Have you ever wondered What’s the point of life? (and struggled to find an answer)?
I spent a fair chunk of my life trying to rationalise and understand my existence and the meaning of life. And the more I thought about it, the more confused and hopeless I felt.
I’m in the process of writing a pdf download for this site with the (working) title ’15 Reasons to Stay Alive’ – summing up what I’ve discovered to offer inspiration, ideas and insights to others grappling with this question. And perhaps more importantly, I want to offer a sense of connection to others grappling with this question – since if you’re thinking like this, there’s a good chance you also feel very alone.
As a type 5 on the Enneagram, the natural tendency of my ego is to move away from feelings and towards thinking. Type 5’s tend to be highly sensitive and the head becomes a safe space to retreat to when feelings are too overwhelming. Growing up I was proud of my ability to cut off from my feelings. I saw it as a strength. It gave me a sense of freedom and control over my life, and relief from the sadness I felt. It wasn’t really until my 40’s that I came to discover that my avoidance and rejection of my feelings came at a very high price.
Feelings can be painful and confusing, especially for a child. And expressing feelings, especially painful ones, can be uncomfortable for others not able to be with them for themselves. When our feelings aren’t accepted or acknowledged we can feel disconnected or even abandoned. Feelings can also seem unsafe, particularly given that some people will use our feelings or sensitivity against us, to hurt, manipulate or control us.
Having our feelings be met, acknowledged and accepted is something not all caregivers are willing or even able to do. The way people respond is usually automatic and unconscious. In this way trauma gets passed from one generation to the next.
Feelings are messy, complicated and often misunderstood – by ourselves as much as by others. So developing protection strategies around our feelings makes sense. The impression I had of feelings growing up was they they were unsafe, and that life was simpler and easier if I ignored them.
But my protection strategy came with a significant side effect that I didn’t become aware of until much later in life.
Emotional Guidance System
You see, our feelings are an important form of internal guidance, both in relating to people and in making decisions. These were two areas of life where I did not function well at all.
In relation to people, I was able to get on easily with people, so conflict wasn’t an issue, but I felt like I had to give up myself to relate. Disconnected from my own feelings I would hone into the feelings of other people. I was so cut off from myself and my needs (I simply believed I didn’t have any) that I couldn’t receive anything from people and I would simply try and make myself useful by meeting other’s (perceived) needs until I could be alone again. And so my experience of being with people was that I would lose myself. Devoid of needs but compelled to respond to the needs of others I would end up depleted and unsatisfied. I was like a boat without a rudder, tossed around by the needs and opinions of others. The only way I could feel better was to be by myself. And so I became ‘a loner’.
Perhaps even more debilitating was an inability to make decisions. Using my rational mind I would look at every angle of a problem to find the ideal solution. But too often the answer was not clear or obvious. Applying this method to every single decision in my life made progress slow and exhausting. Struggling to make decisions was the death knell to my practice of architecture which required constant decision making at every level, from the big picture down to where to place a dot or a line. The inability to make decisions impacted my time, energy, money, confidence and sense of self worth.
The only things I found satisfying were learning, exploring, and sleep.
And in my exploring I came back, again and again, to trying to work out ‘the meaning of life’. I didn’t fear death, because in a way, I was dead already. It turns out that feelings ARE important.
Breath is life
Two things helped to bring me back to life. Firstly, I fell in love. It wasn’t something I’d had much experience of, being a loner and all. And true to ingrained patterns it was unreciprocated. Which led to intense pain, once I finally escaped a three year bubble of denial. Which led to a breathwork practice that helped me to embody, be with, and release my feelings, including the grief of a lifetime of disconnection.
Feelings are life
Waking up in the morning with unpleasant feelings and negative self talk is something I’ve lived with most of my life. My reaction was to want to keep sleeping. I became particularly conscious of this pattern when I had to wake up before dawn to work at a nursing home, and would give myself half an hour to journal before getting out of bed. Once I stopped doing the early morning care work I would find myself waking up with the feeling that I wasn’t doing enough, or helping enough, in a downward spiral of panic, shame and guilt. I was my own worst enemy.
Though 2020 has been a crazy and unsettling year for many, this has been my year of working through a lot of old feelings, beliefs and patterns and building my clarity, confidence and sense of purpose.
Two courses in particular have been key to my transformation – Wheels Reinvented (a teacher training on childhood trauma and the chakras) which gave tools and processes for unravelling old patterns and beliefs, and The Alchemy of Wealth, which has done the same but particularly around money and self worth. Like all self development and growth, the process is not linear but a spiral. There is always more to discover as we level up.
We have a soul and an ego. Our soul is connected to our gifts, feelings and desires. Our ego, which wants to keep us safe, is connected to our mind. Learning to listen to my soul and placate my ego is what I’m moving towards. And I know I’m on track because in the last few weeks I’ve had a breakthrough. Instead of waking up feeling ‘bad’ and wanting to go back to sleep, I’ve started to wake up to the message “all feelings are welcome”, present and conscious without my mind taking over. And while fears continue to arise, I’m getting better at trusting.
I’m trusting that what I’m creating and offering has value, trusting my soul and not feeding the doubts and fears that continue to try and take me down. And I’m learning to celebrate the feelings – all of them – since, as I’ve discovered, they are the essence of life.
Do you resonate? Let me know.