Let’s talk about feeeeelings.
Ooh yeah, I bet that hit an uncomfortable nerve. Why is that? Why would we rather avoid talking about our feelings? (Just think about every time someone asks you ‘how are you?’ and you reply ‘good thanks,’ regardless of whether you actually feel good or not).
Well when it comes to negative feelings, the fact is that we have been conditioned (by parents, teachers and society in general) to get rid of them as soon as possible; to dismiss them, deny them and avoid them. As children we are told ‘don’t cry, don’t be sad’ as well as ‘smile, be happy!’ and as we get older we learn that being sad or ‘emotional’ is a sign of weakness; being angry is unattractive and undesirable and being anxious or fearful is a sign of low confidence and poor competence.
So what happens when these feelings arise in us? With no acknowledgement nor outlet, they have no choice but to stay inside our bodies, over time getting deeper engrained as we accumulate more and more unexpressed emotions.
Feelings are like visitors; let them come and go – Mooji.
I am always reading about personal development and, coincidentally or not, I have recently come across the same core message from at least 3 different authors/experts. The message is:
To feel our feelings within our bodies without judgement or resistance.
This involves acknowledging them, being present with them, accepting them, showing them love and compassion and giving them the time and space they need to be fully expressed and released. The word ‘emotion’ originates from the Latin word ‘emovere,’ meaning ‘to move through or out.’ In other words, emotions (aka feelings) are energy in motion.
The trouble is, we are often so caught up in our heads that we forget that feelings actually reside in the body. Instead of feeling them physically, we intellectualise them; we analyse them, judge them, resist them or try to solve them in our heads. It’s like trying to use iOS to solve a problem on an Android phone (or something like that).
Sometimes we choose to wallow in our feelings, but this involves self-pity and is another form a judgement i.e. when we think ‘this isn’t fair, why do I have to feel like this?’ This can also lead us to identify with these feelings; we see them as fixed parts of us. For example, if we label ourselves as ‘an anxious person’ who therefore ‘can’t do this and will never do that,’ we then limit ourselves and our entire lives based on this supposedly fixed belief. You might argue here that this person is acknowledging their anxiety which is the healthy thing to do. But actually, they are still judging it and trying to resist it; they are living in fear of it.
I love the way Eckhart Tolle illustrates this destructive human tendency. Here’s a summary of what he says:
When two ducks get into a fight, it never lasts long – they soon separate and each duck flaps its wings vigorously several times which releases the surplus energy that built up in him during the fight. Then they fly off peacefully in opposite directions as if nothing had ever happened.
Now, if the duck had a human mind, this scene would go very differently. The duck may fly away, but he would not put the fight behind him. He would keep the fight alive in his mind, by thinking and story-making.
“I can’t believe what he just did. He came within five inches of me. He has no consideration for my private space. He thinks he owns this pond. I’ll never trust him again. I know he’s already plotting something else to annoy me with. But I’m not going to stand for it. I’m going to teach him a lesson he will never forget.”
And in this way the duck’s mind spins its tale, still thinking and talking about it, days, months, or even years later. He may never see his adversary again, but that doesn’t matter. The single incident has left its impression and now has a life of its own deep within the duck’s mind.
So now I have started to see my feelings as parts of me who equally need and deserve love and attention, both the positive and negative ones. Now when I notice I am feeling a so-called negative emotion, I identify it, listen to it, send love to it and let it be. This is the key to allowing it to be released. But that part happens naturally in its own time. The underlying thought is not ‘ok, I feel sad, now please leave so I can stop feeling sad.’ It’s really giving it the time and space to be expressed.
So the next time you notice yourself feeling a negative emotion, try the following:
- If you can, identify what the emotion is: ‘I feel ______’ (if not, just start from step 2)
- Locate the physical feeling in your body. (E.g. is it in your throat? Chest? Heart? Stomach? All over?) How does it feel? (E.g. tight, tense, hot, tingly, achy, weak, localised, spreading, dense, heavy, empty, heart racing?). How ever it feels, just notice it, without judging it. Put your hand on this part.
- Talk to this hurt part of you. E.g. ‘Hey fear. I can feel you. I hear you. I understand why you’re scared. You’re afraid of ____. I get that. I accept you. I love you. You can stay as long as you like.
- Breathe and just be present with the feeling.
You can come back and repeat these steps for the same feeling as many times as you need to. Soon you’ll realise it no longer has a hold on you; you’re no longer resisting it because you’ve given it the attention it needed to be expressed and released from your body.