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Choosing Your Emotions Instead of Letting Them Choose You

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CHOOSING EMOTIONS

You may have read my essay about my marital crisis in the New York Times Modern Love column in August of 2009 called "Those Aren't Fighting Words, Dear" or possibly read my memoir, "This Is Not The Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness" (Amy Einhorn/Putnam) on the same subject. When I sat down to write my way through this time of my life, I never dreamed that it would deliver a twenty year dream: book publication, New York Times bestseller list, book tour, national television, foreign translations, the whole thing. I had surrendered that dream and learned that to hold onto it was to suffer in a place of wanting and not having. I had been a willful victim for too many years and had finally dedicated myself to making powerful emotional choices in my life. A rejection from a publisher didn't mean that I was a bad writer or that my work would forever fall between the cracks. I was sick of that level of emotional suffering and I had changed my way of relating to the world. My happiness was inside me. Period.

So when a different kind of rejection came my way in words that none of us wants to hear and most of us dread: I don't love you anymore...even though they came from my dear husband's mouth after 15 years of what I considered to be a loving marriage, even though they were shocking and hurtful, I knew that I could employ the same philosophy I'd been working with in my writing life, and not let them take me down. There began my "season of unlikely happiness."

He wanted to leave. I knew he was running scared due to career failure and my gut told me this was a crisis of self that he was transferring on to me. So I decided to give him the space to work through it...and he took it. He didn't move out. He took his problems to nature, fishing, camping, hiking in the Rocky Mountains where we live. He was distant, unreliable, and sometimes cruel. But I knew that if I took it all personally, and reacted to the drama, that I would be in pain and I didn't want that. My job was to take care of myself and surrender the future of my marriage, even though I deeply loved this man. Holding the space for him to heal was the best way I could show him that love, regardless of whether or not he came back as an equal loving partner.

But it wasn't always easy. My inner critic wanted blood. She told me lies. Lots of them. "You are being a door mat! You need to hire a private detective! You need to demand he see a therapist! You need to kick his a** out!!!" But my greater instincts told me that my real work was to let go and to focus on creating positive moments with my children, hiking in the mountains, picking huckleberries, digging in the garden, cooking big feasts, playing games on the screen porch. Of course there were times I needed to rage and cry, and I did that alone on my horse in the woods or at four in the morning when the panic and fear hit hard and I couldn't seem to quiet my mind. That's when my inner critic was loudest. "I don't love you any more means you are unlovable. You will lose everything--full custody of your children, your animals, your house, your car. You will end up alone. " But I knew my work was to replace that victim's voice with positive thinking, moment by moment, breath by breath, heart beat by heart beat. Over and over I would say to myself "I am enough. I am enough." Even when I didn't believe it. And it worked. I felt a peace in that time of my life I'd never known.
My husband and I healed through this crisis, but that's not what my book is about. It's about choice. It's about the myth of where our power lies. It's about personal freedom. It's about letting go. I would hope that even if our marriage hadn't made it, I would still be able to practice this philosophy and have the same personal results.

In the last year since my book's publication, I have had the opportunity to travel the country doing readings. I have loved the experience because it has given me a chance to see how universal truths and empowering stories can inspire the same results in people, regardless of where they are in life or what social or religious group they come from. In fact, the same questions come up over and over. I'd like to share the most common one with you here because it says so much about where we're stuck in our thinking and how we get in our own way.

People want to know: how is it possible to not take those words personally?

And my answer is: no one can cause you to have an emotion. It's playground politics all over again. No one can "make" you mad or feel guilty or cry or laugh. Physically, yes, a black eye is a black eye. But emotionally, it's always a choice. I read somewhere recently that we have around 60,000 thoughts a day and something like 75-80 % of them are negative. That doesn't surprise me one bit. We have chosen to become emotional victims and I think it's because there's a pay-off to it. We get to be right. We have told ourselves a story a long time ago that we are powerful when we________. Or conversely, not powerful when we are not__________. And then we let those equations run our lives and determine our perceptions and reactions so that we can prove our story true. Our inner critic screams, megaphone to our heart: "See, I told you the world sucks. I told you you would fail. I told you you are powerless."

But what if we chose to see that our real power is in loving ourselves, even when we are at our worst? That we are enough. What if we turned that inner critique into a cheerleader? What would happen? My answer: we would find the freedom of the present moment.

In my book I ask this question: we all want to be free, don't we? And when I read this out loud at my speaking engagements, whether it's at a high-end fundraiser or a college or a high school or a senior center or a YMCA or a JCC...people look at me with the same confusion in their brow. Personal freedom is a new concept to many of us. It was to me, that's for sure, until I stopped letting things outside my control like the publishing industry, and then later, my husband's love for me, define my well-being or self-worth. I have learned that for the most part, people don't know that they're not free. People don't know they are suffering. They are so used to their inner critic that they don't even know she/he exists.

I had to name her to really become aware of her. And she was LOUD. (Especially bathing suit shopping!) But she didn't have to be. When I finally realized that she was just a scared little girl running amuck in my brain, I treated her like she was exactly that, and I hugged her and let her riff...and oddly enough, or maybe not so oddly enough, she got quiet. I loved her into submission.

And I was left with a simple question: What can I create...in this moment? I've created being miserable. That no longer feels good. So what if I get to be right. I'm sick of that pay-off. I'd rather create something that works in my life. That feels easy and natural and simple and good. There is intense freedom in powerfully choosing to create happiness in your life. No matter what people are saying to you or what's going on in your mind or in your life. And it doesn't mean that we have to go outside ourselves or travel across oceans. All our happiness is right there at our kitchen sink, driving our kids around, sitting in our office chair, totally available to us.

I am about to go out on tour again for the paperback of my book, and I am so honored to know that my story may inspire more people to meet their lives powerfully and freely, especially when they're in crisis. Especially if they are being told they are unloved by the one they love.