Shared Narratives of Emotions

Shared Narratives of Emotions

By Interintellect host Luke Butler. First published on Metaphoring.

This past February, an intrepid group of Interintellect friends embarked on a journey to charter some of the most dangerous waters known to humanity — our emotions. The purpose was not to search for answers about the biological, physiological, or psychological mechanisms of how emotions function in our bodies or our psyches, but rather a way to explore each other’s emotions as a means of cultivating a more dynamic experience of each emotion, and how it paints the world of that storyteller. Through storytelling, we get to peer into each other’s emotional hues and textures, and develop tools for an emotional cartography that would allow us to map these waters anew.

Our navigational tool of choice was the metaphor. Deceptively simple, the metaphor has served as our compass of sorts, a supple gateway to investigate the shallow as well as murkier depths of our emotions. For example, anger could be described as flowing lava, or a swarm of bees — each in themselves a different experience, and rich with potential for further inquiries into how a swarming, stinging anger might relate to, or be different, from a flowing, molten anger.

These expeditions started its course from Helena Ng’s salon series on curiosity. A curious conversation about the different ways in which we relate to our emotions, led to a deeper investigation as to how we may each experience emotions in a vastly different way. Could culture, trauma and upbringing contribute to the divergence of our emotional experience? Can we ascribe new metaphors to help us continue our stories, to pave a new way forward?

Following a fervent post-salon discussion, each participant chose an emotion from the feelings wheel, and took turns ascribing metaphors to that particular emotion. Naturally, we grew curious of each other’s narrative and took time to expand on them. There was a blooming commitment to meet regularly. Through the many months of COVID, we followed each other’s emotional arc through turmoil and personal challenges. We used our storytelling skills to make sense of our internal, subjective experience.

Our explorations unfolded with an alluring aliveness — hesitance became a kitten first experiencing snow, creativity like a growing mycelial network. We were regularly surprised with each other’s imagery and language, often prompting our group to be courageous in our meaning making, to invoke symbols and inspiration from nature to help us move forward.

More importantly, while stories from our lives naturally emerged, the use of metaphor offered us space and time to explore our emotions without immediately disclosing the intimate moments that had sparked some of those feelings.

As we journeyed further, we each began to adopt the metaphor tool in our own lives as a source of personal and shared inquiry. We discovered that no emotion is an island, that they act as constellations more than individual, separate entities — the thrill of excitement may lead to an effervescent happiness, whereas other times it may come with the weight of the Sisyphean boulder of expectation. We also considered how emotions may affect us on different timescales — the immediacy of a moment of shock is distinct from the slow churn of loneliness. Some emotions can feel like spinning in a blender while others feel like falling through quicksand.

Through the many months of journeying, we did not crack the code of how our emotions work, but something deeply meaningful and profound emerged — we developed a new kind of compassion and emotional investment towards each other, a friendship that thrives on curiosity, self-awareness and inter-awareness. To quote from one of our fellows:

“Exploring my emotions is akin to embarking on a night sea journey. The waters are cold, the air is dense with fog, and darkness looms large. As I paddle along the way with my little raft, participating in this activity is like holding up a lantern in the dark. As I light the way forward, I come to notice that others are also holding up their lanterns, and I feel less lonely on my journey. I feel assured that even though I can’t see anyone through the thick fog, there is going to be light surrounding me, and we may even come to cross paths, no matter how fleeting a moment. The imagery of a dark night at sea lit up by lanterns offer me solidarity and courage.”

Or put more succinctly, and with a big, silly grin from our faces:

“Who needs fMRI when we have each other?”

If you’re interested to join us in our metaphorical journeys, we will be hosting our first workshop Salon on December 4th 2021 and guiding people into surfing their own emotional waves. You may not leave with all the answers about the mysteries of emotions, but you will certainly be splashed with compassion and a refreshing way to consider our shared human experience. We’d love to have you on board.