In life, as in art, there are ups and downs. T’was ever thus and always shall be, it’s just the way things are. But this doesn’t mean that you have to be managed by your emotions, that you have to stand idly by and hope that the next tsunami won’t be the one to knock you over and drag you out to sea. Here’s the thing, most of us aren’t taught about connecting with our emotions let alone managing them. We are told to take the big, difficult ones and scrunch them down, hide them away from the world. When asked, “how are you?” the only acceptable answer is “just fine!” There is no room for the sort of emotions that many of us wrestle with on a regular basis. Life can be harsh, frightening, and full of struggle. But you can learn to manage the feelings that come with that rather than letting them ignite even more intensity.
Artists and creative individuals are often not known for their stable emotional state. Being the sort of person who operates from a place of deep feeling most of the time, it goes without saying that your emotional makeup may be of the more volatile variety than some others. One option for anyone wishing to learn how to manage emotions and escape a cycle of allowing them to bowl you over is meditation. There are a lot of misunderstandings when it comes to exactly what meditation is…and what it isn’t. There isn’t any particularly mystical component to sitting or walking meditation, the word itself is akin to contemplation. That’s a relatively accurate way to define the practice of meditation, a contemplation of ourselves.
The key is not to attempt a state where you detach from your physical body in some mystical way, far from it. In fact, meditation is meant to ground you, nail you to the present, allow you to learn how to observe your cluttered mind in the most objective way possible, touching each thought that passes by then letting it go. No judgment, no trying to fix or change things, just being present and aware.
If meditation seems like a difficult thing to learn on your own, consider discovering a sangha near you. Sangha is a community of others, usually with someone leading the group, who gather for meditation. Traditionally, sangha refers to a group of Buddhist monks or nuns, but in the west these days, there are lay sanghas in most major metropolitan areas welcoming those from all faiths and backgrounds.
Seeking out counseling may be an option for some. While there are those who do not feel comfortable in a therapeutic setting, others may thrive when they have a trained and objective counselor to listen. What’s important–so important–is to ignore the ridiculous societal pressures that have convinced many there is an inherent weakness in seeking out professional help on any level. This, in a word, is ridiculous.
As far back as our human record goes, and well beyond, there have always been those in any community whose role it was to be the elder, wiser, helping presence. It is only our more modern culture of self-reliance that has cast a shadow on the idea of reaching out for help. Humans are social by nature. Whether we seek help from friends or on a more formal basis, this is how we have survived for so long. We are not born knowing how to do it all. There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking someone who is an expert in the field of emotional management to help you along if you feel you are struggling.
Physical activity can truly be another way to keep your emotional life in check. There is hard science behind exercise and the production of brain chemicals that lead to mood improvement. Vigorous exercise releases endorphins and boosts serotonin production in the brain and can, over time, lead to more balanced emotional makeup. The key with any physical activity is finding something you enjoy enough to actually commit to. If you don’t like running, training for a marathon probably isn’t your best bet. Figure out ways in which you can move your body and have fun at the same time. Join a local team–many communities host adult sports leagues–or simply go for regular walks. The point is, do something. Artists run the risk of leading very sedentary lives. Hours spent in the studio are not conducive to a healthy, active life. Make a point to get out there and move.
The bottom line when it comes to emotions, big or small, is that they are inevitable, normal, and entirely human. Working on being at peace with these truths about your own emotions is a good first step toward not allowing them to dominate. Of course, there are some for whom the management of their emotional life is a purely organic disorder, no different than diabetes or asthma, and requires treatment with medication. This too is simply part of the human existence and seeking help should never be a source of shame.
We humans still have a long way to go in recognizing that there is a range of emotional makeup as wide and diverse as humanity itself. We must reject the notion that there is anything to be ashamed of when it comes to our own emotions, that they are something to hide and ignore. Acknowledge them and seek ways to take control. Remember, you’re only human.