Text in image reads: Learning to Love Well: Be More Permeable | Joy Lab, Episode 23 with Drs. Henry Emmons and Aimee Prasek

Learning to Love Well: Be More Permeable (pod #23)

Sep 14, 2022


Joy Lab Podcast (episode 23)

In this episode, Henry and Aimee talk about that third lesson of loving well: Be more permeable. What does that mean? Being more permeable means to soften our defenses a bit, to let emotions in, and to also let them out again. To be really alive, we have to be open and let all of life flow in and through us. Listen in to gather insight on how to do that and how you're completely equipped for it.

Check out key takeaways from the episode and the full transcript below.



Key Takeaways (see full transcript below):

  • Organisms, like humans, cannot wall themselves off and still thrive... or even survive. Our emotional lives are the same. We cannot remain healthy while ignoring or stuffing emotions down.  
  • When we're closed off, we may think we're keeping out just the bad "stuff." But, this shutting down and closing off blocks the good stuff too.
  • Vulnerability and oversharing are different! 
  • We can infuse life-giving qualities and intentions (the 12 elements of joy!) as we attend to the painful and the joyful. This state of intentional-attention are particularly good at helping us navigate tough times more smoothly and getting out of ruts more quickly.
  • As Rilke stated: Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final. 
  • You are resilient and interconnected. During beautiful times and times of terror. Just keep going.  


Links Mentioned:



Full Transcript:

Learning to Love Well: Be Permeable

Welcome to Joy Lab!: [00:00:00] Welcome to the joy lab podcast, where we help you uncover and foster your most joyful self. Your hosts, Dr. Henry Emmons and Dr. Aimee Prasek, bring you the ideal mix of soulful and scientifically sound tools to spark your joy, even when it feels dark. When you're ready to experiment with more joy, combine this podcast with the full Joy Lab program over at

Henry: Hello, I'm Henry Emmons

Aimee: I'm Aimee Prasek. So welcome to joy lab, where we infuse science with soul to help you uncover joy. To do that, we focus on our elements of joy. Those are the positive inner states and emotions that become the building blocks for a joyful life. In this episode, we're talking about that third lesson of loving well, which we're now calling

"be more permeable." So in episode number six, we introduced these [00:01:00] five lessons quickly and used the word vulnerable. Vulnerability is really essentially when we open ourselves up to risk, uncertainty, emotional exposure. And in this episode, we actually really like the somewhat similar concept of permeability. To me, it just sort of feels more empowering and dynamic, maybe simply because vulnerability is a bit of a buzzword. I'm not trying to dismiss it. So Henry, maybe you can dig into that more. Can you describe permeability for us and how it might show up in our lives?

Henry: Sure. So, you know, you don't often hear people described as permeable, but I like it because it reminds me that we are part of the natural world. In nature, you don't see healthy organisms wall themselves off from their surroundings. At least not for very long. There [00:02:00] is this constant interplay with everything around it, a give and take that

is what really makes life possible. And I think our emotional lives are not that different. We are not designed to be impenetrable fortresses, you know, to shut ourselves down so that we just can't get hurt. Now we do that, we all do that from time to time. We do it unconsciously. You know, if we feel scared or hurt or betrayed, it is just a completely natural reaction.

And I think it's okay to shut down when you need to, but just not for too long. If we stay closed off, if we try to make ourselves strong or try to protect ourselves, it ends up just hurting us more. Because, when you're [00:03:00] closed off, you just can't let in all the good stuff that's coming your way either. So, I think being permeable means to soften up our defenses a little bit, to let emotions in, and also importantly, to let them out again.

So to be really alive, we have to be open and let all of life flow in and through us.

Aimee: Yeah, I really love thinking about permeability because of that flow that you're describing, Henry. You know, Letting it in and letting it out. It also makes me think of a bit of an obstacle that can snag us here and that obstacle is oversharing. I think this is super helpful for those of us who have maybe a high threshold for sharing information uh, about ourselves. Or would that be a low threshold? You know what I mean? We're open to sharing it. Just thinking about that... but I'm totally [00:04:00] in that camp. Um, you know, if you ask me about something personal, I'll give you the answer generally, without any hesitation, I will give you the information, even if you don't ask,

probably. And at times I think that can really feel like vulnerability. And it's why we can lean into oversharing sometimes because we're thinking that, "Hey, I'm practicing vulnerability!" I think Dr. Brene Brown actually gets into this noting that just dumping information on folks is not the same as vulnerability.

And that's because we can actually be completely emotionally impenetrable, walling ourselves off, like you said, Henry, while also oversharing. Which kind of seems wild, um, example: I might TMI you all day long and at the same time, have a terrible time letting you know that I can't handle something, and need some help. Or, I'll tell you all sorts of stories about past losses or struggles, but I'm [00:05:00] not going to let you know that I'm sad now and could use some support.

So, I think that's where this concept of, permeability helps. Or at least for me, it suggests sort of this more even ground. Maybe I just get caught up in the words here. But for me, with vulnerability, it feels like I'm only opening up to the idea that someone is going to hurt me. You know, that revealing my true self, my fears, my dreams, that if I do that, I open myself up to the firing squad. And that's true.

People can be mean when you put yourself out there. But I guess I want to create the space where I'm not just sort of opening myself up to pain. Like doomsday prepping for my true self to be revealed and then assaulted. But instead opening myself up to whatever, good and bad, and that I can release whatever comes at me. I can let it move through, you know, there's room for good and bad. [00:06:00] There's a place for back and forth. And that type of permeability seems more empowering for me, I think. If I'm making any sense here.

Henry: Yeah, I think you're making ton of sense, you know, pain and joy. They're all part of life and we are meant to let them in. But as you said, there really needs to be a back and forth. About 20 years ago, I went through a really rough, personal stretch. It lasted at least three years, maybe, maybe longer.

Um, I lost my father first and then just a few months later, my birth father died, and then my birth mother, and then my sister. This all happened over this three year period. Most of their deaths were really complicated, and so were my emotions. And I just [00:07:00] sank into this melancholy that I could not shake.

And in retrospect, I'm not sure I actually wanted to shake it. There was something about having that depth of feeling, the rawness of those emotions that I don't think I really wanted to let go of. So I held onto them for a few years until they just gradually ebbed away. Now, I know that grief is different for everyone, and there is no set proper amount of time for moving through it.

And I don't judge myself for taking so long. But, from the vantage point that I have now, I realized that at that time in my life, I just didn't know how [00:08:00] to do it any differently. I'd had no idea being permeable, staying open means that you not only let things in, but you also let them out, you know. It's, it's like a, if you think about a pond of water, it gets stagnant in there

if there's not enough fresh water flowing in. And it also gets stagnant if there isn't enough water flowing out. So it's this dynamic system. And so are we.

Aimee: I'm thinking like all those losses, Henry sometimes, you know, when it rains, it pours, I'm thinking about saying. And at the same time I'm thinking about that saying, um, you know time just heals all wounds. But man, if it's just pouring in and you're just waiting for time to heal it, you can sit in that space a long time.

You can get very stagnant, like you're saying. Sort of on this note here, there's this self-regulation model I really like, called intentional systemic mindfulness. [00:09:00] Just as an aside, I'm realizing this is why it's sometimes hard for me to make friends because I start off sentences like that.

"There's a self-regulation model that I really like." Anyway, That's me. That's okay. Um, anyway, this model sort of hits on what you're saying, and actually this model, along with some other theories, is actually baked into our Joy Lab program, which is why Joy Lab works so well. But, intentional systemic mindfulness was really influenced by systems theory. So, really diving into that open system you're talking about and the idea that everything impacts everything else, essentially. And so every sort of subsystem, like a dynamic complex human, must be studied at its whole, you know, rather than reducing it to all these little isolated parts. On top of that, there's all these feedback loops within the system with the purpose of helping the system, [00:10:00] helping us maintain order, or self-regulation, or balance, harmony.

So, the idea here is that, like you said, Henry, we are not a closed system. We might think we can close ourselves off, but it's impossible. Our feedback loops are still operating. Stuffed down emotions are still circling around and impacting our balance and harmony. And so with intentional systemic mindfulness, what we do here at Joy Lab, we can set some intentions within those feedback loops. We can feed into them, to support that self-regulation process. It's what starts that upward spiral too, that we talk about here. So specifically we can use mindful attention and qualities of mindfulness, is what the authors of this model, note um, as intentions to move things through our system. To maybe come out of that melancholy when we're ready,[00:11:00] or to sort of ignite that process. To move them in and out, those emotions.

These qualities of mindfulness, in my opinion anyway, are really similar to what we work with here at Joy Lab, these 12 elements of joy. So, I'll take love as an example, you know, we can use this element of love, this intention of deep care for ourselves and others as a quality of attention; how we attend to a friend, how we attend to what we're feeling inside. So you can see then how this type of attention impacts the feedback loops. So I attend with love. Even if you come at me with an insult, then it just doesn't sting so bad. So I don't come back at you with venom or a violent action. It moves through my system in a totally different way than if I was attending to you with distrust or hate.

So, I guess my point here with this model is that it reinforces that [00:12:00] permeability is absolutely our natural state, within our own individual system and between all the other humans, all the other systems around us, things have to move within us and through us. But obviously, that's way harder with emotions and experiences that aren't so "positive" and the point of attending with these intentions, these qualities of mindfulness, these elements of joy, it's not to dismiss what's true for us, or the reality of the situation. It's just like adding an ingredient, you know, it gives us back maybe some control here.

So, Henry let's end by maybe talking about that, how can we hold permeability for all of it? You know, maybe even more so that openness from the start, how can we be open to, be permeable with both the joyful and the sad?

Henry: So I am going to turn for this to the [00:13:00] great poet, Rilke.

Aimee: A good idea.

Henry: Yeah, it is. It is a good idea. In one of his poems, Rilke was clearly giving us advice for how to live well. And here's part, just a small part of what he wrote: "Let everything happen to you. Beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final." Now I was just really struck when I first read that. In these three short lines, he captures so much of what it means to be human.

Aimee: Yeah.

Henry: We are surrounded by this incredible beauty. There is so much goodness and love in the world and that's still true. I think. It's just all [00:14:00] around us. But let's be honest, there is also a lot

that is fearful or maddening or just plain sad. His advice is so direct. So simple. Let everything happen to you. I just love that. He's saying don't resist. Don't push away the stuff that makes you feel bad. And don't hold too tightly to the stuff that makes you feel good. Just allow it all to be there. Let it all in. Be permeable. And then he says, just keep going. That is such a good description of resilience. Isn't it? Just, no matter what happens, just keep going. Stand up. [00:15:00] Place one foot in front of the other, and keep going.

We do not have to be stopped by our emotions. Why not? He tells us, because no feeling is final. Feelings come and they go. They are never permanent.

Although I know we sometimes think that they are.

I have come to think of the painful emotions, the terror as Rilke puts it, like compost, they're not garbage that we throw into a landfill somewhere and just let's sit there, outta sight outta mind.

Aimee: Hmm.

Henry: They just keep piling up that way and we'll eventually have to deal with them.

But if we can let them in and turn them over once in a while, like you do your compost, maybe add a little [00:16:00] moisture if you need it. So it can decompose. Well, eventually it will turn into something really rich, something life-giving. So, you know, it took me, uh, quite a long time to compost my series of losses, but I did eventually.

That's actually, when I really started to write. I started it as a way to help me process all of that. And to me, this is interesting, that a lot of my journal entries during that time eventually found their way into my books and into what I think of as the richest and best part of my books.

Aimee: I love the compost metaphor. Now I'm imagining, with intentional systemic mindfulness. And gardening all we've discussed that we're adding worms of joy, worms of love, compassion, to get in there and help [00:17:00] turn that soil over. I don't know if that helps anybody. But anyway, those worms can be your elements of joy.

But also I like to think that we all write our books, the stories of our lives. Each story we write then opens up the next chapter as well. So maybe that's a good place to close here, to close this chapter, this lesson of love of being more permeable,

before we talk about our fourth lesson on loving well in the next episode. So Henry, do you have maybe the last paragraph for this chapter? Something to send us off with?

Henry: Sure. Let's just try to remember this, that joy is there in whatever is happening. If we can simply allow it to be there. No judgment, no resistance, [00:18:00] no grasping. Let everything happen to you. Beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.

Thanks for joining us!: Thank you for listening to the joy lab podcast. If you enjoy today's show, visit to subscribe for your monthly infusion of joy, and to learn more about the full joy lab program. Be sure to rate and review us wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.


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