The Lifespan Of Emotions.
Updated: Jul 10
first published April 2nd 2019
"The life span of any particular emotion is only one and a half minutes. After that we have to revive the emotion and get it going again." I love this quote from the neurologist Jill Bolte Taylor.
Something about this information went in deep. I recalled my daughter when she was little and how she wept for her favourite tumbler when it broke. “I loved that glass! I’ll never, EVER love a glass so much again!” Then, at the next mealtime, she was happy to use a different tumbler, which quickly became the new favourite. And so a while back, when I broke my favourite plate, a lovely black and white starburst patterned dinner plate, I decided to allow the sadness its full expression and entire lifespan. No one else was at home at the time and I bawled like a small child. I really loved that plate! I didn’t time how long I wept, but my guess is about one and a half minutes. After that I looked at the broken pieces – and I felt surprisingly, and absolutely, fine. I watched for another wave of regret, or feeling of loss, but there was none. I did look online for a replacement, unsuccessfully, and I was still fine.
A couple of weeks ago, I was tired. I’d been much too busy for too long, and I really needed to chill out with something mindless. Joy of joys, I had a loan of a jigsaw. It was a lovely nostalgic picture of a delicatessen, comforting and full of vintage details. I was enjoying the visual pleasure of making an image without any mental challenge. No struggle with making decisions – with a jigsaw all decisions are clearly right or wrong - utterly relaxing. But the jigsaw needed to be moved, as my husband had to use the table for work. I asked him to move it, on a board, into the living room.
Now in my living room I have what one interiors website describes thus: "A style spot is where you group together furniture, artwork and lighting, which in turn creates a focal point in a room that demands your attention. It also has the added benefit of making it easier to design a room, by narrowing your focus into smaller areas of the room." One of my so-called style spots, shown above, is comprised of a hand built and painted cupboard, with my lovingly curated collection of objects arranged on top, and above them, the wall full of artworks and framed mirror; the icon was brought back from my post graduate year in Cyprus, the antique Thai Buddha on top was gifted by a friend, and the much loved Louise Bourgeois artwork reproduced on a plate was a treat to myself from a sale in the National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh.
As my husband entered the room, holding the jigsaw on its board, it hit the side of the big framed print, which swung on its hook and levered the heavy mirror off the wall, catching the Louise Bourgeois plate and bringing it down, taking the icon and the Buddha down with them, the mirror and plate crashing down on top of various objects including the three white ornaments, all with sentimental memories – the china cat was the first thing I remember buying for my mum when I was small - and a cake stand that my husband had bought for me a few years ago. It made quite a smash. I have to say that my husband did not fully appreciate the beauty of the minute and a half lifespan of my emotional release. But when it was over, it was over, and after just ninety seconds I was simply ready to clear up the broken pieces. I had no return of feelings of loss or shock and I didn't revive them.
The breaking of objects is no doubt not the most challenging emotional situation. There might have been deeper buried upsets triggered, but fortunately this wasn’t the case – so it was a good opportunity to witness the minute and a half emotional lifespan theory hold true. And it turned out that although things that I loved for their beauty were broken, surprisingly more had survived. I was able to buy a replacement Louise Bourgeois plate from the Tate shop, my husband glued the china cat’s bow tie back on, and the cake stand is now just a tier shorter. The mirror frame and the cupboard still need a little touching up with paint - but the framed print that had acted as a lever is now firmly attached to the wall with mirror plates.
Carl Jung wrote, “What you resist persists.” For everyone, hurts and disappointments are regular occurrences, and they accumulate weight within us. We might brush them off, but later feel the return of a heavy heartedness. We might have learned to toughen up on the outside then much later, wonder where our irritability and weariness have come from. Or we might get stuck in loops of reviving old hurts. I've done all of these at various times. But if at times you find that you are surprisingly upset, who knows, you might actually be clearing some backlog. And as we learn to feel and release the disappointments that we once would have added to our hoard of resisted hurts, we find ourselves becoming increasingly lighter.