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Emotional Dyslexia


From a pretty young age, I spent a lot of time in formal and informal education, building up "Intellectual muscles." Comparatively speaking, I didn't spend nearly as much time developing my "Emotional muscles." There were long explorations, discussions, analytical analysis pointed towards history, literature, philosophy, science, technology, and music.If you did something "Good," like get a good grade, there wasn't hugs, there were verbal compliments. If you did something of particular note, my Father would punch you on the shoulder like a boxer, and shout "Lightening!" Those moments of great approval, was like being on the top of the world.

When it came to emotions... feelings... how to relate to people through the lens of feeling? It never really happened, and god-forbid if someone had sadness, depression, frustration or "Downward emotions," come up. In fact, within my family it was discouraged, considered frivolous, and not particularly respected to discuss. My father, and others in my family were of the mindset, "If you need to cry, we'll give you something to cry about." If I was sad, depressed, frustrated, or angry I was told: "Go to your room, get your ass off your shoulders, and come back when you get through your pity party." On a repeated basis I was told, "People that get into their feelings were "Weak." It was a kind of weird feelings blockade, that's difficult to describe how oddly with the lack of communication the reservoir of feelings got bigger, as did anxiety and depression. That was well before the words "Toxic masculinity," entered our cultural dictionary.

In one particular Zen silent retreat that lasted seven days, I was kinda stuck there. To distract myself from "Fire in the knees," and nothing better to do, I passed the time examining experiences and memories, trying to remember when my Grand-parents, Mother, Father, Brothers or Sisters openly cried or showed the infamous "Downward feelings." I could not locate a single instance in my memory. In this regard, within my family, I was definitely a failure to them. I was criticized for "Caring too much..." or being "Too sensitive..." that I needed to be strong and make it so that "People couldn't get their hooks," into me to tear me down. Needless to say, that didn't leave a lot of time or energy exploring or understanding feelings. They were treated more like a side order dish, randomly placed on the table of self that was kinda of a mystery dish. Who know's what was inside. The thought, best not to open what might not be so easily closed and more of a problem than I already was to them. Instead of sharing them, I began stuffing or pretending away feelings, with books, movies, sports, and drugs; as much as I could. Hello Emotional Dyslexia!


Though the details of my experience can be painful for some people to hear, sometimes that painfulness is from familiarity. I can only say the details of our pain are all different, but the result of emotional dyslexia is the same. After 34 years of recovery from active addiction, I've literally heard thousands of experiences that yielded the exact same result... not just from addicts seeking recovery, but so-called non-addicts too, in the process of Zen training.

In our society we can ask pretty much anyone what they think, and there's absolutely no problem. In fact, if you ask someone what they think, they can tell us the theory of the universe, but not it's deep Reality with any coherence. Ask that same person look inside of themselves, and how they feel, Instant emotional dyslexia. They're not so clear or chatty then, often stumbling to find how to express them. People get really vague and abstract. How many times have we trusted or loved people who were unhealthy for us, and avoided people who are healthy, kind, and in alignment with their values? That's a fairly common symptom of emotional dyslexia.

Since in our culture there's a tendency for us to put so much weight on the words "I think...," or when we say, "I feel...," which is usually a thought masquerading as a feeling, we spend a lot of time miscommunicating with each other. What contributes to the individual and shared emotional dyslexia is that our emotional vocabulary is usually so limited we struggle with authentic connection. What we end up with is incredibly intelligent crazy persons, with little emotional awareness.

Many of us may have been born into a family with intergenerational emotional dyslexia… But that doesn't mean that we actually have to stay there, or pass it on to others... especially our kids for those who have them.


As one friend told me... "It's easier to give someone a super-like on tinder than seriously put my heart in the hands of someone who's going to probably put me on the shelf and move on to someone else, after they get bored with me." Adding to the difficulty is our over reliance on screens, exacerbating emotional dyslexia. I have literally hundreds of stories, where emotional dyslexia, (anti)social-media, and texting totally mangled if not totally upended, and destroyed long-term friendships, family, work, and romantic relationships. Another friend, Aiden who gave me permission to share his first name and a few words described his emotional dyslexia, that got started in his family, said it showing up as getting in the way of his "Emotional capacity." He went on to say, "Because we didn't talk about feelings... in fact it was the opposite, I didn't understand what they were. It was like coming into the fellowship, my feelings were like a bunch of wires, and anything that was touched hurt."

As with all of my posts, when I talk about challenges or problem, since this is experience-based healing rather that opinion and advice giving, this is what I learned from others, and what I've actively applied, and share forward with others to untangle the emotional entanglement that had me pretty upside down on the front end of recovery and Zen training. The framework of healing emotional dyslexia is simple. It's to feel, deal, learn, assimilate, and integrate, which allows for healing as a team sport. This kind of work, in my experience and observation cannot be done by ourselves. Why? Because of the distorted relationship that so many of us have with mind and emotions.

1) I got clean and have stayed clean. Without being clean, gain and sustaining clarity with emotions isn't possible, in my experience. This included getting a sponsor who was actively engaged themselves in working the Twelve Steps, and followed their direction.


2) I was given a "Feelings list," and asked to do the following.


A) Sit with the list in front of me taped to a wall, meditatively, and scan the list, picking out ones I'd experienced. I then reflected on each one, and wrote down what they "Felt," like to me.


B) I was encouraged to ask people that I felt okay with and ask them for their definitions and experiences with the particular feeling, writing it down in my recovery journal.


C) I went back to my sponsor and we talked about wheter it was really a feeling or a thought, and how it could influence me in or out of recovery . We also talked about defntions for each one, and re-wrote definitions as appropriate, and how it fit in with Step Two and being "Restored to soundness of Heart and Mind." We also later talked about what it could look like, turning my time and energy to being in conscious contact with healthy emotions and not wallowing in unhealthy one's that might help the disease .

3) I was invited to carry the feeling lists with me, and when reflect on ones that I was experiencing. The was especially true if I was "Stuck," or "Cornered" somehow, and needed to understand where I was at, and see about picking a more positive feeling, and what actions could look like to untangle myself from the negative feeling in the moment. This had the result of helping me to learn how to respond, instead of impulsively reacting... which usually showed up as some version of running, so I didn't have to face moments where I had the sensation of being "Stumped," "Scared," or somehow "Limited."


4) I was encouraged by my sponsor to experiment with "Choosing my feelings from the inside," instead of them randomly happening to me from the outside. What was surprising was, I discovered through meditation, and mindfulness it was actually possible to do just that. That was the first glimpse I experienced as a recovering person to not thinking I was a victim of my emotions.

5) About two years later, I was given the books "Iron John," by Robert Bly, and "The King Within," by Robert Moore to read. During that time, I was also taken by my sponsor to "Men's Groups," on a monthly basis. These turned out to be healthy spaces to talk about what as essentially "Toxic masculinity," and work together to heal this aspect of our experiences. This was kinda of a quantum leap, and I combined it with professional therapy with a therapist experienced in this type of work. During this time, I also began learning formally about Zen and how to practice, going to various locations to learn.


NOTE: In that timeframe, I know many women that did a lot of work through a book and related groups called "Women who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype," by Clarissa Pinkola Estés.

6) One of the books I discovered in 2015 was "The Tao of Fully Feeling," by Peter Walker who is a person in recovery, and "The Book of Awakening," by Mark Nepo. These have been incredibly valuable, having very clear and specific practices the helped me to go deeper into conscious contact with some things that I didn't previously notice.


The above is an outline of some... not all of my experiences, but perhaps the most useful to being able to let go of emotional woundedness, living forwards instead of backwards. You're invited to take some or all of these practices for a test-drive, in reality rather than see them as philosophies. Zen... Recovery... Healing... in my experience in actionable ways of life, not philosophies. The bottom line in all of this is that our emotional dyslexia can be healed, and our ability to connect with ourselves and others with emotional coherence. I've seen in not only in myself, but many many other too that have been willing to seriously and intentionally, instead of tepidly do the work.


一We Are the Practice Itself

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