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