We’re feeling creatures
Do you ever wonder why we feel things the way we do?
Are feelings things that happen to us?
Are feelings things that are us?
Things that come from us? Things we do? Things we make?
What do our feelings mean once they happen, once we have them?
As human beings with bodies and brains, of course, we feel a lot of stuff and a lot of different ways.
Some feelings make sense.
You know what they mean, you feel them often and have learned to trust them. In my own body, I’m familiar with the feeling of hunger, the feeling of being overheated, the feeling of being cold, the feeling of being tired. And the feeling of being angry that I'm tired. These are all things that I'm very used to. I live with them and I accommodate them and I have learned to what actions to take based on what I feel.
For example, when I'm tired I know that my productivity goes down. I know it's really hard for me to be at my best --or even just pleasant-- when I'm tired and so I either try to rest or in some way give myself a break for being tired.
Some feelings are puzzling.
When we don't know what something is telling us, we also don't know whether or not we should listen to it. We might also not hear that it’s there at first.
My fingers and toes started going numb. I didn’t know what it meant and I didn’t know what to do about it. And for a long time, I just observed that it was happening, until I started to question: What is this? Why is it happening? I looked it up and apparently some people’s fingers and toes go numb in cold and under stress. Who knew? So gradually I conceded that I should try to keep my toes and fingers warmer. This took a minute because my narrative has always been that my feet get warm quickly and I’m forever sticking them out from under blankets to avoid overheating.
But now my story is a bit more complex. I still stick my feet out to cool down, but I also wear thicker socks in the winter. And when my hands + feet get cold, it means something different to me now. I'm learning to trust this new sensation experience and respond accordingly.
Some feelings are in our brains and some feelings are in our bodies.
Some feelings are thoughts. And some feelings are sensations.
I have knee pain. That’s a sensation in my body, I guess. The frustration in my mind, the pain in my regret that this physical pain in my knees limits me -- those are more of feelings in my mind.
Really, though, I don't think there's too much distinction between feelings in the brain and feelings in the body. That may be how we distinguish or perceive what's happening -- we think of feelings as coming from our brains or bodies, of being in our minds or physical being, of happening to us or being us. Sometimes these distinctions are useful, sometimes they’re not. My knee pain, that I’ve lived with on and off for years, feels like an all-of-me sensation.
Some feelings make us take action.
Pain, hunger, frustration, exhaustion, love, anger, embarrassment, desire.
Some feelings make us sit still.
Pain, love, anger, frustration, embarrassment, comfort, ease.
Very often the same feelings can motivate or immobilize us. It depends on the context, it depends on the moment. It depends on the unique person and circumstance.
Some feelings are predictable.
If you don't eat all day, you'll probably feel hungry by the end of a day. If you don't sleep, you'll probably feel tired. The pain in my knees -- I'm pretty certain it's gonna be there when I go to workout later. I always hope it's not there, but it usually is. And so I plan for it. That's one that I'm trying to get rid of and yet I plan for it being there, even while I do what I can do to heal.
Some feelings are unexpected.
There’ve been times when the simplest little gesture has made me overwhelmingly happy, when the smallest kindness or consideration from another person has created a deeply emotional response. We’re wired to thrive in the kindness of others. It’s in these moments that I recognize instinctively that we're all in this together, that we all feel and want many of the same kinds of feelings.
Some feelings we seek out and some feelings we avoid.
I avoid what I expect will give me pain. This is an instinct. I seek out a feeling of strength and comfort and joy. This took years to learn -- to learn what creates actual comfort and joy… and how to trust it.
Crowds and parties usually make me anxious, so I avoid the feelings that come up from being in crowds. Long conversations about my favorite topics tend to light up my spirit, so I seek out that feeling of being intimately connected.
Some feelings we’ve learned to understand
When you've experienced something enough times, you might start to recognize it. For example, when I don’t like being at a party, I feel small and out of body. This is a signal from my body that I didn’t always understand, but it’s grown reliable over the years 😉
Through my time teaching movement and meditation, I've come to learn that we feel what we feel -- and then we seek meaning to explain it.
Sometimes we get a pretty good story going on. We say, “Okay, this feeling means this kind of experience. These sensations from/in my body have to do with this kind of feeling from/in my mind.” And it can be powerful to put a label on physical sensations --or to identify the physical sensations that fit a label you’ve already given yourself.
You can learn about what you're feeling in both directions.
Once you've got a name for a physical sensation, it can help you learn how to change what you want to change and leave what you want to leave.
Physical sensations that go with a feeling can also help you shift from the body side. Let's say you recognize that you’re growing anxious because your belly is starting to cramp and your breathing is becoming shallow. You might start to take some deep breaths to calm the flutter in your chest and ease the cramping in your belly. If this creates change in your body, you might feel a change in your anxiety, too.
Sometimes we need the feeling or sensation, the indication of what we're going through, to know where we are.
Sometimes my body tells me I'm okay or I'm not okay long before my brain does.
You can go back and forth. You can dive in from one perspective. You don't have to do anything at all. You can just get to know that feelings are there.
There are so many feelings in my body that I am keenly aware of today that I don't think I ever paid attention to 20 years ago. Some are sensations I didn't actually have 20 years ago -- aches and pains and things like that -- but others are nuances of sensation, feelings that go along with routine experiences in your digestive system, that I just wasn’t aware of. In my younger years, I was cognisant of two feelings: pain and relief. Now I pay attention to all kinds of nuance within pain and relief, and feelings that fall under neither category, but rather just being alive.
Observing and discovering layers in what we feel can help us understand who we are and what we live. How our experiences move with us through the day, when they are part of us and when they aren't part of us. How feelings become part of us, or how they live with us, is something we have a say in.
Not always a very easy say, sometimes a say that takes a lot of work, but a say nonetheless.
Be moving, be true, be feeling, be you.