I have spent the last three days watching my temperature rise and fall drastically in both directions. I am speaking of my emotional temperature, not my physical one, although the physical one did some jumping around because of the other, I am sure. Many of us have thermometers nailed up somewhere outside that we can give a quick glance at and know what the physical reality of our environment is up to. That allows us to dress appropriately, be prepared when we venture out on whatever errands we will engage in. However, a thermometer doesn’t do any good, if we forget that its there and no longer take the time to consciously check it to see what it is reading.
Consciously checking our emotional temperature is just as, if not, more important. Had I ventured out yesterday, I might have been in trouble. As it was, I stayed in and weathered the storm in warm privacy with a bit of help from two friends who happened to call and ask how I was doing. Neither of them had any idea of the emotional thundercloud I was sitting in, but each, in her own fashion, gave me the necessary equipment to get myself outside of the storm, and keep me safe from gusting winds and torrential rain, with repeated flood warnings.
In her book, A Cloister Walk, Kathleen Norris explains a wonderful little writing exercise: writing out your own emotional weather report. Mine, for yesterday, would have been approaching hurricane conditions with a gradual change in wind direction that will keep the storm offshore and away from human population. And Tom Waits does a bang up job in his song Emotional Weather Report:
with tornado watches issued shortly
before noon Sunday, for the areas
including, the western region
of my mental health
and the northern portions of my
ability to deal rationally with my
disconcerted precarious emotional
situation, it’s cold out there…
I particularly like the way he adds specific directions to his report. Locations and directions are important both in the physical realm, and the emotional reality.
When people ask me for ideas about what to write, I always forget this one, but was reminded by my own journal pages from yesterday and today. I glanced at the thermometer, but didn’t let it register the day before. That is so easy to do. Our emotions are always there, always speaking to us, always telling us where we are and what we are headed into. We disregard, ignore, and even deny their potential for measuring our moment by moment lives. It might be very wise to write out a one or two sentence weather report on each journal page created. Make it the first thing, and then go on to whatever else might need to be said. I think I’ve just given myself another assignment. A very practical, but priceless one, at that.
What is the alternative? Watch TV and make sure I catch the weather report? We all know that is, at best, a great deal of guess work, and results only in possibilities, or a constant switching to the weather station for any new developments. Besides, there is no weather man alive who knows the temperature inside of my apartment and why would I depend on someone else’s (expert, or otherwise) definition of my emotional landscape? Yes, I had help yesterday. But not the kind that told me what my weather conditions were. The help, I received, was of the variety of gently chosen words that might lead me to the definitions, I myself, needed to make my own analysis (thank you, Marj and Sandy). And both women engaged in gentle laughter and affection while doing so. Can’t beat that.
Writing a daily weather report is a very creative way of assessing one’s reality. How long, how many days, months, years, have those dark storm clouds been resting against that distant horizon? And what about the weather conditions other people seem to bring with them? That constant shudder of chill so and so carries around and brings into any room she enters? Checking out the anomalies could open doors into possible working solutions. And yes, this is a metaphor: your pen the hand held thermometer, and your pages the opening you alone can set it to. All done in private with never anyone the wiser. Best of all, you don’t need a degree to be able to do it.
If it’s been raining too many days in a row, what can you do about it? Unlike real physical weather conditions, we can change the emotional conditions we are creating. If so and so enters your space, you will know that you need warming cover and can keep it handy and readily available. If, however, so and so turns out to be you, you always have the option to move yourself to Tahiti and learn how to acclimatize to much warmer conditions with lots of sunshine and balmy breezes. It doesn’t have to be work, it is an adventure, if you choose to let it be.
Taking your emotional temperature is a choice you make. Taking the time to do so is another. I sense a dust storm coming on so its best if I make sure the pegs holding down my tent are as firmly planted as possible and then do a quick run for extra provisions which must include Cedar Crest Mackinac Island Fudge, of course. That way, I can listen to the howling monster outside my door while enjoying my own special soothing treat, knowing all the while that the monster will exhaust himself eventually, and I will be ready to greet the coming, and possible, drastic changes in my outer environment. It’s only sand, after all.