Recently I’ve noticed a lot of people are talking about the same two subjects using different themes. Exasperated people are asking when the pandemic will end. Others asking when we can stop talking about it. There is frustrated, often anxious, chatter about the election season concluding. Maya Angelou’s “Every storm runs out of rain” and “This too shall pass” are filling my newsfeed. My daily meditation app was working on breathing and grounding to calm anxiety; teaching listeners to stay in the moment until the moment passes. It seems that everyone is talking in different ways about the same things: time and emotion.
We’ve all heard the expression “time flies when you’re having fun”. In our own lives we experience this when we’re having a night out with friends or a weekend away. Times that we’re engaged in something that we enjoy, when we’re experiencing positive emotions, don’t ever seem long enough. Yet when we are suffering time seems to go by so slowly. Pain, physical or emotional, nearly always leaves us asking “When will this end?” And these feelings, pain and pleasure, aren’t even mutually exclusive. There’s a podcast about raising children called “The Longest Shortest Time” which is exactly how you will often hear parents describe the passing weeks, months, and years after having a child.
Time is both infinite and finite. Emotions are similar. An emotional response actually lasts only 90 seconds. That’s it; 9-0 seconds. Yet they can seem endless. For both time and emotion it is our perception that changes our experience of them. The stories that we tell ourselves about what we are feeling. The memories that we have surrounding an emotion can continue the enjoyment or suffering. We have a disagreement with a family member that makes us angry. The anger is ninety seconds, it can be counted and released. The memories of how this family member has treated us unfairly in the past, of the ways that s/he differs from us, of how kind we’ve been with no return can last an entire day. On the other hand the ninety second feeling that we get when we meet someone new, someone who makes us feel good, someone with mutual attraction, can make the entire world look like sunshine and daisies for weeks.
We get so wrapped up in our stories that we spend hours, even days or weeks, reliving an emotion that is no longer serving us. It is not easy to recognize and even harder to manage, but it is our choice. My guess would be that even practiced yogis, stoics, and gurus throw a fit (or a phone) every once in a while (guilty!). We all get overwhelmed. When possible though, try to make it a practice to let the pleasurable moments overwhelm you and the painful moments pass. Count out your ninety seconds and choose what comes next. Last week during one of my favorite television shows a wife was comforting her husband and told him “This pain won’t last forever.” It’s such a simple line, but so powerful. Pandemics and elections don’t last forever. Neither does a cozy cuddle with your favorite person or pet. Pain doesn’t last forever. Pleasure doesn’t last forever. It is our choice which we take with us, which one we hold onto, the stories that we tell ourselves throughout our days.
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