Fog. Light mist. Partly sunny. Partly cloudy. Sprinkles. Grey skies. Showers. Sun. Strong winds. Dark clouds. Rain. Lightning flash, boom of thunder. Heavy downpour. Sun break through the clouds and rain, a rainbow graces the sky. Clear blue sky. Bright sunshine.
Weather events. Storms. Human emotions. Emotional storms.
We each exist in an emotional climate all our own. Each one of us is an island unto ourselves, an island with its own climate and its own weather patterns. Our emotional climate is affected by our history, our stories, and by stressors and triggers. Our triggers are connected to our histories, the blue prints of our lives. Triggers emerge from soreness, pain, emotional wounds, and emotional traumas. We experience our emotions as storms – this is our emotional weather.
If we see a heart up close, much like we see a canyon wall or the face of a mountain when we are out in the wilderness, we will see how the heart has been formed by years of emotional weathering. If we have a discerning and knowing eye, we will recognize the topography of the heart – grief, trauma, loss, devastation, abandonment, shattered sense of self, and so on. If we remain present, we will begin to discover in this emotional landscape of the heart, the traces and remnants of past storms. Here I do not speak of emotional storms, the shifting clouds or the wind and rain, but of much bigger storms, catastrophic storms, storms that have the power to completely alter an emotional landscape.
I have experienced a storm of this magnitude in my own life. For me, this storm was the “ka-boom,” the end of the biggest and most important relationship in my life. The explosion I would liken to a tornado – sudden and instantly devastating, completely uprooting and leveling everything in its path. The days and weeks and months after the explosion I would liken to a hurricane – forceful winds, heavy, unrelenting rain, crashing and pounding waves. Though my shattered heart has healed around the ravaged landscape and new life has come to exist out of the devastation, many dynamic topographical features were created by the catastrophic storm. I continue to discover the altered and dynamic topography of my “new” heart.
Catastrophic, life altering storms are rare. Emotional storms, however, are part of our every day, week to week existence. We experience emotional storms as a result of stressors and triggers. Stressors are the crappy, negative, or unexpected. Not enough sleep. A fight with a loved one. The jerky boss. An injury. An unexpected bill in the mail. Stressors usually do not grow out of our emotional climate. Triggers on the other hand, do.
Triggers are the remnants of our history, our story. Triggers emerge from our emotional landscape, the dynamic topography of our hearts. We see or hear or smell something that brings to the surface a memory of an event or a feeling from the past, happy or sad, and we are triggered. Something is said in conversation that relates to a sensitive or a sore place in our story, a wound that is still raw, and we are triggered. We encounter someone from our past, or we see someone that reminds us of a person from our past, and we are triggered. We feel a storm about to come – the winds start to blow in our hearts, the clouds come together, and precipitation forms in our eyes. We cry.
Sometimes there is nothing external that triggers us and the trigger is internal. We are triggered by the stories playing in our minds, not a fact based story of our sad and tragic history, though this certainly could be a trigger, but the stories, the imagined scenarios and alternate realities that are constantly forming in our minds. These stories are not truth, but an alternate and possibly sad version of the truth that grow out of fear or worry or anxiety or a deep wound or an unresolved hurt or feeling stuck in emotional limbo . . . these stories often take on a darker mood and are clouded and colored by the emotional climate in our hearts. The stories of our mind have the power to trigger us and when they do, an emotional weather event ensues – tears, crying, sobbing, anger, what have you. The intensity of the storm depends on how tightly the story takes hold of you, by how much you allow yourself to be in and feel the colored and skewed reality.
I discovered that our stories can trigger us internally one day while I was brushing my teeth. Memories started to play in my mind. My memories started to take twists and turns into an alternate reality; imagined conversations and assumptions played out in my head. I started to feel sad, tears started to form in my eyes, I was a little weepy. I had a moment of awareness, a mindful moment, and I paused. To myself I was like, “Wow. That was interesting. I just created my own sadness. I just created my own little storm.”
I became aware that these “self-created” storms grew right out of the emotional climate in my heart. I started to pay attention to my tendency to create my own storms. I saw that when I allowed the stories of my mind to carry me away, I could very easily end up in a sad place and experience a little shower, a brief moment of cloudiness and precipitation. Other times I saw that I experienced a longer period of rain. Sometimes I even experienced a heavy rain from a much darker cloud. I had one of these intense storms just the other night. I was triggered both externally and internally. Up and out came the well of sadness from my heart, a sadness that drenched the surrounding fields.
So what do I do with this awareness and insight into my own emotional weather? I pay attention. I observe. I investigate. I start to look at the patterning of my thoughts and the stories that grow of them. I look at the weather patterns that ensue. Which stories produce the most sadness? Why do I, again and again, end up in the sad place and experience a storm? What pattern of thinking continues to take me to that place? Is there something about the story that allows me to access a feeling? What purpose does this feeing serve? Is this feeling enabling me to move forward or is it keeping me stuck in the sad place?
I am aware that these stories travel along the neural pathways of my mind, the hard wiring of my brain. These neural pathways have deep, deep roots and it takes a lot of effort – persistent, mindful, and intentional effort – to change one’s root system, to form new neural pathways.
Poet Jane Hirshfield made a statement in the documentary, The Buddha. She said, “a tree lives on its roots; if you change the root, you change the tree.”
At the time, her words spoke to me of our ability to transform our lives and become a new tree, to live a life very different from the one lived before. Today her words reveal to me that in order to change the patterning of one’s mind, it is vital that one must change the roots. So if you find me sitting under a tree in Seattle or anywhere my travels may take me, I might very well be attempting to absorb the essence of that tree to enable a new root system to grow in my mind and heart and to create a shift in my emotional landscape.
Clouds shift. Clouds change. Clouds grow together and expand. Clouds release. Clouds let go. Clouds dissipate. Clouds blow away.