I remember, back when I was working at a major supermarket chain, I was sitting down one morning with a cup of tea and a chocolate chip muffin in the break room, with my book* and hoping for a little peace. Instead, my colleagues were having a loud discussion about emotions and spirituality, and one of them brought up a prayer by Michael Leunig.
‘Love and fear are the only emotions. That makes so much sense.’
-‘It really is so true, when you think about it. Love and fear.’
And they went on about some expo which was coming to town soon, and how much they were looking forward to going, while I raged silently about how stupid I thought it was. And why couldn’t they go away and leave me alone to read my book and drink my tea?! Grrrr.
Of course, the concept of reducing all emotions to love and fear is not completely without basis. Often when we feel negative emotions, such as frustration or disappointment, we can relate them back to fear, and when we are happy, or excited, then it seems possible that such feelings come from love. But I really disliked how simplistic that felt. Surely we’re more complex than that? What about hope? What about betrayal? What about anger?
This came to mind because the two-year-old had a tantrum this morning. Well, actually, she had tantrums. Two before she went outside to play, and another two outside. As far as tantrums go, they were mild (ie, of the upright, rather than the prostrate, variety) and I brought her inside during the last one, while she raged and thrashed, and I offered cuddles and said that she was going to bed, because she needed to have some quiet time and maybe a nap. And then she stopped screaming (quite so much) and said, between sobs, ‘I want to be happy! I want to be nice! I want to be HAPPY!’
My heart broke a little bit, then. Because I knew she was telling me that she didn’t want to feel this angry. And I thought, ‘she so gets it.’
I mean, possibly I’m giving her too much credit. She’s only two and a half. I was really impressed at how well she could count when she was packing up the toys recently, and then I realised she gets as far as two and starts over again. Ha. So I don’t want to portray her as some kind of genius, here. But I love how she was telling me that she wanted to stop being angry. She wanted to be involved in the game she was playing outside with her sister, and she wanted to be back to normal.
I struggle with that. I don’t get angry that often, but when I do, I struggle with trying to stop it. Sometimes, I know I hold onto it for longer than I should. I don’t generally hold grudges, but when I do, I really don’t want to let them go. And I know it’s not healthy. I know that the only person who’s really bothered by my anger is me. Even if I were to tell the person or people just how angry I were, is their reaction to it really going to be enough to satisfy me? Short of throwing themselves at my feet, and begging my forgiveness (which, let’s face it, I wouldn’t take seriously, anyway), is anything they really say going to help how I feel?
I always thought that holding onto moments in the past was a childish thing to do; that being angry for a long time and holding grudges was just not the emotionally mature decision. But perhaps I’ve been looking at it from the wrong direction. The toddler understands. She rages and screams and stamps her feet, and then it’s over. And even while she continues to cry and contradict herself, still she is able to say–to clearly express–that this is not what she wants. I need to remember that simplicity. When I am angry, it is not that I need to be the grown up. I probably just need to have a tantrum (in private, if possible), acknowledge my hurt and frustration and annoyance, and then I can say, ‘OK. I’m done. Now it’s time to be happy. I want to be happy.’
Maybe Leunig is onto something after all. I don’t know if it’s only love and fear… simple dualities bother me, because they often dismiss the many shades of grey that exist, and being prone to long-windedness, I want more words to describe how I feel, not less! But I can get on board with the idea of a push-pull of emotions, of repulsion and attraction. I can understand, that if I choose to be happy, to be content with the world, I am choosing to get over the anger.
Ah. I feel calmer already.
*Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, in an effort to try and keep myself sane while doing a very mundane job. It didn’t work–I was so numb and washed-out by the humdrum of supermarket work that I barely had the capacity to concentrate on anything, let alone this wonderful tome.