Cry. Laugh. Feel.
Many people tell me that I don’t look my age (66). When they ask me: “What’s your secret?” I can honestly say, “Feeling your feelings is crucial.” That doesn’t mean you have to express your feelings to or at another person (that creates drama, and is a plaything for the immature). Instead, it’s about feeling whatever you feel and being honest with yourself about it.
Years’ ago, when I attended a retreat called “Men’s Rites of Passage”, the retreat’s founder – Father Richard Rohr – told us:
“A young man who cannot cry is a savage
And an old man who cannot laugh is a fool.”
As younger people, we’re supposed to be happy and carefree. And yet, we experience a lot of sadness in our twenties and thirties: all the dreams and fantasies of our teenage self are rarely fulfilled; all the excitement and (eventual) disappointment of new loves that don’t last; and all the people who want us just for our bodies, perfect skin or youthful allure.
As “wise” elders, we’re supposed to have figured out our lives and come to a state of peace and acceptance. Fat chance! It sounds good, but isn’t really attainable. What helps is to learn to laugh at ourselves, other people, money, jobs, this crazy world…to not take it so seriously. We have lived long enough to know that everything is temporary – it comes and goes – so why are we so attached to it?
Recently, a young man come into my office and said, “I don’t know how to feel.”
Actually, he did know how to feel, he just didn’t know what to do with his feelings or even what to call them. He told me, “A long time ago, I decided that feeling stuff wasn’t helpful; so I just stopped feeling things…now, my girlfriend told me to come to you so I can learn how to feel again.”
He was a wise young man (with an even wiser girlfriend). He learned as a child not to cry, laugh or feel: because, when he did, the outcome was bad. So he shut down.
For about twenty years.
But, the good news is: it’s never too late to feel. And it’s never too late to learn how to handle your feelings.
Clients often ask me, “Michael, what am I supposed to dowith all these feelings? They make me feel crazy.”
Many of us impulsively act out our feelings: this doesn’t usually produce a happy life. What works better is to find a way to express them so that no one gets hurt (including us). Don’t aim them at the person you’re unhappy with: handle them more internally. A lot of meditative practices focus on this. Let me give you a short and simple meditation to try:
The next time you feel strong emotions, sit down for a couple of minutes and consciously breathe slowly. This gets more oxygen to your brain so you can think more/react less. Once your body is calmer, notice how your body feels. Then, after a few breaths, notice what your thoughts are. After a few more breaths, notice what your emotions are. Just notice them. Don’t hate try to get rid of them. That doesn’t work. Just notice them.
Usually this process calms you down so you can clearly and calmly see what you’re feeling and – big surprise – it won’t kill you to feel the feelings.
Try it and see and let me know how it works for you.
I’d like to let you know about a workshop I’m offering on Saturday, September 14th, from 1:30 to 3PM at The Studio Door in Hillcrest: “The ART of Aging Well: A Workshop for Gay Men”.
The workshop will address questions like:
As a gay man, do you find aging is a challenge?
Do you find it hard to make peace with the physical changes that come with aging?
Do you feel less attractive and/or more “invisible” the older you get?
The workshop is sponsored by Patric Stillman/The Studio Door (located at 3867 Fourth Avenue in Hillcrest). Come join us as we explore these questions with a safe, supportive group of men. The workshop is limited to 25 men and the admission fee is $25. To register, please go to: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-art-of-aging-well-a-workshop-for-gay-men-tickets-67103352935