I wrote yesterday's entry on FB and got some great sharing responses... here's what I wrote back
Wow, thanks to everyone for thoughtful responses! It sounds like a tough and important question for a lot of folks.
20 years ago I made the half-joking observation "I'm one of the most or one of the least enlightened people I know." - I was less aware of my emotional registers then, and I think I meant I was at ease with the idea of "the self is an illusion" (I got there by reading materialists like Dan Dennett rather than like insight meditation) But since then... like when I hear people say the great thing about meditation is it stills the wandering "monkey mind" and so permits unanxious relaxation... But for me, letting the mind wander is almost always pleasant. It may brings up ideas I don't like, but I guess I intuitively GET that "I am not my feelings, I am not my thoughts" in a way other folks don't. (And it is reinforced by a pile of cultural and material privilege where 'eh it will all be ok in the end' has a decent chance of being correct - especially if I'm less buffeted by negative emotions in the meantime)
But don't let me sound full of myself. (says the guy with socks of his own face) I get low grade anxiety about things, I angst and procrastinate on work and other things that might bruise my big old ego. Even the odd blow up of temper, though generally directed at more abstract things like traffic, hardly ever individuals, and usually only when I'm alone and it's ok to rage.
And I probably don't connect as readily or as deeply emotionally as other folks do- I think I have an easy time aiming for autonomy and co-self-actualization than I do providing healthy co-interdependence. (though I guess that avoids the problems of co-dependence) Working on it.
I think about how i got here. Religion is a bit to thank, or blame; I took to heart the idea that the only thing that REALLY mattered in this life was avoiding eternal hellfire (and getting that sweet heavenly eternal bliss, though that somehow less pressing) and so my personal feelings and preferences were just potential stumbling blocks to my final destination, handicaps in a game played for infinite stakes. (Artist and polymath (and polyglot) Nicole Bernstein, a frenchwoman from my Science and Spirituality group, mentions she got a much healthier (still nurturing and refuge-providing) view of a God engaged with us in the here and now... I'm envious!)
But between that "fear of damnation" and the fixed mindset of being a precocious, smart kid, where I had infinite confidence in being a smart and worthy kid as long as I didn't test it too hard... I think it set some patterns of not letting the pigeon drive the bus (albeit with ego as an only semi-rational aspect demanding protection)
And...other things changed me too, later. I think pining after one woman all through college and a bit after, where there was a maddening on-again, off-again aspect... I guess that affirmed my need for self-actualization vs interdependence. Piled on with a divorce and a broken engagement - it does seem to emphasize the importance of parallel strengths in a relationship rather than mutual need. (Like I figured out or read long ago, "it's a lot cooler to be wanted than to be needed"... because then you have more freedoms and you are there because you want to be.)
And its sheepish to admit, but I do wonder if someone how Y2K fears - so quaint now, but it did take an awful lot of programmer work to make sure there weren't at least some of the problems the doomsayers were predicting - provided a secular version of the apocalypse (a bit after I got over my anxiety about thermonuclear war, the other secular apocalypse) and maybe somehow changed me. I remember once a person at the front desk of my job mentioned she could always tell when it was me coming up, because of the happy humming or bopping I'd be doing, and a few years later I realized that was no longer the case, and wondered what happened, where that went. Right now I wonder if that cheerful intuitive behavior was the victim of getting all the noisy schoolkids in my head, the seeming K-12 all in one classroom, in line.
Yikes, that got long. But some thoughts I've been juggling around for a bit...
I think a great solid takeaway for me from other's responses is that for a lot of people talking about anger or another bad emotion helps the emotion that is there disperse and dissipate, like steam from a simmering pot, while for me talking about negative stuff tends to be more kindling to a fire that otherwise would burn out of its own accord, and more quickly than with other folks. (One of the commenters mentioned the wikipedia page Social Sharing of Emotions...)
FOLLOWUP: Heh, almost exactly 13 years ago I was referring back to the earlier "least or most enlightened" bit... I had a lot of good things to say about it then to.