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from photos of the month august 2022

A few weeks ago I realized that my body has a kind of fixed mindset; that I can demand almost total reliability from it, but in turn I have to not test the boundaries too often. So I can march with my tuba in a parade for as long as I need to (though I have to keep in mind not every bandmate will share this privilege) but in return I don't push limits too much; when I tried couch-to-5K my jog was barely faster than a quick walk.

And today I realized, I have the same fixed mindset financially! I've never had to budget carefully, and I never have to deprive myself of small luxuries (and some large ones) But I take care to make sure I'm not living extravagantly, drive an 18 year old Toyota, have a small condo. (Basically ridiculous tech salaries just about afford what used to be a middle class life.)

Fixed mindset, especially if the base it is protecting is fairly confident of some good abilities, is a mixed curse. It gives me an almost unshakable self-confidence, but I also don't take big swings where there's a significant risk of being shown up as not as capable (intellectually, physically, financially) as I assume I am.

from "It makes sense that you feel that way."

Melissa and I had a great week with Dylan, besides the incredible amounts of Lake-ish fun we had some great conversations, many about mental and emotional health.

One phrase he mentioned being very useful between him and his mom, so much so that it had an accompanying gesture (motioning as if it was a tattoo inscribed along the forearm) was "it makes sense that you feel that way."

I really adore that, because it is very validating with being fully endorsing-- it has a useful ambiguity of whether the confirmed "sense" is strictly objectively and rationally true, or just true within the context of the listener's mental landscape.

It clicks well with my recent observation of how "validation" is the critical thing in so many cases. Especially for negative emotions; for anger, people want to know other folks are on their side, wiling and able to recognize the same unacceptability of some aspect of the world and join in the fight against it, for sadness that the other might mourn alongside, or for almost any emotions; that other people recognize that the feeling is a sensible response, and that the initial feeler is not diminished by having that feeling, or too out of joint with the world.

This scales up to larger groups, of course: the majority of political ads are exercises in fomenting righteous outrage, because mere negative judgement might not be enough to open the purse strings or inspire other action. (This constant sense of helpless outrage gets tiring. No wonder some people are so drawn by promises of people who claim they can fix things.)

Importantly, I also think that the demand for validation scales *down* as well; I'm a big believer in "parts"-type therapeutic models, the ones that point out we are not the consistent, monolithic beings our consciousness tries to pretend we are. For me an emotion flares up from a singular, often non-verbal part. But then my slower, more think-y self has a moment to decide if it's going to put cognitive kindling and fuel on that emotion, or if it's going to decide that a bigger feeling doesn't serve the greater me, and let the emotion die out.

(This flame metaphor may not resonate for everyone, but I see it as useful in modeling other folks, even folks living more intuitively and not as "unemotionally" as I can appear to be going. Like Dylan mentioned he might have a feeling smoldering underground, causing irritation and then flaring up after a few days. Or other people seem to have a semi-constant large flames just barely contained. Or with fear-anxiety, fire fighting is a recurring struggle. But, it makes sense that they feel that way.)

Daddy, swing... take it easy.

from thoughts on feelings, feelings on thoughts

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness
Some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
Who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
For some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
Meet them at the door laughing,
And invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
Because each has been sent
As a guide from beyond.
Rumi, "The Guest House"

This poem came up as I was trying to deepen my knowledge of Internal Family Systems (which people point out I refer to a lot.) Specifically, I was wondering if IFS implied you always need to fully person-ify your sub-parts, or if it there were other forms - because sometimes my inner parts feel like a raging infant or poorly trained dog, or worse. But I wonder if IFS would say the point is to let these more elemental subsystems "borrow" the cognitive facilities of other parts of the mind, so that they might more clearly express themselves...

I've been having some good (and ongoing) dialog with John Sawers (a followup to a 4-person party conversation with Cordelia and Melissa) about emotions.

John's view (to paraphrase and summarize badly) seems to elevate the importance of emotions themselves; they just have a goal of expression (verbally, physically, or otherwise) and failure to attend to them is what really leads to problems. So I'm left trying to figure out why I am unwilling to treat emotions with similar sacred reverence.

Currently my favorite metaphor for emotion, especially "negative" ones, is that of a flame. An emotion is a flame that kind of wants to burn. The higher mind has some ability to choose how much kindling it puts on that flame - to consciously dwell on the resentments or anger or injustice so that the flame builds and builds. Or to take corrective action. Or to let it go out. But - a repressed flame may seem to be out yet might be smoldering underground, only to cause great problems later on.

(And despite my even-keeled nature, sometimes I enjoy whipping up a big bonfire of anger or even a drenching torrent of sweet sadness. But usually I'm able to control when that happens.)

It's easy for people to think stoic/epicurean philosophies (or even some of Eastern ones) are about repressing emotion, but I think a part of it is the preference of cultivating the flame of gentle, sustained contentment - tranquility, ataraxia. It's an emotion like the other ones that can be curated and cultivated - but sometimes at the cost of other Id-ish emotions that you need in order to change the world in good ways rather than lapse into complacency.

So my thinking now is focused on two observations:

* most negative emotions are rooted in a desire for the world to be different than it is. To me it feels like the core of Buddhist Duḥkha (suffering, or unsatisfactoriness) is about...attachment not just to the world as it is now (and will not be forever) but also attachment to the "similar but better" world we can so easily imagine.

* one of the primary drivers of emotional expression is a need for VALIDATION - either interpersonal (in part so other people might join in your cause to effect change, and so that you are seen as reasonable and responsible person in the community) or even INTRApersonal (so the rest of the mind will act appropriately) An emotion wants to be seen not just as representing the person, but as accurately understanding the world, without which the justification for changing the world could not stand.

For me, that validation is highly intellectualized. When empathy for other's beliefs caused me to lose my Faith in a single revelation being universally true, I became fiercely anti-authoritarian. Like - "Only God Can Judge..." but I'm not sure there is a God. And I don't think any earthly authority is self-justifying. But neither do I go full-on existentialist and think that every person can be their own judge (which is close-cousin to why I have trouble with John's view of the primacy of emotion.)

So I end up thinking that everything that matters is emergent. Every sense of morality and values, the way things "should be", it emerges from groups. And the more people it's emerging from and with, the more LIKELY it is to be universally true. And so I'm more willing than most people to subjugate my personal preferences to the validation I get for being in line with "what's good for the group" - sometimes having to trust the group to take my preferences into account to a sufficient degree.

So one side effect of putting my needs into the context groups I form is that I'm a very reliable person. And I sometimes have trouble refocusing irritation with people when they are less reliable.... but I try and exercise patience because I recognize that most people's value systems do work from the individual's preferences outwards, and since I come from a place of privilege that can put up with a lot without too much discomfort and I have a sense of allegiance to groups that is a bit idiosyncratic (especially since it's still so anti-authoritarian!) I can't expect everyone to have that same group-first way of thinking.

And it also means I have to worry if my emotional curation means I feel things "less", if quiet contentment is a good tradeoff for the passions I might otherwise more likely enjoy, or suffer...

from July 12, 2021

A few weeks ago a friend described me as "mild-mannered". (I mean, presumably not in the Clark Kent sense.) And the other day, playing "Joking Hazard" (a card game about assembling 3 panel comics, a bit taboo stretching but not as prone to punching down as "Cards Against Humanity", say) another friend knew the card I was about to play had to be a good one because it made even me laugh - with the implication that I'm a bit less laugh-y than some (though I remembered making plenty of audible chuckles at other folk's plays throughout the game).

It makes me wonder how I come across to people, and how I really am. I once asked my then long-term therapist what he would diagnose me with and he said mild anhedonia ("an inability to experience pleasure from activities usually found enjoyable"). But that evaluation never felt quite on... I feel like I'm enjoying life a lot, and taking pleasure in things.

Maybe I do have a more curated sense of emotion than some folks? I guess I want to be thinking more instead of feeling - or rather to feel, but to have the option to chart my own course over calm waters, accounting for the prevailing winds and currents, and not to have my craft forever at the mercy of big waves of strong emotion. (And in general, distrusting emotions not to be arbitrary, to be too sure of their own reasonableness.)

Like compared to other (stereo)types of possibly too-controlled, too-disciplined, too-uptight people... I dunno. I have less of a "personal code" to everyday life than that I guess? I do have some nearly unbreakable rules for myself: to be reliable, and to weigh my personal preferences only as part of the aggregate sense of what the group wants; I don't want to be a martyr for a group but I don't think I should favor my own preference JUST because it's *my* preference.

Anyway. Would love to hear how I come across to people who know me and interact with me a lot, or, less self-centered-sounding, I would also love to hear how people cope with their own emotional management and outward expression.