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For today’s art and creative writing summer workshop for elementary school kids, our lesson is titled ‘The Emotional Arc Of Storytelling’. Through the theme of roller coasters, my colleague, Pavani, and I plan to bring to light how good storytelling needs to have ups and downs, twists and turns, and loop-de-loops in the plot for a more complete experience. As I begin to chart my lesson plan, the innocent faces of some of the younger students in our class come to mind. Would they be able to grapple the concept of infusing emotion into their narration? Maybe, ‘Emotion’ is too strong of a word for them. Would it be easier to use the words ‘Feelings’ instead? 

Then doubt creeps into my ever curious mind. Are emotions and feelings synonymous?

As is the norm these days I google the difference between emotions and feelings and I find my answer in a study from Wake Forest University. 

Feelings arise in the conscious mind while emotions manifest in the subconscious mind. They are not interchangeable terms. Emotions are universal bodily sensations while feelings are personal interpretations of emotions. Love, hunger, pain are feelings while anger, happiness, and disgust are emotions. The article is complex and even before I finish reading the article, my mind sucks me into an ever turbulent black hole of questions. What then is depression? 

“Is it an emotion or is it a feeling – a personal interpretation of sadness, of unworthiness?

Depression is rampant now and the current state of our seemingly apocalyptic world with its chaos and uncertainty has only made sure it stays entrenched in our society. Naturally, another question pops up. When will all this end? Will life ever return to normal again?

A ping on my phone brings me out of the everlasting loop of thought.

“We closed on the house! Finally!!!” texts my friend. 

“Congratulations!” I reply back, genuinely happy for her. She has worked hard to make this happen, managing two jobs and a family. She’s moving to a house bigger than the current one. Selfishly, my happiness stems not just from friendship but also from relief. People buying bigger homes, moving up the socio-economic ladder gives a semblance of returning normalcy to the present situation. Isn’t that what we all strive towards? Bigger dreams encompass an abundance of health, wealth, and happiness.

Six months ago, when the world began to shut down, fear prevailed. I was grateful to have a roof over my head, two square meals a day, and people I loved safe. I listened to spiritual greats every day and meditated without fail. Nothing else mattered. I was content to be alive with what little I had. From that gratitude stemmed the realization that I do not need much to be happy, that sitting in stillness and being in touch with that deeper part of myself makes my life complete.

Yet, here I am now, with the fear of the virus slowly dissolving. I have returned to my pre-pandemic definitions of success and happiness – a bigger home, vacations in exotic locales, and a great looking body. The lessons learned in the pandemic have been transient. Why else would SSR’s suicide shock me? And why else would a friend’s increased purchasing power make me happy? After all, in the interim, I had learned that material wealth and fame does not guarantee fulfillment. Yet, just as quickly as I have learned, I seem to have also forgotten that untainted joy stems from within. 

“Om Poornamadah, Om Poornamidam Purnat Purnamudachyate,

Purnasya Purnamadaya Purnamevavashishyate.”

(That (the source) is complete, this (creation) is complete as well. After completeness is taken away from completeness, only completeness remains. )

In essence, the divine source is within me and by my very nature, I AM COMPLETE. 

The phone rings.

“Hey, How’s the lesson plan coming along?” Pavani asks.

Ah – It’s time to get back to ‘The Emotional Arc of Storytelling’.

“Just starting, I’ll ping you once I’m done,” I say. 

As I go back to my lesson plan, Pavani’s words in the document bring a smile to my face – “Roller Coasters are a great metaphor for life. We go up, we go down, but we don’t have to crash. We can learn to enjoy the ride.”

In just a few moments I have, like a roller coaster, gone all around the twists and turns in my mind, from emotions and feelings to depression to joy and completion. I am yet unsure of whether depression is an emotion or a feeling or why it is so rampant and if life will ever return to the way it was before the pandemic. But, what I do know is – I do not need anyone or anything to complete me and knowing this is the anchor that will steady me during the turbulence. 


Vidya Murlidhar is an essayist and children’s book author from Charlotte, NC. Her work has been published in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Mothers Always Write, Grown & Flown, India Currents, and other places.  

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