• Alex Mae

Circle of Life

Updated: Jun 3


Not in a predator eats prey kind of way. "Nants ingonyama bagithi baba..." (The Lion King) No. The process of learning, which for me, is life.

These are "sketches" done several years ago as I was attempting to portray how I envisioned my healing and growth after decades of stagnation. They were done on separate sheets of canvas and are meant to be connected to form a loop. The dragon's quest for knowledge breathing fire into the heart; whose blazing love causes the phoenix to rise from the inferno; whose freedom (wings) fuel the dragon's fire.

Today's fire was brought on by an idea that hit me as I've been watching a lot of people around me going through some incredibly emotional swings. It's caused me to reflect on my own journey. I am a deeply feeling person which means I can swing pretty damn far in many directions. That hasn't always been the case and it's taken years of patience and practicing healthy coping skills to accept this. Hence, today's epiphany.

So many of us have been groomed to be unfeeling, or at the very least, less feeling. The message is packaged differently for traditional male/female roles but it's the same. Only certain feelings are acceptable, and must only be displayed (felt) at acceptable times. Heaven forbid a person shows "too much" or the "wrong" emotion. Shame, embarrassment, hiding our true selves can come when we make the "mistake" of allowing others to see us feel. To be vulnerable with others and ourselves.

As I read posts from more and more adults who are on their journey to self discovery a common theme hits me. They (we) are having massive mood swings that make us incredibly uncomfortable. One day person A will post about how wonderful life is and how they've never been happier and within hours may post about how they don't have the strength to fight the fight any longer. These people are not (for the most part) bipolar. That is a serious mental health diagnosis that requires mental health expertise to diagnose and manage. No, these are people just like me going through typical (and some extreme) life experiences. Life. Normal, exhausting life.

So what the hell is happening? I've been asking myself this for months. Last year seems especially heinous and friends/acquaintances from all walks of life are feeling the strain in a way I haven't picked up on before. I've talked to many people about it. How can so many people be hurting in so many different ways all of a sudden? Not that life has ever been easy. I realized today that it's the swings that have been catching my attention, not simply the pain.

Today's aha moment: We're awakening and we don't yet have the skills to manage that. We've been living a numb/partially numb existence and now that we're more awake (Woke, for people much, much cooler than me.), we aren't sure what to do with our newfound emotional range.

In her book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, Brené Brown states, “Numb the dark and you numb the light.”

When we shove down the "bad" feelings, or any of the emotions that we're taught are unacceptable, we limit the amount of "good" feelings we are capable of experiencing. Emotions are an almost unending spectrum and we attempt to cut off both ends so that we're living in a small, manageable, socially acceptable portion of the whole. (Maybe a bubble. Possibly a box.) By attempting to shield ourselves from the dark, we throw a blanket over the light.

Adding to that, in an interview with Spirituality and Health, Brené Brown said, "As someone who spent more than a decade studying fear, vulnerability, and shame, I never thought in a million years that I would say that joy is probably the most difficult emotion to feel. It’s hard to feel joy because we are so keenly aware that it’s fleeting. When we lose our tolerance for vulnerability, we lose the courage to be joyful. Joy is a daring emotion! We are going to let ourselves stop in a moment that won’t last forever, that can be taken away. We feel almost that 'you are a schmuck if you let yourself feel too deeply because the bad stuff is going to happen.'"

Well, great. If that's not the truth I don't know what is. Joy is terrifying. Until she pointed it out I wasn't aware of why beautiful life moments scared the living daylight out of me.

So here we are. Grown adults who have been raised to hide our emotions and live in conformity and grey; who are hiding from the unpleasant emotions, and running from the pleasant. Awesome. No wonder we have no idea what to do when our bubbles burst, or our boxes break, and we find ourselves figuratively standing naked on a rainbow of emotion. We're basically riding an emotional pendulum and getting motion sickness.

Whatever has caused the awakening (divorce, death, election, coming out, health crisis, love, birth, etc.) there's no easy way to go back. I urge you not to go back. Brené Brown's books and videos are a great place to start learning how to allow the full range of emotions and vulnerability to be your strengths. She even has online courses if that's a good learning/financial fit. **They have been a turning point for me. Therapy might also be a good fit. Finding healthy coping, relaxation, grounding, etc. skills are a must. Patience. Above all, patience with yourself. The skills we should have learned as children we are now having to learn as adults while juggling school, work, families, relationships, our bodies, financial strain, and every other suffocating responsibility that comes with being a responsible adult. I promise, as someone who has been learning to sit with the uneasiness of vulnerability, it's worth it.

Everything about my circle of life is extreme. Fire, death, rebirth, change, chaos, pain. Yes. Also, beauty, growth, love, learning, life, healing, and dragons and phoenixes. I mean, come on. That's bad ass!

*I will finish these, even if it means collaborating with someone who is familiar with photo editing and can help me combine the images.

**I quote Brené Brown a lot. I do not know her, nor do I receive anything for mentioning her work. This literally comes from my love of her research and presentation style.

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