The zen of you & me

I read The zen of you and me: A guide to getting along with just about anyone (2017) by Diane Musho Hamilton.  It started off what I hope to be a year of good and inspiring reading.

Chapter 7, Depth of Feeling, left its mark on me and I wish to remember it without buying this book.  So, I will leave a portion of it here in my blog.

“My mother was a powerful feeler.  I remember sitting with her one afternoon while she looked at an old photograph of her father. She talked about him for an hour.  She must have moved through six or seven distinct emotional states as she gazed at his face.  She expressed tenderness, poignancy, intrigue, impatience, anger, remorse, and love. I wondered which of them was most true.  I concluded in my young mind that all her feelings together meant she loved him.

I was about thirteen at the time, and I remember being impressed with her emotional range.  It was the first time I remember admiring this particular quality in her unique character.  I felt the depth of presence in my mother, something that was real and exposed.  Even though her moods weren’t always pleasant or predictable, I trusted her to feel strongly and to say so.  She brought raw life force into our house, and tenderness, and she was always true to her experience.

My father, on the other hand, was removed from extremes of feeling.  He was friendly, with an easy way about him.  He wasn’t moved by sentimental films; nor did he cringe at the prospect of others’ suffering.  He was straightforward, taking the tender and the painful challenges of being human in stride.  I rarely saw him express anger or indignation.  I only saw him cry one time when a good friend was killed in a trucking accident, and for a moment, he broke down while speaking at the funeral…

…My dad didn’t dwell in emotions, but he wasn’t a robot either.  There was freedom around him, a spaciousness you could count on, and a confidence that we could deal with life without the burden of emotional drama.

For intimacy and emotional closeness, I confided in my mother.  But for straightforward ability to face life as it came, my father was the best.  I wouldn’t want to choose between my mother’s capacity to feel and my father’s ability to ignore intense feelings. It would be like choosing between truth and beauty.” 

This passage opened me to a new level of awareness about myself, my family of origin, and my created family.  This passage describes not only the author’s mother, but it describes me.  And it describes my mother.  And it describes my husband.  We’re nearly a perfect mirror image of the author’s description of her parents.

The author’s beautiful description of her mother’s fluctuating moods and her ability to feel a wide range of emotion had a deep impact on me.  Portraying this trait as a strength and a gift offered comfort to me that maybe I am okay just as I am.  I am used to feeling guilt and shame over my own wide range of emotion and way of experiencing life in a deep way.  All of my life I have viewed the level-headed, unemotional character as ideal and superior.

Being strong feelers means we experience the darkest depths.  It is painful and dramatic and embarrassing sometimes. And on the other side, being strong feelers means we have the capacity to experience great joy, too.  We love deeply.  We contemplate.  We notice and care about the suffering of others. We are the ones to whom “intimacy and emotional closeness” is second nature.

As Jung wrote, “No tree, it is said, can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell.”  I guess I am like that, too.

Hamilton, D. M. (2017). The zen of you & me: A guide to getting along with just about anyone. Boulder: Shambhala.




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