- by Subversify Staff
- Posted on 8 October, 2010
The following is a three-part exploration into the world of feelings and emotions…
* * *
Tears are always like a breaking. When tears fall, it is like a rain of grace.
It means that something has actually touched the truth of your heart,
has actually cracked and caused some rain.
— Sofia Diaz
I think once you begin to awake, you begin to learn how to embrace feelings. As we begin to dissolve rigidly held, or what I call “frozen” beliefs, we begin to make room for all feelings; both those we cling to and label positive and those we abandon as negative. Developing the capacity to remain present, fully in this moment, with whatever arises, instead of resisting feelings, leads us to a direct and powerful gateway into a deeper love.
But first I need to clarify what I mean by “feelings.” People often confuse the words feelings and emotions to be synonymous. However, they have quite different roots. I am a huge word fan and sometimes this pays off in unexpected ways. Feeling comes from the Old English word, fellen, the physical capacity to experience something as it is. Feeling is one of the five senses, along with sight, hearing, smell, and taste (I would add “mind” as a sixth sense that mediates the others). Feeling is also associated with being present and in touch with the sensations in the body. Emotion comes from an Old French word, emovoir, meaning to stir up, to create agitation. Emotion then, creates movement within the mind, or better put, it creates movement within consciousness.
Feeling is passive, it is a capacity to experience, while emotion is fluid and leads to action and expression. Feelings occur within the here and now — in the present — and come in all flavors. If we remain open and receptive to them, they can lead us home to peace, to a deeper love. Emotions usually become attached to a story frozen in time that leads us into a whirlwind of drama. By assuming that every internal feeling has an outside cause, the purity, power, and mystery of the capacity to feel is lost. Feelings become dramatized into a personal soap opera. I like to call this tendency our personal novellas — from the over-the-top, melodramatic soap operas of Spanish-language television.
When every feeling becomes a self-centered emotion referenced solely from the perspective of the small ego, it becomes a habit and we react (become reactive) instead of settling into the experience. In fact, we can be very emotional without feeling deeply at all. We can also feel things powerfully, to their very core, without becoming lost in the emotion. The truth is, if you practice enough and develop the ability to drop the drama from the feelings, you begin to develop a much greater capacity to feel, and in the process, you become less reactive emotionally.
The woman I quoted above, Sofia Diaz, is a mentor to literally thousands of people, mostly women. She submits that feelings are neglected in our culture, dominated by the emphasis on rational thought. She goes on to say that, “If you feel the trees from your belly, it is an entirely different universe than if you think about feeling the trees.” Once you begin to practice, she says, an entirely new universe, new ways of perceiving reality, reveals itself. A universe you never knew existed before.
Let me try to clarify that a bit. Usually we need to say: “I am angry because of what of what so-and-so did.” Most of our energy then goes into changing the perceived external cause (in this instance an individual) and very little into what we feel. It is extremely rare for anyone to be willing to feel without logical cause:
“How are you doing?”
“I’m so mad I could kill with my bare hands.”
“My God! Why?”
“No reason, just a wave passing through. Feels great, actually. I love it!”
Imagine a response like that — how liberating would that be? Imagine being with a feeling as a vibration, like listening to music. If we are honest, we really don’t have a fuckin’ clue about why we are feeling what we feel. Is it really the guy who cut you off? Or was it that funny remark your co-worker made yesterday? Perhaps you’re really angry with your father.
What I am submitting here is that the stories we attach to our feelings are often inaccurate. They are as old maps to territories that no longer exist. The more agitated you become, the more complicated things get, and the further away you are pulled from your actual feelings.
When we remove the drama — the personal soap opera — attached to our feelings, the feelings become less distinct, and they begin to defy labeling. Someone reading this rant may become angry and see me as a pompous ass possessed by a need to show off my pseudo intellect to the world, for example. Another may attach the story that my posts are motivated by a need to share my experiences and create some form of dialogue. Who’s right?
Let me offer another example that most here will identify with. You are getting ready for a first date. You feel a quickening in your heartbeat, a tightening in your belly. Label it fear and you have the beginning of one story: I might be rejected. I know I’ll say something stupid. I don’t think this a good idea. This will be a catastrophe. Now, label the same feeling excitement, and spin a different story: there was a great idea. I’m a little nervous, but I think it will be fun. Maybe s/he’s the one. However, if you leave the feeling undefined, and just feel it as a mystery, you will discover that fear and excitement are a hairbreadth apart, separated only by a different story. They easily change into one another.
Try this the next time you feel afraid. Ask yourself if you know, for sure, that what you are feeling is fear. Could it be equally labeled excitement? Can you leave it without any label at all? The same is true of grief and gratitude. The next time you feel deep grief, see if it is possible (just for a moment!); to feel it more deeply while thinking less about why. Then look around at anything, a flower, a color, a bird, and see if your tears are only of regret or also of thanks. Fear, and excitement, grief and gratitude, anger and serenity, sadness and vulnerability: they are all separated from one another when we make them into an emotional drama, but they become one when we feel them as pure energy.
This is the first miracle when we awake: the more deeply we feel, the more present we become, the more at peace we become, and the external situations become somehow simpler — easier to grasp and embrace. When we become less of a knee-jerk responder, we can give the gift of a pure response to a situation instead merely reacting to it. We can express what we are feeling in tune with the present moment. In this way, grief or anger or overwhelming affection can all be gifts to enhance the world, to bring it more color, more aliveness. In this way, feelings can evolve into a generosity of spirit.
Eddie-Yemil Rosario: Feeling is passive, it is a capacity to experience, while emotion is fluid and leads to action and expression. Feelings occur within the here and now
Incredible insight! No, you arent a pompous ass! I have noticed that you have a great radar to identify assholes though. I have been coming to the understanding that stillness is a tool and discipline that comes with wisdom. We so need to embrace that stillness inside of us or fear will be our only dietary intake. We cant just knee-jerk every moment in our lives.
I really like the definition to distinguish feelings and emotions. A great template for a healthy life.
Stupid ancient stories trap us, distort our feelings. I like that. True once, maybe true enough once that our survival depended on believing them. Useless now. The trick is learning the story. Great blog.
Thanks Saynt. I think I also have a tendency to attract some. LOL!
Benni: It’s true, some of that narrative is important. But we live in a culture that idealizes thought over actual feelings. I think it was James Joyce who wrote, “… he lived some distance from his body.” Or something like that. I think we have to come back to the body in order to undo the Gordian Knot of perception.
I hadn’t really thought about separating the identity of emotion from feeling, but i like your perspective. I have often thought about people who give their emotional response first and saved reflections for later; sometimes, never at all; people who were constantly on the defensive to justify their initial statements or actions. When we are caught in our emotional conflict, we lose our objectivity. We no longer see the other person’s point of view. We no longer use fairness, equity, patience or compassion in our judgment. The way you presented your essay pleases me. I hope to read much more of your work in the future.
Karlsie: there are two more pieces to this puzzle. Initially i didn’t intend to post the other two, but I might rethink that. thanks for taking the time to read and for your response.
Too often, the created narrative–and the labels and judgments that come with it, “good” and “bad,” “right” and “wrong” and their infinite variations–define the responses we have, directing, shaping, and restricting them. At least, that is how it seems to me.
I like the distinction between feeling and emotion. May I suggest another, based on this commentary and the one on stories? Narratives are directive and directed, leading to disconnection and judgment; stories are reflective and experiential (by which I mean that they both relate experience and are experienced) and lead to connection and acceptance. We shape and are shaped by stories, but we control and are controlled by narratives.
You never hear a pundit or politician talking about the “current Washington/Republican/Democratic story,” but they talk about the current “narrative” all the time.