I was recently in Greece, floating around on a catamaran with my husband and two other couples, where nothing but when to slather on sunscreen next was of concern. We happily drifted from one port to the next, one sunrise to sunset, one meal to another. It was a vacation of the best kind of forced relaxation because when we were at sea, there was nowhere to go and nothing else to do but lie on the net at the front of the boat and soak up the sun.
As a psychologist, I have built my career and life on analysis. I have become astutely aware of why and how things affect me. I can trace a thought or emotion down the rabbit hole and discover the roots. I can sift through the chaos of my head and sort thoughts and beliefs into boxes- this one goes into my need for perfection and control, this one into my fear of commitment, this one into my perception that I will never get what I need… It’s a useful skill really, and it’s helped me immensely in making sense of this sometimes overwhelming life.
The problem with all of this though is that intellect and analysis eclipse emotion. When I try to engage in understanding, it immediately lifts me up out of the experience of it all and leads me on an academic like pursuit. Which is, of course, a type of higher level avoidance. There is something inside of me that says “if you understand it, it won’t affect you.” Sometimes there is an element of truth to that, but other times, it doesn’t matter how much understanding I apply- Pain catches up and finds a way to make itself known.
One sunny and hot day, we were all sitting in the back of the boat, eating lunch that was served by our hostess (who was also a fabulous cook, by the way). We were listening to music, talking about things of little importance, and making exclamations about each delicious bite we took. Suddenly, and seemingly out of nowhere, tears welled up behind my sunglasses and started to spill out of my eyes. I went to the front of the boat and watched the boat ride over the waves, and just like they came crashing into us, my sadness crashed into me- over and over again.
Instinctively, I started to try to understand- why was this happening? Where was it coming from? What was it even about? Then, a little voice inside of me perked up and asked- does it matter? And the truth was, it really didn’t. There was no answer, though I had a ton of good ones, that would undo or take away the tears. And truthfully, there was no reason to take away the tears. For whatever reason, no matter how worthy I may have judged that reason to be, my body decided it needed to expel something powerful in that moment.
The thing is, despite all my arguments otherwise, sometimes emotions don’t need to be understood or evaluated. Sometimes, and more often than I’d like, they just need to be felt. So as I cried, listened to the sounds of the sea, and felt the wind whip through my hair, I knew that eventually the tears would give way to something else. Just like everything in life, eventually it all changes. Tears to laughter, heartache to love, pain to joy, life to death. And really, all we need to do is learn how to ride the waves.
After a few minutes, the tears subsided, my husband wrapped his arms around me, I felt the sun on my skin and heard the laughter of the others on the boat with me. And then my husband said something funny and I was laughing too, a feeling of lightness overtook me, and the sadness dissolved into the salt water air.