A Rare and Underappreciated Skill
When you know there is something bothering you, and you realize you should allow yourself to feel it deeply rather than avoiding the feeling, what do you do to feel it?
I ask because I am increasingly aware that knowing how to truly, safely, and completely surrender to the experience of an emotion is a rare and under-appreciated skill. It is a separate skill from noticing the emotion, “expressing” the emotion, or deciding whether let the emotion influence our choices or actions.
In fact, very often we act or “express” an emotion in order to *avoid* feeling it, so we won’t have to actually feel the emotion behind our action. So what is the alternative? How does one truly feel an emotion? And who, in your findings, is best at teaching this skill to others, today?
– Needs to Feel
Dear Needs to Feel,
First connect with the desire to feel more, so you can determine if you are coming from a loving place or a place of obligation. Ideally, you are feeling more deeply because you want to love and accept yourself more fully. If you find in any given moment that your motivation is not coming from love, you can choose a different motivation and a different attitude toward yourself and your feelings.
If you do decide to feel more fully, get clear on what is really happening. In the situation you describe, there are actually a few simultaneous feelings:
(1) The thing bothering you
(2) The feeling that keeps you from wanting to feel that thing, and
(3) A desire to feel it
For example, (1) anger, (2) shame about your anger, and (3) a desire to love what is. Just by observing this and feeling it all, you are already more present to the complexity of what is happening in your experience.
Diving Deeper into Feelings
We can go deeply into any one of these feelings in the moment. A simple way to do this is ask yourself, “What’s it like?” For example, what is the quality of the anger like? Hot and burning, indignant, rage, none or all of these? You can contrast it against previous feelings or someone else’s feeling of anger to get more clarity of what it is like for you.
How Do You Know Which Feeling to Go Deeper Into?
With awareness of such rich emotional texture, it can be difficult to figure out which to dive more deeply into. Sometimes I try to choose the voice that is loudest, sometimes I try to choose the voice that is least well-known to me, sometimes I let someone else choose, and sometimes I let a particular voice choose me. Sometimes I do not have a choice. The best guidelines in this domain are:
(1) Stay as much in the present moment as possible
(2) Follow your instinct
(3) Be willing to be wrong, surprised, and let things pass
(4) Allow physical sensation to inform you
(5) Allow thought to inform you, but…
(6) Be wary of getting carried away by rational analysis
The Power of the Mind to Choose
Our mind is incredibly important in this regard. As egos we all have a perspective—a way we think—so our willingness to evolve this has a direct and lasting impact on our ability to feel, accept, and love ourselves and others. Rational analysis can get you into deeper emotions; it just works best when integrated with feeling. I encourage you to use it as a tool and not let it carry your experience away.
To see this in action, let us dig into the “desire to feel more deeply.” Let us say you think for a moment that your desire to feel more deeply is important to you for personal growth. Now use your mind to connect with your heart: what’s it like to want to grow? Does it feel like yearning? Or pressure? Excitement? Feel this, then turn analysis back on and get deeper into what that’s like, then pause for a moment to feel what is there, and repeat as desired.
I believe what is most useful is to go to the deepest layer that you can still feel. At the bottom of anything you might find the fear of accepting love/divinity, but for me this is almost entirely an intellectual concept, so I try to get as close as I can in myself without it becoming purely rational analysis.
Always Connect to Purpose
What is the purpose of feeling more deeply? I find joy in knowing myself more fully, and being more in touch with reality. I experience delight when I discover previously unexamined habits. And in addition to more awareness being an end unto itself, it also allows me to love myself and others more fully. The more deeply I can feel, accept, and stay present with the emotions happening in me, the more deeply I do that for others. Likewise, whatever feelings I cannot love in myself will also be very difficult for me to love in others. And behind that desire to love others? It seems to me the very purpose of my life.
How To Continue this Development
I think the forgiveness described in A Course in Miracles, particularly with Ken Wapnick’s help understanding it, is extremely helpful in this regard.
Otherwise, my highest recommendation is to practice meditation—individually and in a relational practice like Circling, which encourages and refines all of the things described above. Acceptance is at the heart of meditation, and we must be able to accept our feeling to feel it (if we are not accepting it, no problem—the voice of non-acceptance is simply louder and we can accept that feeling instead).
In Circling one gets at least one other person, maybe dozens of people, accepting their feelings with them. It becomes strikingly obvious that whatever one feels is truly welcome. Since all of these extra people are interested in feeling more deeply, following the above principles as best they can, the collective intelligence of how to feel more deeply is far greater than any one individual’s could ever be alone.
Finally, be gentle with yourself. Your body and emotions have an intelligence unto themselves, and pushing ourselves before we are ready can cause more harm than good. By going gently into our emotions, we can experience the joy and delight at discovery, instead of fear.