I met Carol in a writing class. She was close to 70 and had a head full of shock-white hair. During each class we had to read our pieces aloud. When Carol read, she always sounded like Meryl Streep reading a book on tape. The first time I spoke to Carol was a break. I wanted to ask her about the commune she wrote about in her essay about her early life. I squatted down next to her and interrupted her as she flipped through her notebook. She nudged her reading classes up, angled her body slightly toward me, put her hand on my shoulder and looked down at me. I asked my question (something insignificant enough to forget already) and she answered me, never taking her hand off of my shoulder and never shifting her gaze from mine. The interaction was so brief yet I walked back to my seat wanting more. It was a couple days later that I realized that I didn't want more from Carol. I wanted more from myself. I wanted to be that grounded and calm and present.
I took the writing class in part to find a way to integrate all of the new feelings I was having as the result of some big life changes (moving, divorce, parenting) I'd experienced in recent years. I am on a road trip through the land of feelings. My emotions are all over the map- happy, melancholy, nostalgic, angry, mountains, hills and plains. At Lucia's preschool, they call all range of emotional expression "big feelings". I love this term to describe the emotional state of kids. We often have no idea what a 4-year-old is thinking. It's all just a morass of sensations they are trying to figure out. As adults, all we can really do is help the kids to name it. "It's okay honey, you've got big feelings about that toy (or that friend or that blanket or that apple)." I use the term "big feelings" for myself too. I even refer to "big feelings" when I am teaching yoga. It makes sense. Most of the time grown-ups can't decipher what's going on in their heads any more than kids can.
I've always been really good at dealing with physical discomfort. Rigorous chores, 42-hours of labor without meds, lack of sleep, hunger. I'm told that I have an incredible pain threshold and good stamina. But with emotional discomfort I am remedial at best. This past week I was having one of many bouts of big feelings. It felt messy, like the junk was seeping all over the sidewalk. While trying to "manage" my big feelings, Carol popped into my head. Her silver hair, her melodic voice, her clear, calm blue eyes. What would Carol do? She'd put her hand on my shoulder, look me in the eyes, and in her Meryl Streep voice remind me, "It's okay Laura. You've got some big feelings right now."