19: Opinions

You do not control your emotions. You do control your response to them.

Dr. Susan David

I took actions contributing to the end of a recent relationship—acts with consequences and driven by feelings. My acts had an impact on the lives of others. The result was an ugly burden on me as I tried to hide my misdeeds from others. 

In those moments, I carried a great deal of shame and humiliation about my actions. I had a low opinion of myself at the time because I didn’t understand how I could sabotage a life I loved with someone I imagined loved me.

Today I recognize my choices for what they were—an unfortunate and unskillful habit of treating how I felt like a directive. I realize how often, in intimate and vulnerable relationships, I responded with a habituated neurological urge to pursue what I considered comfortable feelings while avoiding the discomfort. 

The consensus being, “we should pursue happiness and if it makes us uncomfortable it should be avoided.”

As I result, I responded unconsciously out of habit to anxiety, trauma, and avoidance that impacted other people. One impact of those actions is I created relationship confusion and emotional chaos for myself and those that I loved and loved me.

There is an endless supply of opinions about my actions, intentions, and meanings and a bevy of views regarding the role and place of consequences, punishment, forgiveness, and accountability. Some people carry fixed opinions based on their own experiences, while others take a nuanced set of views.

However, I have realized that an essential component of emotional agility and conscious growth is recognizing opinions are often irrelevant and self-serving.

David’s writings remind me I control my responses to feelings and can choose to take them as directives or not. Deep diving my life through counseling, secure-functioning relationships, and conscious reflection and practice reveals how often my perspectives on past experiences are projected forward on new feelings.

Applying David’s insights into my life has taught me another valuable lesson: I have habituated, unconscious, and rigid opinions about my feelings and their meaning. Thoughts moving at the speed of light end up filling the space between feelings and actions. Instead of pausing to breathe, opinions pour into the gulf between the emotions and action. As a result, feelings often become directives as opinions justify my actions.

Reading Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart, there is a chapter on opinions. In reading this chapter, I recognize the aggression required to defend my perspectives even if they exist without context at the moment.

For this reason, much of my work has been on doing more with less. I have been focusing on sitting and learning to be still in loneliness and grief. I have made a conscious decision to talk through the moment with the two or three people worthy of hearing my shames and traumas. 

As a result, I have discovered almost nothing I have come across in the last three years that needs an immediate response. Nearly everything I confront daily can wait until tomorrow. Or longer. This awareness has allowed me to stay in the moment. 

Of course, in practice, I need to be teachable and recognize I don’t know. Taking time to separate my emotions and thoughts from my actions allows me to ask for clarification and reason it out with someone trustworthy and without their an ax to grind. The pause has stopped me from jumping to conclusions based on my opinions about past experiences. As such, there has been a significant improvement in the quality of the relationships around me. There are still mistakes. Today I am still trying things on, discerning if this or that belongs to me or someone else, but I have found a deep peace and joy in this experience.

As a result, as I distill David and Chodron’s insights into my life, I find space to recognize choices I didn’t see before. As Tara Brach writes, “The mind secretes thoughts like the body secretes enzymes.” Often those thoughts are simply unchecked opinions tucked between sensations.

As I said, other people’s opinions about who I am and what I’ve done is irrelevant and self-serving. What is fascinating is when I am experiencing the moment, my opinions are trivial too. When I am willing to be with the emotional discomfort in the space between feelings and action, I find an awareness rich in compassion, acceptance, and forgiveness. 

At least that is my (self-serving) opinion at the moment.