For the longest time, I did not really understand feelings.

As I started my personal development journey, I was constantly told to ‘get in touch with my feelings.’ I learned that we heal by integrating our feelings, so I started working on ‘staying with my feelings’. However, that proved to be more difficult than I initially thought because – it turns out – I had misunderstood feelings.

The following are some misconceptions I had about feelings that I uncovered during this process. I’m sharing them here in case you’re on a similar journey.

#1 Feeling is not the same as ‘thinking about feelings’

Practicing ‘feeling’ made me realize that I was thinking about my feelings instead of feeling – I simply thought they were the same thing…

Here’s how it usually went: A feeling would come upon me and I would label it (for example: “I feel guilty”). Then my mind took this thought and created a story around it, and/or assessed the feeling as right or wrong.

Within seconds, I was no longer feeling, I was analyzing the feeling and thus I was cutting myself off from the feeling.

When I used to get caught up in this way, I thought of myself as feeling deeply, but in fact I was stuck in a state of mental examination of the feeling instead of actually feeling.

In other words, I was using ‘thinking about feelings’ as a way to hijack my feelings.

That said, as we re-learn how to feel, conscious thoughts can help us connect with our feelings. Specifically, when I can’t stop myself from thinking about my feelings, I find it helpful to give myself some follow up thoughts instead.

For instance, a thought such as “I feel guilty. I deserve to be feeling this way!” can pop up unbidden. When it’s hard to let it pass through my mind on its own, it can be helpful to follow it with “It’s ok to feel guilty. I can feel this and still be at be at peace.” Practicing this way makes it easier to let go of the thoughts that surround feelings in the long run.

#2 Feeling is not the same as ‘reacting to feelings’

Let’s admit it, feelings have a bad rap. Many of us blame our feelings for our poor decisions and actions.

Here’s how it usually goes for me: I’m interacting with someone, s/he says or does something that makes me feel annoyed / angry / uncomfortable, and I react by saying or doing something that I later regret. I attribute my mistake to feeling annoyed / angry / other.

However, in time I learned to dissociate the feeling from my response to the feeling. I learned that it’s perfectly ok for me to feel annoyed / angry / other uncomfortable feeling, but that does not justify doing something regrettable as a reaction to that feeling.

I understood that there are no ‘good’ and ‘bad’ feelings and that all feelings want to be felt. It’s actually what feelings invite us to do – to fully feel them throughout our bodies; that’s what ‘staying with the feelings’ actually means.  

Luckily, feelings are short-lived. They are meant to come and go, not to take hold of your body. Anecdotal evidence suggests that if we simply wait for 90 seconds and don’t get caught up in the narrative created by our thoughts or our reactions, our feelings dissipate on their own. So all we need to do is pause, notice our feelings, and allow them to go through our bodies.

In fact, if we allow ourselves to fully feel the feelings that come over us, we’re much more in control of our reactions. Instead of unconsciously reacting to the feelings (according to long-established patterns), we can consciously respond.

So next time you blame your feelings for something you did and later regretted, remember that only means that you did not allow yourself to feel and instead jumped straight to unconsciously reacting. Next time try to do the opposite and see what happens.

#3: Feeling is the gateway to spiritual practice

Some spiritual texts scapegoat feelings for our poor choices. However, as I embraced feelings, I realized that feeling plays a critical role in spiritual practice. How?

~ We often think of beauty, especially natural beauty, as something we mentally assess – we think that we ‘decide’ that something is beautiful or not. However, for beauty to do its magic on us, we have to allow ourselves to feel it. Next time you’re in nature and see something beautiful, relax your body and let yourself feel the beauty that surrounds you – you’ll likely feel recharged and connected to your inner beauty.

~ Intuition (the vehicle that brings us messages from our Higher Self) is often accessed through a feeling. We feel what the ‘right thing’ to do is in a situation, it does not come to us via thought. Thus, the more we are in touch with our feelings, the more we feel connected to this wise inner voice.

~ Presence has become a cornerstone of spiritual practice, as most spiritual teachers talk about the importance cultivating presence. However, being present does not mean simply focusing on the present moment; presence is a feeling. That feeling is a constant reminder keeping you in the moment and actively engaged with your life.

~ Those who believe in a higher power and practice developing a connection to Source know that Source is not something that can be known or thought, Source can only be felt.

The deeper your spiritual practice, the more you likely appreciate feeling as a way to connect with your inner voice, everything that surrounds you, and Source.

What have You learned about connecting with your feelings?

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