On feeling at peace

Ask yourself, 'How do you want to feel in your life?' Not, 'What do you want to do with your life?'

On this cold January evening, I continue to reflect on the elegant question--the first one above--that a wise woman asked me yesterday: "How do you want to feel in your life?" I did not have to think about a response. It came to me immediately: "I want to feel peaceful."

Lately, I've been realizing just how much "big feelings," to borrow from my brilliant, lovely friend Erica Meiners,  have guided my path, often on an unconscious level. Erica suggests, "Get in touch with big feelings--what we love, what brings pleasure, what are our fears and what makes us angry and consider these feelings as public, not private." She adds, "Feelings are not simply by-products of organizing or research or work life, they are a central component of contemporary political life."

I could not agree more. I've spent most of my adult years pursuing ways of being and knowing that do not reproduce the alienation, hyper-competitiveness, hyper-individualism, social hierarchies, and demands for conformity that imbued my youth, including my early twenties when I left (fled?) the country for three years to "serve" as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Senegal. My drive both to belong to a community of some kind and to fight injustice emerged less from an intellectual curiosity or some other rational rationale than deep-rooted feelings of hurt, rage, and anxiety. These feelings have not merely been private, although they have been a source of far too much harsh self-measurement and judgment behind closed doors (which relates to my last post on Barbara Ehrenreich's Bright-sided ). Rather, these big feelings have significantly shaped--if not constituted--my public speech, political activism, and writing, including this blog.

Having recognized the major role of these big feelings in nearly every aspect of my life, I am approaching my work in a different way--a way that I think will improve it because I am no longer trying to impose my own traumatic associations with phenomena like academic achievement on those who have had non-injurious experiences with them. The topic of big feelings, particularly negative ones, also reminds me of a documentary I recently watched called Enlighten Up. In it, a wise yogi instructs, "Be your true yourself...As much as possible try to get rid of what you are not." As I try to be in the present--simply be, without critiquing my own words, actions, or feelings--I will also try to have faith that what I am is adequate to guide me well. As Mary Daly said, "Courage to be is the key to the revelatory power of the feminist revolution."