Great thoughts always come from the heart.
(Marquis de Vauvenargues)
When I was working with the brilliant Lianne Raymond (think someone can’t be gentle and thunderously powerful at the same time? I didn’t either, until I met Lianne) I used to routinely stumble over thinking and feeling. She’d ask me how I felt about something and I would launch into an answer that began “I think….” She’d point this out, with her trademark delicacy, humor, and directness, every single time. I found my confusion itself confusing. Aren’t I a feeler? I’m 100% F in the Myers-Briggs, cry all the time, and am routinely – daily – told I’m far too sensitive to live in this world. Why was my thinking getting in the way?
This weekend, Dani Shapiro read from Joan Didion’s famous essay, Why I Write. I’d heard the quote “I write entirely to find out what I am thinking” many times, but had never read the piece in full. In the essay, Didion confesses a total inability to think, to “deal with the abstract.” She describes being drawn over and over again to the peripheral, the specific, the concrete. To that she can touch, smell, see, hear. To that which she can feel.
And suddenly I understood. There are two things going on. The first is that I use my mind to evade actual feeling. Often it hurts too much to feel, so I try to intellectualize things. This has been a defense mechanism of mine for a long time. It has something to do with what Pema Chodron says about “never underestimat[ing] the urge to bolt,” which my friend Pam explored in beautiful detail last week. I wrote a while ago that my brain must get out of my heart’s way, but I realize that for a long time I intentionally put it there. It hurt to much to experience my heart directly.
The second is that I realize I actually conflate feeling and thinking: I describe thoughts when I am really talking about feelings. My mind does veer towards the abstract, but it’s always through the vessel of the specific, usually through nature. Through the most concrete of details – the light on a steeple at dawn, the smell of magnolia petals crushed under my feet, the way my son’s hair curls at the nape of his neck – I can access the eternal. The divine, even. For some reason, which I suspect has something to do with my PhD physicist of a father, I grew up knowing that you start sentences with “I think.” Even when I’m talking about something utterly different, which is my feelings. I’m not sure if this is simply acculturation to a world that prizes the intellect above all else, or something else, but it’s a tic I realize I have.
I’m not sure if the grayness I experience between thoughts and feelings for me is some kind of vestige of years of avoidance or a profound respect for the fact that our deepest emotions come from the same raw, root source, the essential wellspring of who we are. Either way, I adore this quote from Marquis de Vauvenargues.
Do you ever get muddled in the whitewater between thinking and feeling?
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