tape measurer

The Emotion Tape

I’ve come to believe that we all have differing scale’s of emotions.  I picture it, as a self-retracting tape measure.  A tape measure sitting idle, doesn’t have much length, but if somebody, or some thing, holds the tang1, this device can be stretched out to its full length.

So too, works the Emotion Tape.  If you (or a friend) steady the tang, you can take a walk, letting the range and depth of emotions expand along the way.  This tape however, has no end, and is more logarithmic than linear. It’s a measurement of what we feel, and how deeply we feel it.

Some people refuse to take this journey.  That was me. I was taken on plenty of walks with opportunities to be happy and sad, scared and angry, but I don’t think I had learned how to steady the tang, and let the tape glide with me.  Probably a combination of my personality, my role models, and my “whatever.”  I actually don’t know, and it no longer matters, it’s just that whenever I gave it a try, the damn thing just snapped violently back into the shell case.  The result was a fairly limited range of emotions.

Brady’s death, blew a huge hole in that paradigm, and I was faced with a simple choice.  Feel it, or fake it. That first week, I definitely felt it, but I remember getting ready for his funeral thinking, “Fake it, till you make it.”  Old habits sometimes die hard.  So I did fake it, and I’m glad I did, at least for that day.

But after that, I wanted to “figure it out.”  Professionals told me straight up, you can’t think your way out of this, you have to feel it, and if you don’t feel it, you’ll put it somewhere bad.  I didn’t want to be drunk, drugged, a work-a-holic, or become beholden to any of life’s other vices.  Deep inside I knew it was natural, to feel it.

Today, the tape is long, expanding constantly, and I’m grateful that I’m in a healthy place.  I’m not always happy, but I’m almost always of healthy mind and soul (not so much the body, but I’ll get to that someday soon.) 🙂

Luckily, professional tape measure’s have a self-locking lever, to hold the tape in its extended state, even when nobody is holding the dang tang.  Carpenters come to trust it, because nobody likes a slicing piece of metal, snapping around when least expected.  My experience with the emotion tape, is that it seems to be self-locking as well.  Once it expands, it can only expand farther, not retract. I suppose the tape can break, like most things, and send you spinning back to square one, but I haven’t experienced that so I’ll leave it at that.

In daily life, this all comes into play, in the form of empathy, and “drama.”

Empathy is, when despite our different experiences, we can understand and embrace another’s feelings.  I can look at your experience, without regard to my own Emotion Tape, and join you.

Drama on the other hand, is when one perceives another’s behavior as incongruent with ones own scale.  If my tape is dramatically longer than yours, I risk viewing your pain, as drama, and equally so vice versa.

I think we grow the most when things aren’t going our way, when tragedy hits us, and when negative experiences of all shapes and sizes, are upon us.  Combining that, with my willingness to feel the pain, my tape is pretty damn long at this point.  So when you say, “My car broke down,” I will gladly join you with a hearty and truly empathetic, “That sucks.”  But when you further tell me that because of this your day was completely ruined, and you “just need a drink,” you’ve lost my attention.  My tape is too long to give a shit.  To me, this is drama; it is the 1/32″ mark on my two hundred and fifty foot tape.  You want your day ruined, let me tell you a little story.

But not everybody allows their tape to be stretched.  If your tape has maxed out at only two feet, that car breaking down, might be incredibly traumatic for you.  And some may look back at me, with the same feeling of “stop with the drama already!”  I’m certain that many think I should “get over it” or “move on.”  I get it, really I do, and I think it boils down to our different tapes.

I sincerely believe though, this emotional stretching is what allows us to appreciate what life really has to offer.  Conversely, by confining yourself to a small range of emotion, you are forced to create a melodramatic life, rather than living an authentic one.

I’ve learned to flow with life, not paddle against it.  Some will confuse that with lack of ambition, or other nonsense, but simply accepting that you don’t control everything, is very freeing. To quote Dr. Michael Mantell, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: P. S. It’s All Small Stuff.”

So give it a try; let yourself be, whatever it is you are feeling, at any moment.  Be angry that your car broke down, deal with it, and just leave it at that.  You can still enjoy the day, & miss your car.  I do it everyday.

–Ken

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1 Forgive me for using high-brow words like tang, but that’s what it’s called!

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