The Four Traps

As an artist and a human being, I’ve found four emotions that trap me:

Pity: no one wants to pity you. It’s seductive to want pity, to be consoled, to be told nothing’s your fault, and the world isn’t fair. But the truth is: no one really wants to feel sorry for you. And you don’t want someone to pity you, as much as you may imagine you want it. It’s humiliating. Pity is a useless emotion. Nothing comes from pity — no release, no catharsis. Playing the victim just wastes everyone’s time.

  • What is the antitode to Pity? Anger. As a 65-year old man in a clown outfit named Lunatic at Burning Man told me once, Anger is a transformative emotion. You can do something with anger. You can write your anger, sing your anger, create from your anger. It transmutes your depression into something tangible, and whether or not you share what you create with the world, it leeches the poison out of you. Honoring your anger is part of honoring yourself — warts and all. Anger is valid and helpful and it’s part of your human dignity. Best of all: it can lead to something — it moves the pain and releases it.

Jealousy: this one’s particularly tricky in 2019, where there are a million ways at our fingertips to compare ourselves to someone else every second. Especially when comparing ourselves to others’ curated personas of life and work success presented on social media. We compare ourselves like we’re on different rungs of ladders, fretting about what echelon/level have we achieved? While there may be some truth in that metaphor, about where you are in your career, I see it drive others and myself mad with envy, which sucks our energy and focus from doing what actually brings us joy as artists: creating something.

  • What is the antidote to Jealousy? Compersion. A newly minted word for a digital age of comparison (so new that I’m still seeing a squiggly spelling error red line underneath it as I write it in Medium), compersion is practicing joy at others’ successes. It is the opposite of jealousy or schadenfreude (A German word for happiness at others’ misfortune). Instead, feel joy that others’ have achieved something, even if you wish you could be part of their success.

Bitterness is poison. It spoils your dinner. I could have a feast in front of me, but if I’m feeling bitter, I may as well be eating ash. Bitterness creeps into your life when things don’t go your way and you shake your fist at God, at circumstance, at betrayals, at failures — and no one answers back. It’s created when you feel owed something more, when you feel cheated, when you feel taken advantage of. These feelings and the suffering that accompanies with them deserve to be felt and acknowledged. It is when we bury these feelings and refuse to accept the bad as part of our life that the bad becomes the bitter. It comes from avoiding pain. It ferments and it festers and grows like a tumor that kills the wonder of life. Children may get angry or throw a tantrum or feel resentment, but they aren’t bitter. Bitterness takes times.

  • What is the antidote to bitterness? Gratitude. For things big and small. For life’s wins and also for its disappointments. No one got good at what they do by being successful. It’s the mistakes that help us grow. And we grow up into adults when we suffer and accept and honor that pain as part of journey. I’ve found that feeling grateful for life’s challenges helps me to appreciate the little things: the afternoon sun slanting through my bedroom window, my dog laying her head on my chest and sighing after a long walk, an Espom salt bath when I have the apartment to myself for the night and put on Robyn’s new album for a long soak.

Cynicism: the road of bitterness leads to the destination of many adults by age 40: cynicism. A cynic is someone who has decided that, more or less, life isn’t going to work out in their favor. It’s easier to lower one’s expectations than hope things can get better. When I’ve most doubted my dreams and sunk into the doldrums, it’s then that I’ve gotten hammered or turned to distractions-distractions-distractions to feel better. The next day, I feel worse and it’s easier to slip back into the pessimism that risks nothing and promises nothing. Becoming a cynic is the ultimate danger and my greatest fear.

  • What is the antidote to cynicism? Hope.

Thanks for reading. I hope it’s helpful.