Discarding What's Real For What's True

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Thoughts and feelings are real, but that doesn't necessarily make them true. It takes courage and openness to discover the difference.

...real happiness might be dependent on being willing to face, and to tolerate, insecurity and vulnerability.

Oliver Burkeman, The Antidote: Happiness For People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking

 

Not everything I write in my journal is true. The act of writing out real thoughts and feelings is sometimes the first step to recognizing the illusions in which we live. It is a mechanism for finding the flaws in our logic, identifying the ghost in the machine, distinguishing “reality” from truth. It is a way to test theories and assumptions and expose them for what they are — whether actual or delusional. I have been dealing with a painful relationship in my life and, of course, using my journal to discern truth from fiction. Not, I should clarify, fact from fiction. Because facts are not the purview of personal journals. Facts are the stuff of science and law. In art, in writing, and in life, what is true is not merely what happened, but what is at the heart of a thing. Let me explain.

 

I have, like most of us, felt hurt or misunderstood by people from time to time in my life. Some relationships seem particularly prone to collisions of thoughts and feelings. Rather than the dance of two caring people interacting, the experience is more like a duel. Thrust, parry, reprise. Offense and defense. Being right and making the other wrong. These devolve into habits, swirling out of control until one person stops, leaves, or dies. There are some unhealthy relationships that are best just disposed of — I’m all for getting rid of toxins. And while some relationships are worth fighting for, I don’t have the strength or energy anymore. What is emerging is yet another gift of my chronic fatigue. Another way.

 

Fight or flight are not the only choices in an argument. They are, in fact, two sides of the same coin. One paradigm. I have written out whole conversations in an attempt to dissect disputes in the fruitless belief that if I just present my case clearly, the disagreement will disappear. So cute. So naive. So completely misguided. Because personal arguments are not about facts. They are about our perception of, our feelings about, what is happening. They are, in fact, a battle between the meaning we bring to a conversation and a contradictory meaning the other brings. It is a clash of identities, as if our thoughts and feelings are attacking each other while we stand by and watch, helplessly. 

 

So how do I resolve the feelings of the heart when the mind is incapable of doing so? I face it. I examine it and write about it for as long as it takes to see something new. When I write in my journal, I express myself with great rawness. I spill out all my thoughts and feelings, along with my judgments of my thoughts and feelings, with no consideration for the rules of grammar or what people would think if they read such vileness. It took me a long time and a lot of practice to hone this skill, but if there are any rules to journaling, this is the first. Spew, don’t splice. Don’t attempt to edit out the ugly stuff, the stuff you wouldn’t want anyone to know, the stuff you don’t even want to admit to yourself. We are not bad people if we have deeply dark thoughts. We are, to use the technical term, human. And when we identify and acknowledge all facets of ourselves, we can sift through all the chaff of hurt feelings and find the kernel of truth. The heart of who we really are and what we really want.

 

Meryl Streep once said that she never let people film her process. She remarked that rehearsals can often look like bad acting. This is precisely because rehearsal, like journaling, is an opportunity not merely to practice until perfect, but to put aside the pressures of performance. To escape the ego and to discover and uncover uncharted territory within ourselves without the constraint of external criticism and judgment. Journals are not for publication or even for evaluation, but rather a place for an exploratory process, a dumping ground for all the thoughts and feelings that come spilling out onto private pages. This week, when all the meaning of my heartache was scattered and sorted, all that was left was the heart of the relationship. I stopped doing battle and surrendered. I gave up nothing of value. I simply stopped trying to explain, convince, or figure things out, and gave myself over to what was hidden but always there. The uncertainty that comes with love.

 

From A Run In My Stocking: Confessions Of A Recovering Perfectionist     www.aruninmystocking.com

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