Saturday, January 24, 2015

Let It Be

Taken from

A feeling--whether good or bad--is just a collection of sensations until we identify it as a feeling. But we don't pay much attention to those sensations because we jump right to the identification, the judgment, if you will. Then immediately after identifying it, we look for the cause or the origin of the feeling so that we can control it--either make it go away or stick around a while longer. Usually we decide that the feeling is coming from something or someone outside ourselves.

"You make me happy," we say, or "You piss me off!" You is identified as being the source of the feeling in these two instances. If only I could get You to stop or continue doing whatever is causing the identified feeling, then I would be happy, we think.

Mental health counselors recognize this tendency people have to blame or credit others for our feelings, so they urge people to describe their feelings in a way that leaves out the blame by using "I" instead of "You": "I feel bad when you do that," or "I feel angry right now."

I think that's a good idea because it gets away from claiming a source outside oneself for a feeling. However, I think we need to go one step further: Don't be so quick to identify the feeling; instead, focus on the sensations. The sensations, after all, are what are actually occurring. They are the empirical evidence being used to draw your conclusions about what you're feeling. It seems very few people even pay attention to what feelings actually consist of.

But how does one do this? Well, you can pay attention to your breathing, your heart rate, whether or not you feel pain or congestion or cold or heat. Look at your facial expression: are your eyebrows up, down or neutral? Is your mouth turned down, poked out, open, closed? Are you smiling, grinning, snarling? All these are observations that can be compiled to determine what is going on inside of you.

So, instead of saying, I feel sad, you can describe your symptoms in a more physical way. Make empirical observations about sensations, facial expressions, body position, etc.

This not only slows down the rush to judgment, but it also allows you to pay more attention to what is going on inside of you. What you are sensing may be different from what you think you are sensing. And it helps you to calm down, to not immediately act on your sensations.

Think about how actors determine how to express feelings in a play or film: they observe others emoting and copy those expressions, body language, gestures. You can do it too if you make the effort. Look at an array of faces showing different expressions: chances are you can read them quite well. In fact, those who can't are at a considerable disadvantage in social situations. Then add body language, gestures and you get closer to identifying what is going on with the person.

But I think it's helpful to suspend judgment, even when you have what you consider to be a good set of clues. What sensations are you feeling inside when you're sad, angry, happy, scared, neutral?

Then, when you've got all the data you can collect, what do you do with it?

Nothing. Just let it be. Whether the sensations are pleasant or unpleasant, just hold on to them. Try to experience the sensations without labeling them or trying to act on them. Just note their presence.

Say to yourself, "I'm experiencing rapid heart rate, breathing is quicker, my chest feels heavy like I can't breathe." Think about how what you're experiencing now is different from what you were experiencing earlier. Then just let those sensations be there. Don't try to control them, but don't act on them right away, either.

Many of the feelings that cause people trouble start inside their brain with bad brain chemistry. Acting to get rid of bad brain chemistry involves doing something that doesn't cause harm to you or others. But before you can act constructively you have to recognize that the sensations are something other than what you first think they are.