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?
Interesting post. If I could have the wisdom to understand all my moods, I’d think I finally grew up. It isn’t always easy…
I don’t think it’s ever easy, though I used to think that as soon as I’d gotten past 21 I’d be a grown-up and understand everything there was to know about life. 😆 Now I see life continues to teach us no matter what age we are…
The best emotional advice I read was from the Indian philosopher, J Krishnamurti, who wrote never to suppress your emotions. Instead, be aware of them and don’t name them, just concentrate on the way they make you feel.
Something I’ll be practicing I think for the rest of my life. Thanks for stopping by to read and for the advice.
Our marriage will take place in 18 days under stupid and very challenging COVID19 circumstances and conditions, and I really never had more partially contradictional emotions and excitement in my entire life due to the many pandemic difficulties and new daily obstacles on our path. Such is real life, even after 63 years surprising and often unpredictable 🙂
I guess life never stops surprising us…I used to believe when I was younger that somehow I’d have everything figured out by the time I was a certain age. Best wishes on your upcoming nuptials.
I am on a personal development journey which I embarked on during lockdown. Your explanation of the Stoics’ philosophy aligns with what our coaches say: feel whatever comes, without judgement. Emotions are just a gauge of what is going on and listening to them is important in interpreting our experience of the world. I like ‘all the feels’ 😊🌈🌻
Thank you for sharing this with me. I like the wisdom of your coaches. ☺️ ❤️
I’m glad someone else pointed out that the ‘keep calm’ slogan came out of wartime Britain. It’s well-meaning, like ‘this too shall pass’ and ‘don’t worry, be happy’, but you knew all that 😛
Sometimes we do need that quick and punchy prod to remind us to RELAX. In fact, someone could just say that to me and that would do it. Because I need the reminders.I shared in the NL what’s working for me, but it is always good to hear it again:
“If you view everything as practice, your suffering will disappear.” Shido Bunnan, 17th cent, Zen master.
Yeah, I should’ve noted in my post the slogan’s origins…but, I am glad several people mentioned in the comments. Definitely haven’t gotten to the point where I can believe the 17th century master, but I’m happy to hear his words are working for you! Wishing you continued zen along the way. 💚
I suppose it could be taken in the extreme, but it clicked for me. I think there’s a bit of ‘not taking things too seriously’ and an element of practice that forces us to think of life has a dress rehearsal as well.
Feelings and emotions just can’t be organised can they? You try to keep them in order but they often refuse to stay in line and just leap out when you least expect. Not a fan of the ‘Keep Calm …’ mantra either. Always feels like I’m being ordered to be calm and that has the opposite effect.
Heh heh…exactly my feelings…
Regarding platitudes, I hear U. When I was a child, adults sometimes bludgeoned me with them. It hurt.
But “Keep Calm and Carry On” does have a benign interpretation, in line with the same distinction made by this post, between stoic and stolid. Don’t smother emotions; don’t let them override reason; do stay calm and try to find a way to help fix whatever is wrong. Bomb squad technicians do care, but only the calm ones get to work on a second bomb.
“We’re channeling all our rage and fear into action” says Indivisible in one of the duns I received recently. I too seethe with rage and fear because the federal government is dominated by a bumbling fascist and his enablers. Stoically, I don’t lash out but do try to help various efforts that just might save The Republic.
I love this way of looking at how to manage emotions: “Bomb squad technicians do care, but only the calm ones get to work on a second bomb.” And that is precisely what I’ll keep in mind. Thank you for stopping by and for your wonderful comment.
What a pity that we place feelings in categories like good ones and bad ones, Atreyee. I think it is important we should acknowledge and appreciate all of them. Getting stuck in one is perhaps problematic, but I’m with you on feeling a bit irked with people forever spewing the mantras “be happy”, “rise above it”, “stay calm” . . . . ugh. That isn’t helpful, when one is frustrated, stressed, or disappointed. Life is about ups AND downs, after all. I definitely subscribed to the stoic philosophy of not allowing fear or anger to dictate the choices we make.
It’s been a revelation to actually read what the stoics wrote…and I’m enjoying living outside the constraints of having to feel a certain way because it supposedly fits the situation. You’re right about our constant need to categorize and simplify ourselves though…it only ends up hurting us and the ways we’re able to connect with one another. Wishing you well!
Great photos, and also enjoyed your writing and reconsidering how valuable all emotions can be, in a sense some of the greatest moments in life come directly from pain and grief, and accepting/meeting such trauma head on ~ an invaluable learning process, especially these days with so much going on.
Thank you Randall. It’s always a pleasure to have you drop by. This time does indeed feel like a reckoning. Hoping this finds you safe.
Yes, emotions affect us all differently… indeed an appropriate title! It’s so interesting to read the various comments… let’s encourage one another to be hopeful, resilient and work on our own relationships…. great to connect and thanks for stopping by! 😀
Great advice for anytime but particularly now when so many are struggling in different ways. It’s always a great pleasure to read your work and to have you drop in for a chat.
My pleasure! 😀
Just so you know, I tried to answer your comment on my latest post, but I can’t seem to get it to go through. It’s some kind of glitch that others seem to be experiencing as well. However, thank you for your comment; I wish you lots of gentle rain. 🙂
Thanks for letting me know. Be safe. ☺️
I always find motivational quotes to have a reverse effect. Simplistic exhortations to be mindful or grateful or whatever are ridiculous – empty-mindedness for the empty-minded at best. Cruel and self-serving hoaxes on the struggling and deprived at worst.
Your post, however, is none of that.
Oh, thank you so very much for your sweet words! It’s heartening to know I’m not the only one who has trouble with slogans and motivational quotes. So many of them seem to be expressly for marketing purposes, without even the desire to inspire or encourage.
A very interesting question because at the heart of emotional stability is our ability to self care and to recognize our frustration and fear during uncertain times. When I look back at this time, I want to remember that I chose resilience, hope, imagination and embraced flexibility to adapt and thrive. As my favourite stoic reminds me “ “Adapt yourself to the life you have been given; and truly love the people with whom destiny has surrounded you” Marcus Aurelius. A great post and discussion.
Thank you for this beautiful insight. Before reading Seneca and Aurelius I hadn’t really understood that stoicism was really about resilience and emotional management in troubled times. I too want to look back upon this time as one in which I chose to act in hope and embraced resilience. Wishing you well.
Looking forward to the adventures ahead!!
“All the feels” is a great way of putting it. Sometimes I feel as if I have an emotional cold–just need to let it follow its course, exercising a bit of maturity re: managing “symptoms.” The “keep calm” motto, as you probably know, originated in wartime Britain. Interestingly, authorities were ambivalent about the slogan, so the posters printed with it were mostly destroyed. A bookseller revived the slogan years later (https://www.businessinsider.com/the-surprising-history-of-keep-calm-and-carry-on-2015-6)
Thanks for the link to the slogan article. I love the way you put it: “an emotional cold–just need to let it follow its course.” It’s how I shall think from now on about managing my ‘symptoms’ as well! Hoping this finds you well and thank you so much for stopping by to read and chat!
Feelings. They must be worth a book or two, hon. 🙂 🙂 Always in your court.
😁 Indeed. Thank you for the love. ❤️