Stiff upper lip

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9e/Keep-calm-and-carry-on.jpgThe public reaction to the death of Diana astounded me. I was not entirely alone. I remember sharing in the office our incomprehension, and disapproval of the mawkishness. We looked upon mass hysteria unmoved. And- Britain mourned, publicly, weeping in the streets, dumping flowers in huge piles, and creating a Princess Diana Memorial Garden only a few yards from my office.

When I was 16, Jane’s parents moved away as her Dad had another job, and her best friend Jackie started crying. Soon, all the girls in my year were crying, even those who had hardly known Jane. The boys and I looked on bewildered.

Ian Hislop, in his programme “Stiff Upper Lip, an emotional history of Britain”, pointed to the visible stoicism of Diana’s sons, aged 9 and 15, in her funeral procession. Private Eye mocked the mourners, but it was the moment where Britain as a whole grew more in touch with our emotions, able to perceive and express them. It was a moment of maturing. The stoicism of Keep Calm and Carry On is wonderful and necessary, but not when it means repressing emotions: I need to perceive and integrate them.

I have only created an illusion of stoicism in the past by suppressing my emotions, and I cannot suppress them any more. I doubt I ever worked at my full potential, I gave too much energy to holding those emotional reactions in check, and thought myself Worthless, only of value for what I might achieve. And anything I achieved was only to be expected, but anything which did not go my way was My Fault and Very Bad. I could not carry on that way, and while I have seen this as failure and falling away, I choose to see it as the beginnings of a better way of being. Repression was the only way I knew. but I was getting steadily worse at it, crying in the tribunal waiting room in 2004.

How do I deal with my feelings? I repress them. That was my habitual way, and is even now an instinctive way, and so I still try it sometimes; and I still feel that repression is good and the right way to behave.

I want to develop a Stoic response, conscious of the feeling, accepting and allowing it, while Carrying On- a homunculus in my torso weeps and screams while I hold her and care for her, and do what I have to do. I am practising this. I have not perfected it, yet, but I am getting better.

I have been ashamed at how much we “mention the war”. It is sixty years since, have we nothing to be proud of since then? But- we mention the war because we have a right to be proud of it, even if those who served are dead, or over 86. And, I think we seek in ourselves that stoic keeping calm and carrying on. The “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster was never published. It was kept in case of an invasion or similar catastrophe, third in the sequence illustrated here.

Thanks to Questrix for this wonderful spiritual practice: “Gam zu l’tovah: Even this could possibly be for the good”. This is also different from suppression: I have my first reaction, but I do not cling to it, it is not the end. Similarly, STEB.

5 thoughts on “Stiff upper lip

  1. Yeah, I share a lot of your processes here. This morning I was saying, “I love my life, because….” and seeing new ways to accept the good. And one thing I felt really shocked me. “I love my life because (thank God I am past middle age and)…..one day I will be dead and then I will be able to understand why (a) I resent this life; and (b) since I resent it, why I chose this body….” Meantime I weep unexpectedly and accept that I carry on, because there is a lot to appreciate here. A lot to love.

    It still feels a bit like being tortured though, sometimes.

    I love your posts, Clare. You are one talented lady! xxx 🙂

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    • Oh, I know so well that anger and resentment, and I have more to process of it. We bless the whole world, you and I, even if not everyone in the World realises it. You chose the body out of your pure generosity, and the power you have to get creative with the problems it brings.

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  2. Clare – thank you for sharing your thoughts on this! Having worked for so long in a testosterone, type-A driven environment I tried to be tough, be one of the boys, and all the crap. Somewhere in the last 5 years I either realized it was crap, or more likely just couldn’t do it any more. I’ve committed the sin of crying in meetings out of frustration which totally freaks men out – and lecturing them on the fact that this was not a display of weakness but rather one of strength because I believed strongly enough in my point of view to show my vulnerability in order to continue the fight. What a turning point. I still shy from exposing my throat so easily; my first gut instinct is still to withdraw and build up the trenches. Take the high road. Stiffen that upper lip until you can rest a cup of tea on it. But we’re learning the secrets of a more enlightened power, aren’t we? You point this out and help light the way!

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    • I have found that crying can make me more present and integrated: the suppressed emotion is conscious, and I can spontaneously speak from the heart for my desire, rather than being conflicted and holding back. My crying in (voluntary) work has not resulted in that, just in withdrawing: there is the Thing to be Done and I still have to do it the Right Way.

      I must look again at that type A and type B. All ways of explaining this are necessary. In healthy community, there must be space and value for all personalities.

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