Ten of the longest weeks of my life where spent working as a hospital chaplain in New York City. I was completing a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (or CPE). Every day from 9a-5p I would check for new patients on my floors, make rounds visiting patients, and sit with whatever emotion or experience was in the room.
Now here’s the thing: I avoid pain and discomfort at all costs. As my CPE supervisor said, I prefer “rainbows and Snoopies.” So eight hours a day of entering spaces filled with death and disease left me feeling overwhelmed with discomfort.
Because I don’t usually get “all the feels.” I only get some of them. I privilege the ones that come with a smile, avoiding anger and anguish at all costs. But these ten weeks chipped away at my usual operating system and allowed a greater range of emotion to emerge.
“All the feels” are a reminder that we are human, a title I aspire for every day. “All the feels” reminds us that life is deep and complex; we are mermaids swimming in the depths rather than splashing in the shallows. “All the feels” is a reality check that life isn’t always fair, in fact that rarely seems to be the case. “All the feels” use our empathetic muscles, allowing us to connect with others.
And when I do get “all the feels,” I try to follow the advice of Thich Nhat Hanh: Smile, breathe, and go slowly.
I want to smile, even in the midst of pain and discomfort, not to ignore or avoid a full range of emotion, but to acknowledge it and recognize that any emotion is not the totality of my being.
I want to breathe, knowing that this often unconscious act is the rhythm of my being. When I give attention to each b breath I am able to be present with whatever I am feeling or experiencing in a different way, brought back to the present moment around me rather than the quicksand of emotions in my head.
I want to go slowly, listening before I speak, looking before I leap, living deeply and sucking the marrow out of life.
What about you? What do you do when you get “all the feels?”