Mike Burr - log

Feeling about feeling

Been a while, Bear.

I don't pretend to have Great Insights anymore. I just keep grinding away at life and try to pick up some good wisdom here and there. It's not as satisfying as having that one huge, life-changing insight about the nature of reality and the answer to the great big Why ...but it has the distinct advantage of being realistic and productive instead of straight-up fantasy.

I read an excellent book! How to Think Like a Roman Emperor. I've never been the type to say such-n-such a book changed my life, but I have been known to think it, which is really just as bad because I believed it at some level. "Every book changes your life in completely unpredictable and infinitely complicated ways." is the boring truth.

ANYWAY, the idea of "thinking about thinking" or "feeling about feeling" is among the profounder things that struck me here. It goes by different names so there's not really any sense in trying to suss out the "official" term. The (obvious-in-retrospect) idea is that you burn a whole bunch of mental energy and confuse and unnecessarily complicate "feelings" by overloading them with all kinds of meta-feelings. "It's not events; it's your judgement about events" is a good paraphrasing of the explanation used in the text. And I'm pretty sure I've done that to a fault my entire life. The cutting it out for chrisake for me is ensuringly easy to get the hang of. And it makes me wonder about a mental tick I remember having as a child.

I used to say something outloud and then mutter the exact same phrase under my breath frequently. When I was just a weird little boy, like most little boys. I remember being asked about it by my brother. "What's up with that" (or the 11-year-old equivalent). I remember thinking. "Gee, it is weird that I do that", and being conscious of it until it kind of dissipated. I believe that it came from all kinds of subtle trauma, having had some "real characters" as parents. I think I got mocked and sneered at for saying the wrong thing from day one, and each day after. So muttering what I just said out loud was part of my sanitizer process that would go on in my head after some remark or other was spoken aloud. "Wait, am I going to get mocked for this?"

And really the tick never went away, it was more just in-my-head once I picked up on the fact that it was weird. But every pass through that sanitizer of mine that would catch gaffs (after it was too late) would result in multiple hits to the Feel-Some-Shame nodules, and I would get a squirt of cortisol and adrenaline or whatever and feel like a moron.

This feeling like a moron is the feeling-about-feeling that might be a complete stranger to some people (although let's face it, probably not ...as you're thinking right now), but it's a later stage of "fear" that is, surprisingly, completely optional. You can just do without that particular unhelpful emotion. Feeling a sudden rush of shame when one recalls an awkward moment in the past is normal and unavoidable (again, there are greek/roman words for all this stuff but I'm too lazy to break out the book right now).

It's more important to understand!!! You can take a deep breath when this happens (you, drunk at your sister's wedding) and realize, "OK, I'm not sure if there's a way to keep this from popping into my head occasionally, but I can choose to think abstractly about it and wonder helpfully to myself, "Is there something I can do about it? Maybe not do so again? The important thing for me to realize right now is that the future is all that matters!"

- 2 toasts