll feel whatever I feel like feeling. 😉”But often within these injunctions there is an avoidance of pain, a suppression of grief, a negating of trauma.” Exactly. I’ve always felt this as well. Everything we bury has to eventually come back up if we truly want to move on from the past. Very insightful words and gorgeous images. I’m sorry that so much was closed for your visit. Hope you’re having a beautiful autumn.

    • Thank you my darling friend. It’s been a year where I’ve truly let myself feel things without the added guilt of having emotions. And it’s been so freeing…wishing you a lovely season of changes in your favorite woods and meadow.

  13. I was, still am to some extent, the poster child for stoic (the grin and bear it type) and can very much relate to your “muddle”. Did you eventually get to see the park? Interesting travel note about the fox. I hope you are keeping well.

  14. You just never know when you’re going to get a case of – what was it? – having all the feels. I like that expression! Days like that can spring up at any time and maybe the “Keep calm…” motto isn’t the best advice for those times. For me, a walk outdoors is almost always very therapeutic, working on photos is a great way to forget my worries, and talking to companions and friends can be very reassuring. I do hope you enjoyed the rest of the day at Lassen – it looks beautiful and it must be a fascinating place. Take care of yourself and keep asking questions!

    • Despite not being able to explore Lassen as much as I would’ve liked I still valued my time there. Like you I always turn to the therapy of being outdoors in order to work out my worries and find serenity. Thank you for your kind wishes and I hope this finds you safe.

  15. A thought-provoking post. Your pictures, too, are lovely. I’ve never seen snow, so I find it beautiful and imagine it being a source of joy. As someone who hates the cold, that goes beyond optimistic.
    As to acknowledging emotions, I use a 12 step program in order to discover them, understand them and live life better because of them.
    May the sun shine within you, today. Be gentle with yourself.

    • I think being honest with myself about my feelings is something I still struggle with, but I like your logical, measured way to grapple with them. Thank you for your kind words and I too found the snow to be a delight! Perhaps someday you can enjoy the beauty of snow without the cold.

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