In 1989, I traveled to the then-Soviet Union to honor the 1000th anniversary of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (The Church of Ukraine is an autonomous Orthodox church whose primate is confirmed by the Russian Orthodox Church. Its history extends to the introduction of Christianity into Kievan Rus’ with the baptism of Prince St. Vladimir of Kiev and his people in 988, known as the Baptism of Rus’.)
On that journey, I was privileged to travel in both Ukraine and Russia, to Kiev and Odessa and to Moscow and (then) Leningrad. At that time, the U.S.S.R. was under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev, and change was happening under the policies of glasnost and perestroika. These changes were most apparent to me as an American of Ukrainian heritage when I traveled in Kiev and Odessa. In those cities, the Ukrainian tour guides were empowered by the policies to speak about Ukrainian national heroes, and to show the travelers statues of these heroes. Distinctions were made between Ukrainian and Russian signs and words. It was an exciting time for the people in those places; in just a few years things would change dramatically.
One of my most distinct memories of the trip was that the song “Feelings,” which had been popular in the U.S. sometime before the visit, was a nightly “theme” song in all of the hotels in which we stayed. Our group had most meals together in the restaurants of our hotels. It was a matter of course that each restaurant was connected to a piano bar. And so as we ate our Eastern European meals, we were serenaded, night after night, by some singer singing the words: “feelings, nothing more than feelings,” during this time of tumultuous change for the Soviet Union and its people.
To me, that time in world history will always be accompanied with the song: “Feelings.”
Times of change are always time of deep and powerful emotions. For most of us, change can be difficult, probably mostly because of the feelings we experience. Some of the feelings we have may be the same feelings we experienced during times of change when we were children. And so those feelings bring with them other feelings – feelings of fear and shame – and powerlessness. Change is a time when emotions sweep over us.
Some people say they like change, and I am certain that is true. At the same time, these folks will not have any fewer of the feelings that arise during times of change. Change always involves some grief, or loss. Even though we may long for a change, and rejoice when that change happens, we are not exempt from the feelings that are companions to change.
What do we do with these feelings? Culturally, we are a people who are more comfortable sharing our thoughts and our judgments than we are our feelings. That’s just the way it is. And so, it is also true that it is a “counter-cultural” to honor our feelings, to talk about our feelings, to reflect on our feelings, to have our feelings, and to accept our feelings as part of the whole picture of who we are, and to what we bring to the table.
In my experience, it takes practice to “honor one’s feelings.” It takes years of practice! And in that practice there is great freedom. There is the promise of wholeness, there is the promise of remembering, and there is the process of grief.
I’m not an expert on feelings. I have learned, in the course of my life, that it is healthier for me to “honor” my feelings – that is, to simply acknowledge my true feelings to myself – than to ignore my feelings. I don’t have to shout out my feelings on every occasion. What I have learned/am learning is that my feelings are road-signs, or markers, to me. They are information for me. No one has the power to take them from me, and no one has the power to hurt my feelings. I am the one in charge. In a sense, I am the “adult” in the whole sense of who I am. I am responsible for listening to my feelings, and for learning what each feeling may mean to me.
There is great power in learning this about my feelings. I’ve discovered that. I find that when I invite my feelings into my analysis of any situation, I make decisions and choices that are much more holistic – healthier for me and for others.
Many of us did not have our feelings reflected back to us as children. In other words, we did not have a real adult who, when they saw what we were experiencing, simply “honored” our feelings: “oh, you are sad now, aren’t you?” If we had, I’m sure the world would need many fewer therapists! And so, it is our journey, our need, and our growth to begin to reflect our own feelings back to ourselves, to be the adult we need, for ourselves.
“Feelings, nothing more than feelings” becomes part of the information in any moment, in any situation, in any happening, in any event, and in any relationship. Are you with someone who hurts your feelings, again and again? Do you need to “unfriend” that person? If you do, it’s about you, not about them. They are simply not a good fit for you, at this time, and in your life space.
I can say that one of my greatest life learnings began when I began to “honor,” to notice, to learn from my feelings. And – I am grateful.