Contemplation on Feeling

The distinction made between a good feeling and a bad feeling is a curiosity to me. I’m not talking about physical pain. I’m talking about feelings. The ever-so stealth inner landscape that discreetly directs external behaviors.

What determines a feeling being one or the other?

At first, you might say, well, that’s easy to answer. Sometimes things feel good, and sometimes they don’t. Duh! I say, not so fast.

What if feeling is neutral, a noticeable internal state that leads our attention to our body and good or bad, is a decision we make determined by what brought the feeling on?

The thought might wrangle you. You could say to me, but there’s a distinct difference between grief and joy, fear and love, disgust and being enamored.

I don’t necessarily disagree. I’m simply asking, living in the question instead of knowing the answer. That’s why this is a contemplation and not a thesis. I’m exploring ideas and inviting you to explore them, too.

One of the repeated events that keep this contemplation ongoing is when I’m outside on certain days and a soft breeze of a certain temperature brushes against me. The wind caresses my face in such a way that I want to climb into it. It’s comforting; I feel it holding me in an unusual way – I want to latch onto it and make it mine. It’s comfortable and uncomfortable all at the same time because I don’t know what to do with the feeling of being held by nature itself. I don’t know how to express it, how to describe the feeling, how to be held.

And that’s the same feeling I have of anxiety, grief or loss—the sense of not knowing what to do with the feeling arising in me.

In both cases, there’s a feeling of how will I go on? How can I express the feeling of being caressed by the wind, not knowing if the perfect temperature will visit again bringing forth that indescribable sensation? Or with change or loss, the sense of knowing that life is different, and I must adjust and, in some cases, learn how to maneuver in a new and unfamiliar world.

I’m talking about the felt sense, my body’s response to external stimuli. Not the mind’s interpretation.

Peter McWilliams, a best-selling author of self-help books, is quoted saying, “The only difference between fear and excitement is what we label it. The two are pretty much the same physiological/ emotional reaction. With fear, we put a negative spin on it, “Oh no!” With excitement, we give it some positive English, “Oh boy!”

I am acquainted with the above statement through personal experience – one devasting and the other exciting – and noticed the feeling in my body was the same. It’s almost embarrassing to tell you about it because the weight of the two events is miles apart and it doesn’t even make sense. But I’m not talking about the actual happenings; I’m speaking of the feeling sense they generated in my body.

About three years ago, my cat was sick. She had rallied so many times before that I was confident she would be coming home with me from the vet that day. It was not to be. When the doc told me it was time for her to cross the rainbow bridge, my insides melted into an unknown future without her. The news was shocking. I didn’t know how to express or contain what I felt in my body, the actual feeling.

About a year or so later, I decided it was time to have a nine-drawer Excaliber dehydrator. Caveat? I wanted to find it at a thrift store. I’ve been thrift shopping for many, many moons; I’ve never seen any better dehydrator than a Ronco inhabiting those store shelves. I just added it to the list in my head, and whenever I found myself at a thrift store, I would keep an eye out secretly believing there was no way, shape or form that one was going to turn up. As lucky as I am finding things I want – I fancied myself quite the dreamer on this one.

One day, at the Humane Society thrift store in Boulder, I wandered about the shelves, not even thinking about the large item of my desire. I turned a corner, and the Excaliber popped into my head. I remember thinking, oh yeah, I could look for the dehydrator. Seconds after, I looked down and low and behold, there was a nine-drawer Excaliber dehydrator before me on the shelf. I was beyond surprised.

It was crazy. I recognized the same feeling I had when the vet told me I would have to put my cat down. I stopped in awe. It wasn’t easy grokking that the feeling could be the same. It blew my mind because, obviously, as I mentioned above, there’s no world in which these two incidents are in the same league of impact on my life. But my body only registered a feeling of surprise. The experience leads me to believe my body feels, and good, bad, happy or sad are interpretations I assign to my internal states based on the external events that lead my attention inward. In one case I was devastated. In the other I was excited. And my body felt it similarly.

As I mentioned in the beginning of this contemplation. It’s very curious.

It’s important to note. The thing that stops us from taking certain actions is an inability to feel feelings that we’re uncomfortable with. The larger capacity we have to allow emotions to unfold within, the more places we’ll go, the deeper our relationships will be, and the richer our quality of life. Being aware of how perceptions inform what feelings is something worth exploring.

So, the contemplation continues. I’m curious to hear your thoughts and what you notice regarding events in your life, feelings, and feeling.

And if you would like to explore tools for recognizing, holding and integrating feelings, please reach out.

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