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Well Becoming

a blog about being well, becoming well, staying well - and flourishing. Written by a professor and family doctor living between Liverpool, UK and Granada, Spain

How light is your heart?
Tuesday, May 21, 2013


I’m reading Julian Barnes’ beautiful book Levels of Life, about hot air ballooning and the death of his wife. His link between the two is to do with height. He used the word both physically and metaphorically – rising effortlessly up in the air in a balloon, or crashing down into the depths when grief strikes.


I've been thinking about how we often use physical words to describe our emotions.


We do talk a lot about height when describing our moods, mainly whether we’re feeling up or feeling down. Sometimes we think visually, and talk about feeling bright or gloomy.


Another way of looking at our emotional lives is in terms of their weight. If life is treating us well and there is lots of fun and enjoyment around, we often describe ourselves as ‘light-hearted’. If things are not going so well, we’ve had bad news or are expecting something difficult to happen, then we may talk about doing something or approaching a situation ‘with a heavy heart’. We can be weighed down by the cares of the world. Hopefully, we can sometimes throw off our burdens or share them with other people.


The word depression contains elements of both height and weight. In physical terms it refers to a hollow, an area that is sunk below its surroundings. It also refers to a sense of pressure, of being compressed, constrained, pushed down.


For me, there is a very strong link between my emotional state and my sense of weight. This is nothing to do with my actual weight in kilograms, which could usually do with being a bit lower!

If life is difficult I feel heavy, tired, sluggish. I find it’s a big, big effort to drag myself around. I’m trudging through treacle.

But when everything is going well I really do feel lighter, not just in my heart but in my whole being. Sometimes I feel weightless, it’s as if I could take off and fly.


I love this sense of lightness. It is effortless, floating, breezy - like being in one of Julian Barnes’ hot air balloons, or floating on my back in the Mediterranean with the evening sun (another form of lightness) warming me. I experienced it yesterday evening in my tai chiclass, when my arms floated up and down without any effort at all from me.


Lightness of being.


Yes please. Unlike Milan Kundera, I don’t find it unbearable.

I can see there might be down-sides to lightness. It can suggest not being serious, superficial, unimportant, lacking gravity (another physical term!), as in “he’s a light-weight.”



But in emotional terms, I think lightness hard to beat.


How light is your heart today?

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