Is it Love? Finding Your Path in the Underbrush of Emotions

February is an emotionally charged month.

It is all about journeys of the heart.  All the commercials say so – for diamonds, for chocolate, for flowers…  such a lovely cliché, “journeys of the heart.”  Makes us believe that at the end of every journey is a cozy chalet with a warmly glowing fire, a chilled bottle of bubbly and love forever after.

But February can be the darkest month, the month where our hearts and our minds spiral into a black hole of expectations and cravings.  The potential of what could be overpowers the truth of what is.  And we build hope on top of that potential.   Hope based on a fantasy of what our heart yearns for even when our minds know better.

Does that sound too grim for the month Godiva and FTD?

Perhaps. According to Dr. Helen Fisher, an anthropologist who studies love and the human brain, the feeling that we ascribe as love, the overwhelmingly powerful one that makes us swoon, obsess and sometimes commit harm, is really triggered physiologically within us.  It’s a biological and physical reaction that launches our emotions, overpowering all other senses and often, our ability to reason.  (Learn more about Dr. Fisher here: http://new.ted.com/speakers/helen_fisher)

I don’t know about you, but I find that concept freeing.  And not just in regards to love.  If a powerful, primal emotion such as love is in actuality really a physiological event, then most likely so are our other basic emotions: anger, fear, joy, sadness, disgust, surprise, and contempt.  But what if we could step back from these emotions long enough to note that they burst forth from a physiological response to a trigger?  Our emotions are triggered instantaneously – but that doesn’t make them right.  When we react within a moment, we are reacting to a past experience, not necessarily to the reality at hand.  It means on our journey, our paths get crossed, we lose the trail, we choose a rocky road or slippery slope based on feelings from the past, not the present moment.

It takes significant effort, particularly within the throes of passionate love or anger, to pause long enough to realize that your feelings are reflective of what’s in you but not always what’s in front of you.  But pausing here means you can make a conscious, and potentially healthier, decision about how to navigate the current situation.  It takes self-control.  It takes practice.  And it can be a pretty messy process.

Giving yourself the space to make a conscious decision doesn’t actually take away the emotions. You still have to deal with the feelings.  But it’s a little easier to deal with those feelings when you know that they’re only temporary… joy, fear, love, disgust… they all wash over you, engulf you, and then eventually move on.  And what’s left?  Still just you.  On your chosen path, you still have to hack away at the weeds and overgrowth, but you do so with more awareness of what’s fertilizing that excessive growth and how to best prune it back as you move forward.

As we get through the rest of February, the highs and lows of love and expectations, and of the daily bouts with fear, sadness and joy, let’s also make the effort to embrace the messiness of facing our fickle, temporal emotions.  We cannot control the rise of the feelings, but we can control how we manage them when they surface.  We can own February’s emotionally charged days and ensure the path we choose is indeed the right path for us.

 

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