Be Aware of What You are Feeling to Determine How You are Feeling
On Tuesday evening, feeling frazzled and very tired, I was only half listening to the speaker’s presentation at a botanical society meeting I was attending. I was anxious about my lack of energy and how I was going to get all the work I needed to get finished on time. I was annoyed with myself because a lot of my work as an illustrator is the result of learning and focused attention on botanical study. I was completely blowing this opportunity.
After the meeting, trying to look lively rather than stressed, a friend and fellow member invited me to join her on Thursday morning to have a coffee in the garden at an art gallery. This talented friend had done a beautiful job landscaping and planting the garden. I was a volunteer and others who had contributed to the maintenance and upkeep of the garden would be there too.
I hesitated. I wanted to go. I think she had to ask me twice I was struggling so hard to pay attention. I did not want to appear ungrateful. I was just worn out. Creating time for a coffee would be an indulgence. I didn’t have time for an indulgence. Attending this meeting was an indulgence (and clearly such indulgences weren’t helping the beginning stages of depression I was experiencing—I did not want to share this reasoning either!).
Then another member of the society, the Master Gardener for a very large, well-known garden in the area, said we could then tour her garden as well. Another decision! I felt uneasy. I was already so spacey this evening, but touring this new garden would be so great! I could feel the depression and anxiety rising. I quickly said “Yes” to both invitations before the “No thank you” could come out. I was now committed. What was I thinking? I left the meeting inwardly quarreling with myself.
When I left my computer Thursday morning to drive down to the gallery, I was still uncomfortable. I had not gotten up extra early like I wanted. My continuing lethargy, and concern about the work I was leaving undone, weighed heavily. How could I be relied upon if I was out gallivanting?
As I walked into the gallery’s garden, my self-conscious feelings slowed down enough for me to realize, “Hey, this is really pretty.” As I walked down the path and saw my friends waving me up, I realized, “Hey, they are glad to see me!” I was a bit struck by my initial feelings of happiness.
The six of us sat on shady benches; there was a soft breeze, warm sun and gorgeous color all around. The company and conversation were both cheerful and pleasant. I was enjoying myself tremendously. I was at ease to simply breathe, allowing myself to take in all the peacefulness I was experiencing. We explored the garden, bending, touching, investigating and commenting, and then moved on to the Master Garden to do the same. I was completely drawn in.
What I have come to notice is this: The more I am consciously aware of what I am feeling, the more consciously aware I am of how I am feeling. I realize this idea may sound rather obvious; to me, however, it escaped my observation for a long time. This reciprocal relationship can be either a positive or a negative, and lends itself to how fully I am emotionally present and how this affects my overall emotional wellbeing.
For example, if what I am feeling is worry and concern by thinking ahead to what I need to accomplish next, I am absent in the present. My focus is not on where I am and what I am engaging in, but rather on my stress about what isn’t done and how I am going to get it done. My emotional focus then goes straight into how I am feeling instead: incompetent, fearful, and nervous of what others will think of me if I am not spending all available hours to complete what I said I would.
The same holds true for me if what I am feeling is anxious about my looks (tired, not put together) or my behavior (trying to appear “happy and fine” when I am irritable and sad); in this case, my emotional focus goes to how I am feeling shame for who I am, my illnesses, my need to fake it for my failures of not being able to successfully accomplish participating like everyone else around me.
Making the connection between the stressors of what I place on myself and how I am feeling about myself has been instrumental in obtaining the peacefulness and confidence that can elude me. By allowing myself to notice (not judge) the amount of energy I put into worry, anxiousness and “looking the part” and the ways in which these affect my emotional health has been enlightening, to say the least.
As long as I am caught up in a cautious and fearful attitude, this false front will be so powerful that I am removed from—and miss out on—whatever activity I am participating in; I will remain in a place of emotional absentia. Being emotionally present and fully engaged in any given moment is a state of true and clear interaction and in turn, my emotional well being is calmed, and emotional balance is restored as well.
I almost did not go to the gardens because of the amount of work I had on my plate. Once I arrived, all worry, stress and concern was forgotten because I became present in present time. Only then was I able to enjoy where I was and who I was with. That is when the sense of peacefulness came over me, and I was later filled with gratitude—not only to be invited into this opportunity, but also with myself for allowing myself to really feel pleasure and engage for those few hours.
When I returned home later I was feeling so good that I was incredibly productive for the rest of the day. Hmm, what a shocker!