Shades of Emotion

This is a Pantone chart:Pantone_Chart-2

It’s a basic version – a true Pantone book has many pages for each individual colour – but this single image shows some of the variations of colour that designers can use when choosing a particular shade of, say, yellow or green. No colour is simple; each subtle grade, each depth of saturation, makes it different… and so hints at a different response in the viewer. From cool blue to hot red, for example.

We rarely think of such things in our day-to-day lives (unless we’re professionally employed to do so – no disrespect to the hard-working artistic folks!). But we do all see those shadings around us constantly. From this:

LeavesTo this:


From the yarn in my knitting to the shades of fur on my dogs, we are surrounded by varieties of colour. Even colour-blind people see the world vividly. Everything is shades – even grey. And yes, we are lucky to be able to see them.

This past few weeks, I’ve been increasingly aware of such shadings. It has mostly been in the skies that I love to look at as well as the natural world around, but paralleled in my own emotional state. Storm clouds dissipate into rainbows with the passing of so few breaths.

London Rainbow

It’s been an intense time in my world, rising from high mood to low with such speed that I’ve often been overwhelmed – seeing the world through the flickering images of an emotional zoetrope. The joy of seeing the happiness in the faces of those who’ve come to meet me for the first time after enjoying my work… to the sadness of pain and loss, over which I’m powerless.

It’s easy to feel out of control with one’s own emotions. They seem to come suddenly, in waves or bursts, with a thumping heart or chill in the blood. Physical and mental state are mirrored as both try to work out what’s going on, what is causing this reaction, what has to be done… and so the shadings are felt.

Pain – a sharp stab, perhaps, then fading to a dull throb, before numbness. Anger rising slowly, burning, before forcing itself to be expressed in a scream or hitting out. Happiness – from simple smile to uncontrolled laughter. We all have our emotional gradients.

I’ve read the Buddhist perspective, of simply observing emotions as they rise and fall within us, remaining unaffected. I’ve very rarely been able to achieve such a state, passionate lady that I am (born in the Year of the Dragon, in Sagittarius with Jupiter Rising, if you follow such things). I find myself caught up, forced to ride the waves – which has led me to get to know my own emotional Pantone chart pretty well.

I don’t often get angry, but when I do it’s with a hot rush of energy, which can be focused and directed if I catch it in time – before it flashes out to hurt. I feel tears welling within and know that they must be released… it’s being able to find a safe place first. Sometimes not possible.

We’re all expected to control our emotions to some degree, due to societal expectations (not laughing at an unexpected double entendre in church, for example), or simple politeness. For me, that awareness is another level of the shading – but more like a filter this time, through which others see my emotions. Behind which I still do my best to understand what they are and why I’m reacting in such a way. And, of course, what to do when that evil giggle wells up at an inappropriate moment.

I’m often shocked into gaping silence when others try to tell me how to react, how to ‘deal’. I have no idea how others understand or feel their own emotions, and so wouldn’t try to tell them how to act – at best, I can make a suggestion. But ‘helpful’ comments such as ‘oh, you don’t really feel that way, just calm down’ are guaranteed to have the opposite effect. Thus adding yet another societal filter.

Sometimes emotions just have to be felt. Like the brightness of a sunset, they can burn when focused on too intently, but by looking around, discovering how best to view them by the shades surrounding them, we gain perspective. By taking a deep breath and jumping into the sorrow, we can discover what we’re truly feeling, and where it may come from. Because the source of the emotion may not be what we expected. If we knee-jerk physically to that emotional stab, we may be kicking at the wrong target.

Look back over this post again, at those pictures. Leaves – simple. But what colour are they? Not green, not yellow, not brown. And the skies, full of clouds, so many shades of blue (and that quiet rainbow reaching down over London WC1). What emotions do they inspire in you? Pleasure, peace, annoyance, boredom… to what degree? And why?

We explore our emotions and discover more about ourselves. It might be fun or it might hurt, but it’s part of life, not to be blocked out or bottled up. I honour those mysterious forces inside me, even as I’m frustrated by them, or wish them away, or curse their bad timing. They’re all part of who I am, right now.

We experience, learn and move forward, as life goes on.

(All photos in this blog entry were taken by me – please credit me if used elsewhere)



  1. I get the same thing, being told how I *should* feel. Bollocks! How you feel is how you feel and if that’s not convenient to other people, that’s their problem. What you do with it is your responsibility, but you are not obliged to be what other people want. I have to keep telling myself this one. Your passion is an important part of who you are. Own it, feel it, know that you are entitled to it, in all its shades.

    I wonder if some folk go through life with only a few pastel tones of emotion to their names, and this is why they struggle with people who live a full pallet? If so, we should pity them, they’re going to be missing out on almost everything.

  2. Gwion said

    Prompted by something that cropped up on TDN, I’ve been reflecting on my ritual year and how low-key it is – which led me back here, more to respond to the reply above than to comment on your blog Cat. I think I’m probably one of those people “with only a few pastel tones of emotion to their names” – I’d guess mine are shades of beige!

    I’m currently reading your “Facing the Darkness” to try to get more of an insight into the occasional bright flashes of colour but more frequent sombre tones that walk by my side but I don’t fool myself that I can ever truly understand or feel as someone else does, any more than they can experience what I feel. I do know the futility of saying “Cheer up” or “Pull yourself together” or even, on occasion “It really would do you good to get up today” but as to really understanding why such comments are at best meaningless (and in fact would be unfeeling and uncaring), well …

    Nevertheless I tell myself that my beigeness has a function. By providing that more constant, more neutral background I hope to make some of the darkness less dark. So just as we beige people shouldn’t expect others not to feel what they feel, and should try to provide support rather than pity through their highs and lows, I don’t feel that I need anyone’s pity for the life I have or the choices I’ve made. I don’t look for ecstasy or agony, I look only for contentment.

    My plea is for tolerance on all sides; it’s not the palette of colours you’re given that matters but the picture you paint with them.

    • druidcat said

      Perhaps a beautiful sepiatone? Thankyou for sharing so honestly, Gwion x

  3. joannavdh said

    A beautiful blog piece, Cat! In my learning of Buddhism, it is not the suppression of emotion so much as not attaching to residual energies or memories of the emotion – feel the anger when angry, feel the grief when bereaved – but do not continue in the memory of the emotion long after the event. After something happens, we can only recall it once – from then on it is a story that we tell to ourselves, and it can get lost in the telling from the original purpose. To feel, to let go, to feel, to let go – a constant cycle. It may seems that some Buddhists are suppressing their emotions, when really they are feeling them and just as quickly letting them go – it is practice. Even Zen Buddhist monk Thich Naht Hanh has written about getting angry, feeling the anger and then letting it go. It’s not that they are unaffected – they simply let go quicker, if that makes any sense lol!

    In the dark half of the year, it when I turn inwards, to reallye explore emotion, to look at things critically, to turn the light on the shadows and see what needs changing, honouring the shadows for what they are. This post is a brilliant reminder! x

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