Alexithymia

Alexythymia–a term used in psychology and psychiatry. Dictionary.com defines it: “difficulty in experiencing, expressing, and describing emotional responses. … Inability to describe emotions in a verbal manner.

It means having no words to describe or express feelings.

Or, experiencing feelings and having no verbal expressive methods to convey the feelings.

As to this 2016 US presidential campaign cycle, I am experiencing alexithymia. My feelings are just not something I can find words to explain. I will therefore rely on logic as much as I possibly can, but I admit that this year my vote is entirely based upon gut feelings that I cannot adequately organize into good prose.

It’s nice to know there’s a word for it.

 

On absence

I have experienced a felt absence lately, a sense of missing.

Maybe the world is too much with me. I have responses to the Stanford rape case, responses to the Syrian refugee crisis, to the US presidential campaign, to the mass murder at a gay nightclub in Orlando; responses to some personal challenges, as well–health: my own and loved ones’, among other concerns.

Responding represents the equal and opposite reaction to any action, in a Newtonian metaphor. And what my body and my mind these days are saying to me is “step back, reflect.”

Humans love immediacy–the rapid Twitter argument, the comments on opinion posts, the punch in the gut. Animals need rapid responses in order to negotiate a world of predator and prey; humans, however, (and, more than most of us realize, many other animals) also possess the ability to reflect on what the feelings are. What they may mean. How that meaning may alter our responding mechanisms. We can–if we pause to do so–put ourselves in the place of the Other, imagine different perspectives that may color our responses.

Sometimes, we may need to absent ourselves awhile. To put some distance between our feelings and the conflicts we engage in. We need feelings and we need thoughts, we need responses and we need observation from other viewpoints.

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It occurs to me that poetry is the conversation between the rational, languaged mind and the mind of feeling and imagery. This effort involves the same mind at work on two or more fronts, the human brain constructed as it is to handle multiple levels of feedback, feedforward, and association.

Poetry isn’t “about emotions.” It’s an art that employs language to represent the tension between the rational and the feeling, the mind’s mighty efforts to engage with the difficult and the heart-stirring.

This is how reading about neuroscience enhances my interpretation and understanding of what poets do. I read difficult books and eschew spending time on the internet. I sit on my back porch and ponder. A buzzard swings to and fro above, gliding on the updrafts. I try to heal myself. I cannot heal the world.

 

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The empathy button

Human nature being what it is, and our feelings being so rooted in often physiologically-based emotions, negative responses tend to aggregate. The book I just finished reading–Damasio’s The Feeling of What Happens–offers neurological, evolutionary, and psychological reasons for the human tendency toward negativity. Dozens of psychological studies concur that humans in general feel more “bad” feelings, and more frequently, than “good” feelings.

Facebook has a “like button,” as do many blog hosting pages (see below for mine!). This ingenious algorithmically-programmed information-gathering software–I hesitate to call it a device, but I guess it is–offers social media users a shortcut to social interaction, a way to show conformity and agreeability among friends, to support a statement or cause, or to indicate pleasure at seeing a photo, work of art, or shared piece of information.

Other sites, such as YouTube, have the additional option to “dislike;” and though I have not read any research supporting this inference, I would speculate that the option to dislike could lead to the generation of more negative feelings. Human nature being what it is.

If social media users cannot take the time to type their feeling-based responses and just need something to click, why not offer a “compassion button?”

I am not serious, of course. The compassion button is internal, and it isn’t an immediate gut reaction for most of us. It moves us from emotions such as anger or ideas like reason and duty to shared human experience. It takes us from simplistic liking or disliking to understanding. It takes more than a mouse click to get to compassion.

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.”
― Dalai Lama XIV, The Art of Happiness

Mixed/media

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From J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan: “Fairies have to be one thing or the other, because being so small they unfortunately have room for one feeling only at a time.”

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From W. H. Auden: “…poetry might be defined as the clear expression of mixed feelings.” For Auden, this communication of mixed feelings didn’t mean ambiguity; it referred to double focus–seeing or feeling or otherwise knowing two conflicting feelings simultaneously. Something that, according to Barrie, fairies could not do.

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The mixed-ness of life presents many of its irritants, but also many of its joys. Think about the amazing complexity of a human being, a consciousness, a sentience: the mish-mash of experiences filtered through a mish-mash of other experiences and through unique neurological channels. I relish the fringes and edges of things such as meadows, rivers, horizons, roads, neighborhoods, and cultures. Combinations are more interesting than homogeneity. Paradoxes are more exciting than indelible rules.

I appreciate the design of formal gardens, or swaths of tulips; but a cottage garden interests me for longer, as do bogs and wetlands and the borders of woodlands. Most of the poems I love best, those that resonate the deepest and longest, express multiple and mixed possibilities. I enjoy poetry that can be interpreted several ways, or that twists back on itself and points out a paradox or a different focus, poetry that opens up perspectives and challenges expectations and perceptions. Mixed media, mixed expression, mixed feelings, mixed perennial borders, mixed forests, mixed neighborhoods…these juicy collages of experience keep the brain lively and interested.

They also pose good challenges for meditation. One can concentrate or focus on the unity of the disparities, for example. Lose yourself in a meadow.