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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?

99 replies »

    • Thank you so much for that and how wonderful that you have such understanding people in your life! In so many ways writing helps me come to terms with my complexity of emotions. Wishing you well.

  1. Oh I can relate BT! Emotions can get so strong and sometimes they can burst out of something “small”. It’s great that you recognise them and have the capacity to tune into them. Looks like you had your own internal rumblings to deal with that day!

  2. I think that we can help each other during troubling times like what we are all dealing with now by sharing our feelings. What is happening in our world is hard and we can only get through it by working together. Hopefully you will have the opportunity to revisit the park another time and enjoy the peacefulness and learning it will provide.

    • Thank you Karen, I appreciate that. As we’ve had to isolate to protect one another, sharing our feelings with one another and finding ways to support and encourage while distancing will become even more important. Wishing you well.

  3. That slogan was from the beginning of World War Two in England, meant to motivate people to get on with daily life whatever happened. That would fit well with the view of English people as unemotional, but I learned recently that the English ‘stiff upper lip’ is actually quite a modern thing and we used to be very emotional – even seen as too emotional at times! I learned how to hide my emotions early when I was bullied at school but I think it’s much better to be able to express them fully.

    • The British certainly have a reputation for being unemotional which other isle inhabitants, for instance the Irish or the Scots, don’t share. But it’s fascinating to discover that this is a modern stereotype. I wonder when and for what purpose it came about….Thank you for the interesting glimpse into this bit of history.

  4. Nothing wrong with allowing your emotions … great post! As an emotional and outspoken person I have often failed at controlling mine! I think sometimes these kinds of sayings, giving advice on how you should be makes the person posting them feel better.

    • Heheh…I’ve always wondered about humanity’s need for certain sorts of social policing…and as you point out so often it’s really about the policer’s issues. Thanks so much for stopping by to read and share your thoughts on this!

  5. Soothing and calming to see other people facing the same feelings of frustration, sadness and suffering in those times. I relate to you a lot as I, as well as everybody here, have been told my whole life to be “Joya”, happy and positive, and I guess for me it’s a lot about comparing myself to others that are suffering more than me. But it really is important to remember that it’s ok to feel bad sometimes because if you never felt bad you wouldn’t feel good either.

    • I so agree — there is no light without dark, it’s the way our universe operates. This is why I think it’s so important to acknowledge how important our emotions are to our humanity and how complex they can be…denying this fact as a society leaves so many of us isolated and unable to manage our feelings as individuals and in relationships. I too am grateful that so many others chose to share their vulnerabilities with me in the comments. Thank you for taking the time to read and contribute to the discussion.

  6. I appreciate how you scrutinize the way things are; so many times we just accept these platitudes and clichés without really pausing to absorb what they are saying. I come from a family that very much believes in the “buck up” school of thought, and I’m also a person with a naturally wide pendulum of emotions. So as I swing, I am always aware of an ingrained need to moderate. Honestly, it’s worked pretty well for me. I think I do gravitate to the gray areas in life for this reason; perhaps that makes me boring! While I try to keep others from being subjected to my stronger emotions and attempt to avoid theirs, that doesn’t mean I have not felt them or dealt with them inside. Having said all that, I have a particular aversion to all the Keep Calm … variations! 🙂

    • I’m honored that my questions, doubts, and stories spark with you. Thank you for sharing your perspective on this subject. I think investigating the grey areas of life and acknowledging our complexities help develop us in our humanity and make us less boring. 🙂 Wishing you well!

  7. I think that this quote is the last part of a story, a conclusion. But there must be an introduction, a rising action, a climax, a falling action and in the end, the conclusion. It’s my interpretation of emotion or a bunch of emotions. Once, during our Qi Gong class our Seifu Andy told: ” 1. Recognize your emotion 2. Deal with it 3. Let it pass, like a cloud or a current in a river.’ This seems easy, but how to do it in practice, what are the techniques to implement this 3 stage process? I ordered a book “Emotional Intelligence 2.0,” read it, passed a test and began to keep a log of my emotions. It’s interesting and helped me with part 2. Part 3 is mostly meditation, Qi Gong, Yoga, and Tai Chi. I hope this will help. Good luck. Enjoy nature on your next trip!

  8. I had to read the sentence several times: The foxes use human skis to go around? 😀 Now I get it: they use ski tracks! I’m often annoyed with things like this sticker, most often with the concept of “hope” that we should embrace in these doom times. The images spell calm that comes with snow, something which I almost forget how it feels. Let’s carry on either way. 😉

    • 😁 I think we help each other through troubled times much better than slogans or motivational quotes can ever do. Always such a treat to chat with you my friend and hear your thoughts. Take care. ❤️

  9. Emotions are tricky! Sometimes, we expect them or know what evokes them, while other times they seem to come out of nowhere. I don’t think suppressing emotions is healthy – let it go! Yet, I would feel uncomfortable if I were to be surrounded by other people constantly sharing all their emotions. Being in nature seems to help me with reevaluating my moods, emotions, stress, and thoughts.

    Emotions are a part of who we are and there’s nothing wrong with that! 🙂

    • Indeed. It’s too bad we’re not taught how to parse though and manage our emotions better. It would lead to healthier relationships all around. As you say, “emotions are a part of who we are,” and we should be giving them as serious consideration as we do our reasoning skills. ☺️

  10. There are those who would say, lead with your heart, it’s what makes us human. There are those who would say, keep calm and carry on. I suspect, like so many other things these days, that pandering to the extremes of philosophies is counter productive. Are moderation and balance so far out of style?

    • “Are moderation and balance so far out of style?” 😁 Haven’t you gotten the memo? Moderation is so very last century…all joking aside, it’s so much harder to take in complexity and live in the grey areas, humans seem to want to keep things simple and easy, which is not how balancing a life works.

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