‘All the feels’: What 40 days without music taught me about the emoticoaster

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So 40 days without music might be a slight exaggeration. What it really was is 40 days without music…in the car. As I mentioned when it started, in Christian tradition we have a period of 40 days before Easter when we often make some sort of sacrifice and/or add in some sort of spiritual practice in preparation for the celebration. This time is called Lent and it isn’t the most fun but I’ve always found it to be helpful and a good learning experience.

Listening to music in the car isn’t a bad thing by any means. In fact, singing along to the radio has been one of those daily joys that enlivens my routine and lifts my spirits without fail.

Why give it up then?

Lent is meant to be a more somber time – hopeful, yes – but a little toned down. To me, giving up music in the car (I drive a fair amount) would give me the opportunity to be a little more contemplative and present to this time period while also maintaining some of the seriousness (singing along to Dierks Bentley’s ‘Drunk on a Plane’ doesn’t help maintain a somber attitude).

It was hard. I love music and this was the first time since I was 13 or so (whenever front seat privileges started) that I couldn’t reach out to turn on the radio while in the car.

However even though it didn’t get easier, I did learn from the absence of music day in and day out.

My main takeaway was this: the ‘feels’ aren’t everything.

I noticed that a large part of my frustration with not being able to listen to music was that I was left alone with my often anxious and uneasy thoughts and/or unpleasant emotions. For the longest time I had been able to avoid that by turning on 103.5 WEZL (‘the weasel’…yeah) and listen to the upbeat tunes that helped me not think and feel good. Now I didn’t have the option and it was upsetting to say the least.

Music affects the way we feel. The same thing can be said about a movie, tv show, or even the book you’re currently reading. Media feeds our emotions and people who create it are aware of that. We have increasingly become a culture that is focused on how we feel.

We don’t want to think about the objective reality behind something, but rather how it makes us feel. We judge things as good or bad based on how it makes us feel. We rely on our feelings and emotions to guide us.

In a way, this is helpful. Emotions are meant to be a sort of guide, a compass. We know it’s not okay when someone is mean to us because we feel upset…our sense of justice has been violated and our emotions reflect that.

Being hurt by someone feels bad, therefore we are less likely to put ourselves in a similar situation again. We learn and grow from our feelings.

The problem with emotions is their fleeting nature…I’ve heard it referred to as the ‘emoticoaster.’

One minute you’re cheerful and excited about the day ahead of you, the next you’re livid someone cut you off in traffic on the way to work. Should you act on that emotion? Will it help to yell at the car in front of you or cut someone else off later on?

Not likely.

Like everything, moderation is important when it comes to being guided by our emotions. Not only do they change frequently and easily, they also can be marred by past experiences and hurts. Someone who has been hurt in a serious way before is likely to continue to be affected by that over the course of time. We often develop filters that cause us to interpret things in a way that isn’t in accordance with reality, causing our feelings to also be faulty and potentially lead us astray.

Sitting in the car with nothing but my own thoughts for company, I learned that it’s okay if I don’t feel excited or cheerful or even loving all the time. That doesn’t mean that I will act on those feelings. We aren’t our thoughts and we are not our emotions.

While emotions can be helpful in certain contexts, remember that there is more to us than what we feel. We have our reason, we have experience and we have the reality of right and wrong.

‘All the feels’ can be nice, but to maintain that over the course of time is unrealistic. Acting solely based on how we want to feel isn’t helpful because there is more to us and more to life than how we feel. I love listening to music in the car, and I’m certainly glad I can do so again now that Lent is over. I’m also aware that it shouldn’t be a ‘fix’ to emotions that don’t feel good. Those will typically come and go on their own…and that’s okay.

To live fully means to embrace all of life. Our emotions (including the bad ones) are part of that…but not the whole picture. It’s kind of nice knowing that a bad mood or passing fear doesn’t define you.

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