“Learning how to be strong, to feel her own emotions and not another’s, had been hard; but once you learned the trick, you did not forget.” -Neil Gaiman
The lines comes from Neil Gaiman’s wonderful, very small book, The Sleeper and the Spindle, which re-envisions Snow White while diving headfirst into fear and uncertainty, and turning classic gender norms upside down. Gaiman’s wonderful frolics often have a dark, haunting mood beneath (or maybe it’s above, and the joy of adventure is the foundation?), and that’s what I see in this line.
I asked my students to try this today, to try feeling their own emotions, and after a minute of silence, most of them said it was hard. It was hard to just feel what they were feeling. Sitting here now, I realize that I didn’t do the exercise with them: I was teaching, I was leading. I told myself that was okay, but it’s hard for me, too. I spend a lot of time working. I don’t spend a lot of time just feeling, which is strange, because my heart, my me, is the foundation from which I can offer anything.
So I’m going to try it again: a minute, or more than a minute, of just trying to feel what I feel. And I have a guide. After the exercise one of my students, a young woman whose courage and honesty frequently inspires me, said: “I feel broken. Not bad, I don’t mean bad, but–well, broken.” If my mother didn’t visit her garden for a little while, there would be a lot of brown leaves, a lot of struggling plants. Perhaps our hearts are the same way, and if we don’t go out and tend to them, there are tangles of vines and roots wanting water. Perhaps part of my heart really is just aware of broken pieces, and perhaps there’s nothing wrong with that.
We spend a lot of time holding ourselves together. No, I won’t hide behind “we:” I spend a lot of time holding myself together. And that can be good, because while being poised I get things done–but beneath the poised there are tides and volcanoes, and if I never dare go down to them, I might forget that I have magma in my heart, and all its heat to play with. There is something in us that is hotter than lies, stronger than illusions: our foundations are solid rock made molten, and while they’re strong, they need not always be stationary. Sometimes the power comes from movement and eruption; but how would we know, if we never go and see?