Feelings and colors

Few of us have a large vocabulary for our feelings. We are angry or sad or happy – but we need more words than that. It is like trying to paint a picture with just red, yellow and blue.

Color theory teaches us that the colors blend – we can have happy and sad together in the way that yellow and blue make green. Or we can have angry and sad together, in the way that red and blue make purple. Sometimes we are more happy than sad, or more sad than angry. It isn’t equal, changing the color blend. We could be a bit of all three together, creating a really big mess. Is it possible to be happy and angry at the same time, in the way that yellow and red make orange?

We don’t have a place in our bodies for these weird colors, these blends, so we need to know how to be with them and deal with them. Just noticing them can be a good start. It isn’t about getting rid of these feelings. I don’t think it is healthy or natural to strive to be joyous all the time.

Another part of color theory is the rule of complementary colors. Red’s complement is green. Green is a blend of the other two primary colors – yellow and blue. Blue’s complement is orange, which is red and yellow. Yellow’s is purple. Complementary colors make each other look their brightest and best. So with that I get that we need to have a balance in our lives. It can’t all be yellow (happy) – because you can’t appreciate yellow (happy) without a blend of blue (sad) and red (angry).

Notice in the complementary color the balance is half-strength of each other color. Yellow is full strength, but we use only half of red and blue to create an equal amount of purple. Thus, we need to get our proportions right. Blue (sad) is balanced out by half red (angry) and half yellow (happy). That makes it not overwhelming. Red (angry) is balanced out by half blue (sad) and half yellow (happy). It isn’t about having equal amounts of each thing to get the balance.


We need containers for our feelings just like banana bread needs a container in order to shape it in the heat of the oven. The container gives the feeling shape. The container is a ritual or a practice.

We have to have places to put our feelings. Rituals are the way to do that. Western culture has some rituals and ceremonies for how to handle big events – birth, marriage, graduation, death. But it doesn’t have rituals for much of anything else. Perhaps this is why so many people suffer from depression and anxiety.

When your culture doesn’t have the tools you need, you have to make your own.

Feelings are difficult to handle. Our culture tells us how to handle the feeling of having to go to the bathroom, but not other feelings. When you have the feeling that you have to go to the bathroom, you need to know what to do with that feeling otherwise you will make a mess everywhere. If you have that feeling you know what to do because you’ve been trained. That feeling you have is what lets you know that there something that needs to get out.

Other feelings are harder to figure out, but they are just as important to get out. There isn’t a physical thing that needs to come out of you, but there still is a need to release that feeling. Emotional, spiritual, and psychological pain will manifest in physical ways. Just like with having to go to the bathroom, you need to know how to deal with it.

When you have a sensation of tension in your shoulders, chest, or gut it is a sign that you have a feeling that needs to be processed. The poet Rumi reminds us that grain has to be broken up before it can become bread. But I’ll add that in order for it to become bread it has to be mixed together with other ingredients, poured into a form and put into the oven.

Difficult feelings aren’t ever alone – we aren’t just grain that has been ground up. And the form is our practice. It gives shape to our feelings. What do you do to stay balanced? Do you drift through your days, or are you intentional?

Our practice is our form, our mold for our feelings. If we don’t use it, our feelings will pour out all over everywhere and be a big mess.

When I found out that my coworker had died unexpectedly, I felt a pain in my stomach. I chose to sing it out. Rather than yell or cry, I chose to give it shape. Deep from my gut I sang out a long clear note, simply saying “Ahhhhh……” for as long as I could. Then I took another breath and did it again and again until I released the tension. I have since found out that this is from yoga. It is called “Lion’s breath”, except in yoga, you just breathe out hard. Here, I sang.

I have also used the technique “praying in color” to process my feelings. I have created some other art and started a prayer book that I will use to memorize prayers. I did all of this in his memory. I have chosen to use what I already do to stay balanced as a way to honor him and acknowledge his passing.

And, of course, I’m writing.

It doesn’t matter what you use to process your feelings – whatever form you use is good, as long as it works for you. What matters is that you use it.

Don’t wait until the storm hits to have a place to go.
Don’t wait until something bad happens to have a practice.

If you stick with your practice every day, then you will have something to rely upon when the inevitable happens. It will help you keep your balance and not get swept away. It doesn’t mean that you escape your feelings – it means that you don’t let your feelings overwhelm you. You still have them – they just don’t have you.

Food abuse

I see obesity as a symptom of food abuse. It is the same as alcoholism and drug abuse. It is a sign of an abuse or mis-use of food.

I used to be obese. I’ve had to work hard on relearning what (and how much) is healthy to eat and how to incorporate more movement and exercise into my life. But I’ve also had to work hard on addressing the root cause of why I wasn’t taking care of my body and my soul.

The problem is, we have to eat. We can’t just stop eating food. We can’t drop it like we can alcohol or cigarettes or any other addictive substance.

So we all need to develop a healthy relationship with food – and to address the issues that are causing us to use food to (not) solve our problems. Food can heal us, but it can also harm us if we use it improperly. It can be too much of a good thing, but it can also be the wrong thing.

Food wasn’t the only substance I had a wrong relationship with. Back when I smoked pot, I would smoke it to feel better. I’d have a bad day at work, or my family was hassling me, or there was some other stress to deal with. I’d smoke pot to numb the pain. It would ease the pain long enough that I’d forget about it, until I’d sober up again and the problems would come back. The thing is, the problems never went away in the first place. I just anesthetized myself to them. Instead of dealing with them, I ran away from them in my head. When I got sober, I’d still have those problems, and I’d still reach for pot to “fix” them.

It was a terrible cycle of stupid.

Plenty of people do the same thing with food. Because food isn’t seen as a drug, and because it is not only socially acceptable but normal to eat, food abuse is an easy addiction to pick up. And it isn’t like our society in general has a healthy relationship with food. Everything is super sized and fried. It is too much of a bad thing.

Is this fat shaming? No. Not any more than pointing out that someone who drinks to solve their problems is an alcoholic. This isn’t “blaming the victim” either. It is pointing out that when we use food to solve our problems, we are creating our own problems.

Victims are people who have things done to them. They are passive agents in the story. A person who gets hit by a car, or lightning, or something falling out of the sky is a victim.

If you hurt yourself, you aren’t a victim. You have done it to yourself. Thinking about why you do it is the wrong direction of thought. Blaming your parents or society or your friends for your action is self-defeating. You choose your life and your actions. You have control of what you do. You can also make a choice to change.

We need to start naming our demons so we can slay them. If we pretend like everything is fine then we will continue to kill ourselves bit by bit and bite by bite.

Food won’t fix our problems. Facing them will. No, it isn’t easy.

We have gotten into the habit of shoving our feelings and anxieties down, ramming them into our mouths with food. We have to learn how to let them out rather than shove them down. We have to learn that it is OK to speak up and be heard.

Poem – the meal of grief

Grief is a meal that must be eaten.

You cannot leave the table until it is finished.

You can cut it up
into tiny little pieces

or try to wolf it down

but either way you must eat it.

It is harder when it is cold
when you have waited so long
that your tears are the sauce.

It is impossible when it is fresh,
when it is raw.

Then your body barely has room
for breath,
much less anything else.

However it comes to you, it is your task.
No one else can do this for you.

However it comes to you
sit down
look at it
and accept it.

Give thanks for it.

For grief blesses you
and breaks you
and puts you in Communion
with God
and everyone else.

Grief is the great equalizer.
And the great humanizer.

Angry is just a feeling.

It’s okay to be angry.

“Angry” is just a feeling. It is the same as being tired or being hungry or having to poop. It is a sign that something is lacking or there’s too much of something. It as a sign of imbalance but it in itself isn’t a bad thing, and it’s okay to feel it.

You don’t have to explain it. It can just be. It is what you do with it that matters. It’s not the feeling itself, it’s the action you take when you have the feeling that matters.

When you’re hungry do you overeat? When you’re tired do you sleep too much? What do you do with these feelings?

Perhaps having to go to the bathroom is the best example.

When you have to poop do you poop right where you are, or do you go to the bathroom? Do you wait and wait and wait when you have to pee, until you feel like you are going to burst? Or do you take care of it right away, and in a healthy way that is good for you and those around you?

To poop right where you are isn’t healthy, and it isn’t considerate of others. To wait and wait to pee might be considerate of others if you are in a meeting, but it isn’t healthy for you.

Going to the bathroom is learned. That isn’t instinctual. We had to learn how to handle that natural occurrence. I propose that dealing with anger is the same.

It is possible to learn how to deal with this natural feeling in a healthy and safe way, one that is healthy and safe for you, and for those around you.

Some things that work for me –
Go for a walk.
Have a hot bath. Bubbles help.
Deep, focused breathing.
Playing the drums.

Think about the things you do when you are happy, and try one of those when you are angry. Sometimes that is enough to flip the switch.

No matter what, don’t try to escape your anger by using intoxicants. It isn’t about escaping it, it is about allowing it a safe way to get out.

Consider a balloon. The pressure builds up and builds up, and the air has to get out somehow. Either it can get out the way it got in (the neck), or the balloon can burst. Burst balloons don’t work as balloons anymore. They are broken bits. We are like that too when we don’t let our anger get out in a safe way.

Now, in the middle of all this it is a good idea to think about why you are angry. What about this situation is making you feel angry? Does it remind you of some earlier situation that went wrong? How did that situation make you feel? Was there someone in your past who taught you how to react in this particular situation?

You can unlearn old habits and take up new ones. You are forever able to rewrite yourself. Nothing is permanent. Just because it always has been that way doesn’t mean that it will always be that way. The past does not predict the future.

You can’t escape anger, but you can redirect it and you can learn from it. Anger is a part of life, just like night is a part of day. It isn’t bad, in and of itself. It is what you do with it that matters. Use it wisely and it can teach you a lot.

Poem – losing our hearts

Defense of the heart
may be the only way to
be whole.

Remember the time
when you
opened yourself up
so wide
that your heart
fell out?

Even though the
reason you did it
seemed good at the time,
even though the
person you did it for
seemed good at the time
you still got hurt.
You still lost your heart.

Anybody who is anybody knows
that being heartless
is worse than being

both are bad.
Maybe part of being
human is losing our hearts
and finding them again.

Christmas, and bottled up feelings.

I hate Christmas. I don’t hate the idea of it. I hate the execution of it. So painful. So hard. So tedious. Many Christmases I’ve washed down with a bucket of tears and a side of regret.

One was with my boyfriend, now husband. We met with his brother and then wife at a Mexican restaurant. Jeff gave him presents. Scott gave both of them presents, some of which were from me. I got nothing. Not even a token something. I wanted to go sit in the car and cry. I wanted to remove myself from all of it. I wanted to just leave, because it was obvious that I didn’t matter, I didn’t count.

I didn’t leave. I sat there, being ignored. I ate my chicken enchilada and chalupa in silence. I drank my sweet tea. I held in my hurt and my anger and my sadness.

I cried all the way home, wee wee wee, just like a little pig.

Sadness and anger are the same thing. They are signs that expectations aren’t being met. They are a sign that what you think should happen isn’t happening.

Perhaps I need to lower my expectations. Perhaps I need to not care so much.

Life was a lot easier when I was stoned. Things didn’t hurt as much. Feelings were further down. Pain didn’t last as long.

Last year was another painful Christmas with that family. I’m married now, and I’ve known them for ten years. The years previous were awkward. I kept feeling like nobody knew what to get for me, and that I didn’t know what to get for them. Since there was a new member added to the family I decided to go to the effort of getting each person to fill out a gift list. I asked each person what they liked and didn’t like. What is a good present, and what is a terrible present? I figured it would make it easier. I gathered the lists from each person and made sure each one got a copy of all the others. There. Done. Everybody knows what everybody likes.

When Christmas Day came, I made sure that each person had at least two presents from me. Some were handmade by me. All were picked with that person’s wants and personality in mind. Somewhere in the middle of the opening of presents I realized that I had gotten two presents. Two. For me. That is all. And one of them was a blanket. My sister in law got a similar blanket, but hers was in the color I liked.

Why did I go to the bother of that list?

Why do I go to the bother of caring?

Why do I keep allowing myself to be hurt by these people that I did not choose?

When I commented on my Facebook page how hurtful that Christmas was, my sister in law insisted that I take it down. She’s a therapist. You’d think she’d know something about pain and hurt, and how dangerous it is to suppress it. She cared more about her husband’s feelings than mine. That is her right. I should have taken it as a sign of who she really is.

Once again, I don’t count. I don’t matter. I’m ignored, and forgotten, and left out. I’ve asked my husband to tell his family that it would be easier if nobody bought presents for each other this year. That way, everybody would save money. That way, no feelings would be hurt. He hasn’t taken the time to do this. It would be really embarrassing to show up at that house with no presents and they actually, for once, got me something.

Perhaps I shouldn’t go. Perhaps I shouldn’t care. His mom has had cancer all this year. She should be dead by now, according to the doctors. It is a big deal that she is even still alive. Perhaps I’m just not caring. We are all dying, and it doesn’t make anybody special. She announced that she had cancer before Christmas of last year and it was super difficult – people pretended like everything was fine.

I’m sick of pretending.

Being emotional and getting upset is embarrassing. It is right up there with vomiting or defecating in public. People can’t handle it when your insides come outside. They want you to take it to a private place and do it all by yourself and clean up the mess. Don’t show. Don’t let anybody see that things aren’t fine.

But sometimes you’ve bottled it up for so long that it doesn’t come out in a clean way. Sometimes it doesn’t come out when you want it to. Sometimes it bubbles up and out and over and it leaves a big mess right there, all over you, standing there, right in the middle of the room.