Feeling Our Feelings: More Lessons from Leo Buscaglia

Leo Buscaglia loved Joyce. More than being her preceptor in her master’s program at the University of Southern California, he was a spiritual teacher and friend. And through Joyce, I had also felt close to Leo, although most of my time was occupied as a medical student at the same university.

“Whatever she feels is written all over her face,” he used to say to me. “When she’s sad, she cries. When she’s happy, she smiles. When she’s angry, it’s visible. When she’s at peace, her face is relaxed.” Then, with sometimes brutal honesty, he’d say to me, “Sometimes I don’t know what you’re feeling. You can smile when you’re angry, or look peaceful when you’re sad. So I can’t trust your smile or your peaceful appearance. Stop being phoney Barry!”

He was right, albeit blunt. I was hiding my sadness, anger, fear, and every other emotion I considered unpleasant. I had learned all my life, as many of us have, to cover up and ignore these unpopular feelings. Another one of these hidden feelings was my human emotional need for Joyce – and for love in general.

After having an affair to try to prove (mostly to myself) that I didn’t need Joyce, my life collapsed. Joyce left and I was alone – with my feelings. And up to the surface they came – agonizing pain, an aching hole of sadness in my heart. I was shocked and surprised by the intensity of these feelings.

After enduring the agony for a few days, I knew I needed to see Leo. Our apartment was a few houses down the street from his, in the Highland Park suburb of Los Angeles. I slumped up to his door and knocked. Leo opened the door a crack, saw that it was me, and quickly slid out closing the door behind him. I had no idea that Joyce was staying at his house, and she didn’t want me to know where she was. As far as she was concerned, our relationship was over.

Leo looked at me inquisitively. Completely devoid of self-pride, I blurted out my despair, my face and tears finally matching my inner pain. Leo studied me until I finished blubbering. Then, to my utter surprise, a giant smile lit up his face and he grabbed me in one of his famous hugs. While squeezing me, he excitedly spoke, “Barry, you’re finally real … you’re finally real!!”

Although I didn’t share his rejoicing, I knew he was right. I was no longer pretending not to have pain. And it did feel good to finally let my feelings out, and be comforted by another human being – and a very loving one.

That evening, for the first time in my life, I made peace with a little boy inside me that needed love, acceptance, and nurturing – the part of me that needed Joyce, needed God, needed everyone and everything. I made peace with my humanity, instead of pretending to be above it. I had been convinced that need and dependence, sadness and fear, and all so-called “negative” feelings, were signs of weakness. Now I realized the courage and strength it took to feel all my feelings. I had been convinced that feeling my humanity would prevent me from feeling my divinity. Now I knew that feeling my divinity depended upon my feeling my humanity. We are human beings on a spiritual journey, and spiritual beings on a human journey.

Now I invite you to be courageous and feel your feelings. Show on the surface what you are feeling inside, especially to those closest to you. Risk being real.

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