Feelings! Oh, what a fun topic.
I’m a 90’s rock kind of gal, so queue an Offspring’s ‘Feelings’ (get outta’ my life) hit, and it’ll give you an idea of where I am going with this.
The feelings that we have about our feelings are not always friendly. I would love to help shift that very unhelpful conditioning because the thing is, feelings can be incredibly empowering and lead us into more wisdom. First things first, most of us intellectualise feelings, which is the reason that this is even a topic.
What do I mean? Well, when you’re stressed or anxious, do you pause, take a few breaths, drop into your body, bring your attention to where you can feel that emotion in your body (for example, anxiety in your chest, sadness in your throat, anger in your belly, etc.) and sit with it? Are you being present, not judging, analyzing, or wishing it away until the energy dissipates and if you’re lucky, even reveals some wisdom in the form of a light bulb moment or flicker of insight? I didn’t think so.
When we start to feel stress or anxiety, most of us think, “Ahhh, I’m so stressed,” or, “Oh gosh, I’m so anxious, eeeeeppp; I’m anxious.” Then, we probably default into a familiar negative thought pattern whose headline is something along the lines of, “I’m not enough,” or “I’m a failure.” We might even indulge in a behaviour or habit to distract us from the discomfort. Some good ones include food, TV, drama… Any of this resonating?
Don’t flip out, this is entirely normal; I promise. We are simply trying to survive, seriously. There is a part of our hardwiring that screams, “ARRRGHHHH! OH MY GOSH, MAKE IT STOP. IT HURTS. IT HURTS, AND PAIN MEANS WE MIGHT DIE! FALL BACK, ABORT!” Okay, it doesn’t really say that, but if it did it would be pretty cool. It’s automatic though, wouldn’t you admit, to pull back from what is uncomfortable?
It is our instinct. However, the thing about this pulling back, avoidance of, analysis, intellectualisation of feelings and emotions, is that it means that we are seeking to suppress and control them. And just as I ask the students at my Calm Mind Project events, “What happens when we suppress anger or sadness? Where does it go?” I’ll ask you to ponder this also.
Unfortunately, I’m not standing in front of you, so we can’t have a dialogue. Therefore, I’ll give you the answer. Emotions and feelings that are not expressed or released via feeling or shifting trauma get pushed down and repressed, and they build up. This leads us to either explode (projection including trying to control others, lash out in anger, bully, or various versions of acting out to get attention, etc.) or implode (self-harm, which also includes a stream of internal self-criticism and shame).
Now, I keep switching between saying feelings and emotions, so here’s a crash course on the difference.
The difference between feelings and emotions
Emotions are like the primary and secondary colours, and feelings are the tertiary colors. Feelings are more of an intellectual description of emotions or variety of primary emotions. Emotions are the ‘ooomph,’ the big kind of energy that we feel in our body.
Feelings tend to be more fleeting, fast moving, and more surface level. Generally, people will describe a feeling, and once they dig a little deeper, they will find an underlying primary emotion. For example, jealousy, once explored, often reveals anger, then sadness, and finally fear. Fear is always at the core of what we describe as uncomfortable emotions. And at the core of the comfortable ones is love. People will often describe this as a space or peaceful nothingness. That is real love; it’s quite subtle and balanced, unlike the intense, glorified feelings of lust or infatuation, which are often mistaken as love.
(Right now, I want to make up a word to combine feelings and emotions because I’m just about done with typing both – I wonder if my editor will remove it though? Let’s give it a go).
Femotions, like anything, will intensify if we resist them. This is where mindfulness comes in. I want to take this opportunity to explain mindfulness and encourage you to make it a part of the way you live life. Mindfulness, truly, is a verb. It’s something that we must consciously do. The buzzword “surrender” is step three and requires the application of mindfulness to our femotions.
Okay, moving on to practicality here.
How to feel your feelings in 3 steps:
Step 1: Pause. Yes, that’s a step. How often do we pause to notice what we are feeling? Seriously.
Step 2: Notice what’s there. I like to encourage people to close their eyes if possible, take a few deep breaths, and visualise their breath going in and out of their lungs. This shifts the focus of the mind from the incessant stream of thoughts to one single thing (which is mindfulness; the focus on one thing with acceptance of it).
As we continue breathing and bring our attention to our body, we can scan our body and notice where we feel the energy of the femotion. We are simply noticing. The mind may try to analyse; don’t let your attention feed those thoughts. We must practice letting our thoughts go and gently come back to the body and energy. As we sit and observe, without wanting to change, understand, analyse, or judge what we find, we soften into the energy.
Step 3: Feel. This is the yummy bit. Feel your body totally relax; the mind will now be quite present, and if it’s not, repeat step one and two. If you notice resistance, that’s normal. The mind is trying to avoid pain (totally okay), so don’t ignore it or judge that either. Simply bring your attention gently to the resistance, staying out of your thoughts by bringing your attention back to your breath for as long and as many times as it takes.
Patience and being gentle are the keys here. The harder you try, the harder it will be. Make it effortless. Feel effortlessness in your body.
Now, soften into the resistance and notice it. Maybe, it will reveal some fear or wisdom. Allow it to come up, and once it drops in intensity, bring your attention back to the energy of the emotion. It may have shifted in nature or position, which is totally normal.
Once you’re present with it and you’ve softened into it, take a breath into the emotion. Gently drop into it, deeper and deeper. Drop into the centre, and once you are there, stay and feel, remaining focused on the energy and out of the mind. Feel it without wanting it to change or having any expectation of the experience. Practice complete presence and surrender. Then, wait. Notice if it shifts and changes. Notice if you want to ask it if it has something to tell you (it may not). And if you begin to get distracted by your thoughts, return to the feeling. Continue to do this until all the layers drop away and you get to what some describe as a spaciousness, peace, or nothingness. It might feel like empty space. It might feel like deep joy or fulfilment. This is love. 🙂
This process may take a total of 5 to 10 minutes, if not far less. Anxiety can be shifted within minutes if you give it your complete acceptance and presence.
Feelings and emotions simply need to be felt. Keep it simple. Sometimes, you might get a little insight, and sometimes, you won’t.
The more you can pause (and get better at pausing through meditation) and begin to lean into what we’d normally pull away from, you’ll notice how this peace spreads into other areas of your life. How many of us avoid important conversations, tasks, and opportunities and screw ourselves over, all because it’s uncomfortable? ALL OF US. This practice helps melt away the crucifier of all creativity and success; resistance. This practice isn’t just about being peaceful, it’s about mastering life.
Yay, well done. Here we are.
It wasn’t too bad after all, was it?!
Often, what we feel is not the primary emotion of feeling but fear around feeling our authentic emotions. Humans are funny creatures. We are all funny creatures. I’m a human too; although, I’d like to think I’m actually from Gryffindor (or maybe Ravenclaw, I am a bit of a geek, really).
Getting back to it, I have a side note on this:
While I have never really had to take someone through this process with a more pleasant feeling or emotion, it is important to remember that the survival part of our brain loves what is familiar because it feels safe. Unfortunately, if we’ve never understood how to properly feel our emotions and resisted feelings like anxiety, stress, and more intense or compounded states such as depression, then this energy becomes what our nervous systems and wiring get used to.
I have spent hours at retreats or an entire session with my private clients helping them tap into joy, love, freedom, expression, power, and peace to help them become more familiar and thus able to access these healthy emotions with ease. That’s a whole other ball game, but I just wanted to touch base on that as I think it’s a rabbit hole that is important to explore and perhaps will encourage you to begin a daily practice of meditation to cultivate more peace and love energies. Meditation is not just to chill out. It changes errrything, guys.
Emotions and feelings are an important part of life. They always have wisdom in them, and we must listen. We create so much more trouble for ourselves by not taking the time to pause and train our mind to become more focused on what’s in front of us. Insert megaphone –
That’s why you should effing meditate, people!
If we don’t understand or appreciate our emotions, we won’t be happy in our hearts or calm in our minds.