I’m experiencing a summer in Texas that rivals living on the equator. All around me, people are complaining of the heat and humidity. Interestingly, we often talk about emotions in terms of temperature. “I couldn’t warm up to her, she seemed cold and distant”; “He’s got a hot temper” with both hot and cold seen in either a positive or negative light. So I’ll just take a few moments in the shade and consider the heat and temperature relating to mind.
Because of my time spent in hot climates, it seems that my ‘Canadian spirit’ excludes my ability to handle winters. I’m a ‘summer’ girl. I realize that I am more like a desert lizard who loves to soak up the warmth and sun (covered with 45 sunscreen!). I have friends and family, however, who would rather hide in a hole than live through a series of hot days. In winter, you’ll find me wrapped in several layers of clothes, sitting as close to a heating device as I can get. So I’m better at handling heat than other, and less able to handle the cold. Translating this to emotional feelings rather than temperature feelings, have you noticed that each of us seems better able to handle certain situations and even certain emotional expressions better than others. Some people can openly express their sadness, while others hide it away; some people would rather do anything other than confront an injustice by expressing anger while others can do it without breaking a sweat.
Having a talent for one emotional season over another isn’t better or worse, but worth looking at – what is your emotional environment? Do you feel comfortable with one emotion over another? Or are you negatively sensitive to all of them? Once you know where you stand, right now, on your feelings about feelings, you have the power to change.
When is hot, too hot?
My garden, for the most part, is in serious trouble because of the extreme heat. Tomatoes are miniscule and, for the most part, not bearing. My peppers are wilted and dying. However, my okra and swiss chard are having a grand old time – prolific and delicious. So it seems that while some plants flourish in a certain climate, others don’t. One plant is not better than the other, it just has strengths for handling the heat than others. So I know that in the future, I’ll plant more of the sun loving plants during the summer months and move the others to a shadier space (I’m making now that I know). Our emotional control is exactly the same. However, sometimes when feelings grip us, we put value judgments on them and fail to realize that this is giving us vital information on how to better support ourselves. I am guilty of disliking feeling ‘bad’, but always take a moment and remember it’s “what’s working and not working” that is key when dealing with emotions. Which ones help you to flourish and grow positively, and which ones make you feel withered and spent?
Spicy vs Burnt
Another thing to remember is that there are different variations and scales of ‘heat’ . Imagine a room temperature dish that gives you that four fire-alarm feeling from the chilies included. Sometimes we use the word heat as an indicator or flavouring. Similarly, our emotional breadth can spice up our lives in a good way. While too much stress can paralyze us or physically tear us down, a limited amount can motivate us and inspire us. Similarly, anger can be a valid expression of injustice which forces unfair situations to change for the better in the future, but excessive anger may bind us to over reactions or unhelpful links to the past. Sometimes we have to look at and use our feelings like spicing a dish – adding just enough so that we can create greater zest in a life to savour. One more reminder – just as you may take spicy heat different from friends of yours, your emotional tolerance may be different from others, too. Even if your might feel a friend’s sadness is too much for you, it may be acceptable within the recipe of someone else’s life.
For Every Season, Turn! Turn! Turn!
There is a reason… While it may not feel that way at the time, sometimes our greatest lessons are drawn from the hardest seasons we face. Another idea that seems to align with this is the concept of “this too shall pass”. I know that, based on your situation at the time, hot season, cold season, rainy season, whichever season may seem to drag on forever, we notice after that seasons change (even in relatively stable environments on the equator – make it a challenge and notice the circle of growth and decline) . While a continued bad situation or emotional sentiment may feel that there will be no end to it, keeping in mind that, just like the seasons, there will be a change, can be not only heartening at the time, but that change of thinking and feeling can actually support in the shift and redirection of bad emotional weather.
Finding Shade or a Fireside…
Just as we chose to take a break from one extreme to something more moderate – like working outside in the heat and finding some shade and a cold drink – looking at your emotional ‘hotness’ areas and sourcing out different and equalizing opportunities can change both your approach and your ability to cope with that feeling. I’m not saying that variability in emotions is a bad thing (I could think of nothing worse than always having cool, damp weather, but that might be someone else’s dream climate) but having a ‘cheat sheet’ with go to activities or thoughts can help to cool you off or warm you up (whatever you may need). If you have trouble doing this for yourself, enlist someone you care about who would be willing to be honest, or a professional. As adults we sometimes think that we need to handle things the way we’ve always handled it, but sometimes learning something new can be a refreshing change of ambiance.
Whatever the weather you’re experiencing wherever you are, I hope it suits you.