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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. 


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. It’s so important to acknowledge all our feelings. We needn’t always express them, but sometimes it really is important that we do. Knowing the difference and what effect our choice has is part of our growth.
    When I look at that “Be calm … and carry on”, I think of it more as “Don’t panic, you can do this.” 🙂

  2. I visited Lassen in 2003… I’ve been wanting to go back ever since. I only had a little point & shoot camera at the time but I still enjoy looking at the photos. It certainly looks beautiful in the snow. Being in nature always brings out “all the feels” in me. Stay Calm is for when I am back in the city! But I’m a city girl and I own that… knowing I can be out in nature any time I want to be.

    • As someone who lives in the city and also gets “all the feels” when in nature, I can appreciate your sentiments. I too would love to go back and explore more of Lassen. Thanks so much for stopping by to read my post and chat! Wishing you a safe and healthy holiday and new year.

    • Indeed. I wish I could have seen more of the park, but there will hopefully be another chance for me to explore it more. Thanks for stopping by and I hope this finds you safe and healthy.

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