switching emotional states

A fair bit of the last 18 hours I’ve experienced some paralysis from feeling overwhelmed. I am one of those really lucky people who sleeps well … in fact it is running joke at home how little time it takes me to fall asleep. Not last night.

I lay awake into the wee hours. I thought about our children, thousands of kilometres away, all going through important phases in their lives … parents worry a lot. I thought about work. Our Melbourne based business is going through very significant transitions. I am a long way away and cannot be engaged as meaningfully as I would like and everything seems to take so long when you can’t influence it. I thought about my health. Two more moles will be coming off as a precautionary measure in the next month or so, and an ultrasound to check out a lump next week.

I got through a mornings work and then have been tossing and turning in 8A as the plane bumps through the high level cloud off Cape York. From feeling like the week was going well … I find myself in a bit of a spiral. What’s a bloke to do?

Well, here’s what I do. I tap into some thought processes that effectively switch my emotional state from negative to positive. For me that means plugging into sources of pleasure, goodness and meaning. I pick up the airline magazine that I’ve already ‘read’ twice and scan it for indicators or good design, acts of kindness and justice. I scour for places, things and people of genuine beauty. I mine it for stories of people who are not living ‘under the circumstances’ but have made choices to shape circumstances.

And I find some.

I feel the energy begin to seep back into my soul. I begin to count my blessings. I remind myself of what is within my control and what is not. I rekindle a problem solving posture rather than feeling buffeted. I start to regain some emotional strength.

I take in my privileged surroundings. I have chosen my travel bag, the items of clothing I am wearing and my travel accessories not simply for their functionality but because of their design. Did I mention – I really like good design. And I immerse my heart in memories and anticipation of those I love. I chose not to experience circumstances but to live. The things that kept me awake last night remain the same. But now they are opportunities for good living, rather than hurdles to passive comfort.

I glance out the window and the clouds have cleared.

photo copy

playing with my emotions

In a box up in the top of the wardrobe somewhere is a manila folder containing my notes from the subjects I studied 25 years ago on teaching modern languages. On the front, in my handwriting is: “The thought comes from the emotion, not the emotion from the thought.” I remember a teaching practice lesson where I had year 7 kids pretending to be aeroplanes, zooming around the room reciting the Japanese word for plane. The idea was that the young students’ capacity to recall the vocabulary would be enhanced by association with the physical activity.

This morning I lay in bed, tempted to forgo my Sunday morning exercise routine. Didn’t the weatherman say it was going to be 7 degrees or some ungodly temperature outside? Fifteen minutes later my hands were numbed by the cold only a few minutes into my 10 minute ride to the gym. People waited at the tram stops down Lygon St rugged up in coats and scarves on their way to who knows where; but as we glimpsed eye contact there is that knowing connection … we’re both up early on a beautiful cold Sunday morning while most other people are still in bed.

As I peddled against the freshness I marvelled at how I could be enjoying the experience when only 15 minutes before I couldn’t have imagined there would have been anything pleasant about having left the warmth of the covers behind.

Given what I have ahead of me this week, it was timely reminder that choosing an appropriate physical reality can drag my unwilling emotions and ultimately my thinking to where it needs to be. If I wait until I feel like it, I will be either resentful or ineffective or both.

Of course it’s not all that matters, but being intention about getting the physical stuff right does a lot to adjust our attitude. Even though my first inclination was to sit on the couch, choosing to sit in the winter sunshine on the back steps this afternoon helped me get in the mood to kick the soccer ball with Johanna. Ironing my shirts and making sure the shoes are shined ready for the corporate meetings helped get me in the right frame of mind for what will invade my world tomorrow.

My choice to get up early this morning was a good reminder that I do not need to be a victim of my feelings … adjusting the sensual inputs can make a real difference to how I feel and what I think.