Living Squished

Erik Cooper —  July 13, 2011 — 4 Comments

It was official. Not one tear. Not even the slightest tingle. You know, the one that turns into that nasal burning sensation just before your eyes begin to fill up with water.

I’d made it a whole day without crying. Chalk one up to manhood. To emotional control. I did it.

I was 7.

I’m not sure where I got the idea that men and emotion don’t mix. It wasn’t overtly taught to me. But let’s face it, I don’t ever remember seeing Magnum P.I. bearing his soul to Higgins over a box of Kleenex. Not with that manly mustache.

So I kicked crying to the curb. I learned to take control of the underlying triggers that led towards those embarrassing emotional displays. I identified them, then I stopped feeling them. I numbed.

Dulling the pain of being picked last for kickball seems harmless enough. Perhaps even mature (the neighbor kids just couldn’t appreciate my special brand of awesomeness). But when those subliminally learned behaviors take root in how I interact (or struggle to interact) with my wife, my daughter, or the rest of the world around me, the negative effects of emotional compression begin to emerge.

When music is recorded in a professional studio, the final mixes are run through a digital compressor. While the full range of these sound waves can be experienced in an acoustically-treated room through a pair of $4,500 audio monitors, that same music wouldn’t sound right on my car stereo or over my built-in MacBook speakers. They can’t handle richness. The compressor smashes the sound waves into a narrow channel so the music can be better experienced on lower quality equipment.

I fear that’s the way a lot of us live. Compressed. Squished. Low-fi.

We’ve learned to protect ourselves from the lowest lows, and in turn, sacrifice the highest highs. We numb the pain, and we also stop feeling the joy.

And it’s understandable. Life can be excruciatingly painful. Tragic even. But I often wonder how much more beautiful it could be if we didn’t avoid feeling it. All of it. Uncompressed.

What do you think? Is that even possible? Healthy? Can we protect ourselves against pain without also dulling our ability to experience joy? Does God fit into this dialog, or is this just human psychology?

4 responses to Living Squished

  1. So what I need is a broadened spiritual & emotional dynamic range…interesting point.

  2. Good Afternoon!

    This is such an important post Erik! I am a big fan of your work in general, but this topic is particularly close to my heart.

    I have been able to personally navigate my way through these subjects with the constant help of God. To me, it comes under the topic of working out our salvation with fear and trembling. I am a “Highly Sensitive Person”, and all that basically means is that I am like 10-20% of the population and actually have a different nervous system than the average person. How it translates is that I experience EVERYTHING way more intensely than most ~ not just emotionally, but physically.

    I’m sure that in its rightful God order, this is a gift. I am also sure that a gift not known and properly stewarded can become a huge handicap. In that sense, I am so thankful for redemption and that redemption means not only heaven, but things here on earth being put in God order!

    It is certainly possible to feel everything, and even things that are barely detectable. Is it healthy? Not by itself. Not if that is the end point. It used to be that “emotion was my security”. Not because my emotions were so fabulous, but because they were a constant in an always changing world. That’s idolatry. Not only could I tap into them, I could translate them. I could share them. I could, and many around me couldn’t (or didn’t) ~ and this ability was sought out by others. That alone, without it all leading fully back to God ~ is idolatry too.

    Does this mean emotion or emotional intelligence is evil? Of course not! It is like a lot of idols – an appropriate thing, out of place.

    Not all idols are like that. I mean, some are just nasty through and through and obviously wicked. But most idolatry is insidious and sneaky, and at the core, stemming from a legitimate human need that God longs to meet and fill that we are satisfying in another way. (willfully or ignorantly)

    When God worked this through and out of me, and began balancing this in my life, it was in a very gentle and loving way. He never once slammed me or was harsh, and it’s been a two decade thing. (A work in progress!) I think it’s essential to realize we do not need to completely protect ourselves in the first place. Certainly we need boundaries, and we need wisdom. But each moment we are actively emotionally protecting ourselves, are we really delighting in God? At that moment? Can we do both completely and fully, at the same time?

    I have been on both sides of this – entertaining emotions that were unprofitable, and/or resisting and resenting emotions for their ability to influence. I’ve also lived in the middle, which was so unpleasant I’m glad God dislikes it too and would rather vomit in that atmosphere.

    Does this mean I prefer extremes? No, not really. It means that I am coming to terms that I am NOT my emotions, but without them, I am not complete. They are a tool, and I need them to link to God and people. Tools can kill, or build. They can connect or disassemble. They can sit dormant hanging on the wall, or they can accomplish fabulous things. They can stop working and need repair, and sometimes due to misuse or negligence or accidents, they can maime. (Thinking of a lawn mower here, that cut off a friends foot.)

    This I know – like anything else, when they (emotions) are submitted to God, they can bring life. I clearly remember the day that God took my pain and used it to relate to me in a totally life altering way. In one instant I went from thinking of God as this invincible force of a being, to an emotional masterpiece of majesty that I would never want to hurt. Have I hurt Him since then? Yes! I’m sure of it! But, my devotion and link to Him is forever different. I learned and personalized the truth that what I personally do can hurt or please God. So fully knowing this, brought a whole new dimension to obedience and fellowship and communion and worship, and just daily life. It brought purpose to everything, whether anyone else was there or not. It made me long for the heart of God, in everything, knowing that He fully embraced and cared for mine.

    Speaking of emotions, I promise it will not hurt my feeling at all, not one bit, if you delete this! This comment is so huge. I wanted to say it, and thank you for the environment where I feel so safe to do that! But please do not feel like you need to keep it or anything I post on here! I think that as people of God that we need to maintain that sense of freedom! Freedom to do as we are being led to do, and if you are led to remove my many many words, DO IT HAPPILY! 🙂

    I really do like kickball by the way. You brought me way back today! I love participating in this journey that God is leading you through. Blessings!

  3. Crank it to 15! Good or bad, I want to hear every nuance, syncopation, beat that God has to offer. I may not like it that loud but I don’t want to be squished 🙂

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