Mindfulness – The Human Spirit
My vacation is over and I realized through it all that some things never change. Whether we are on vacation, at a spiritual retreat, or caught up in the busyness of everyday living, we continue to feel. For the last decade, it seems like all we hear about are opinions rather than facts and how we should feel. It is enough to make a person want to hide. At a time when most people need to cool down and stop spreading the hateful, nonproductive rhetoric that marked the last several years of political mudslinging in the USA and worldwide, it might seem strange that I am encouraging you to be open and feel.
I sincerely hope I get some responses to this question: How do you feel? I am not asking just about how you feel regarding the political verbiage. I am asking how you feel… in general and specifically. How do you feel? It really is not a trick question. Nor is it a complex one. How do you feel? The reason I am asking you is that feelings matter. They comprise the very core of who we are.
Feelings are important. The University of Wisconsin encourages students to consider their feelings as a barometer of their own health and emotional well-being. “Feelings provide essential information about our reactions to situations. They are often our best clue to the meaning of our current experience — they are less “processed” and more “raw” than our thoughts. They can provide accurate feedback on our current “inside” state.”
Eckhart Tolle explains the important of our feelings this way. “Emotion arises at the place where mind and body meet. It is the body’s reaction to your mind – or you might say, a reflection of your mind in the body. For example, an attack thought or a hostile thought will create a build-up of energy in the body that we call anger. The body is getting ready to fight. The thought that you are being threatened, physically or psychologically, causes the body to contract, and this is the physical side of what we call fear. Research has shown that strong emotions even cause changes in the biochemistry of the body. These biochemical changes represent the physical or material aspect of the emotion.”
Emotional competency is a popular phrase that is trending right now and learning to recognize the emotions of others as well as ourselves helps build strong relationships. That brings me to my intention with today’s post. How are you feeling? Have you realized that others are feeling those same emotions? We all experience the same feelings. Perhaps not at the same time and not in the same consequential fashion but we all experience the same emotions. At some point we have all felt happy, sad, proud, scared, jealous, hopeful, envious, sorry, tired, exasperated, sympathetic, upset, overjoyed, angry, elated, relieved, grateful, bored, excited….. The list could go on and on. We all feel the exact same way although not at the exact same time. Why? Because we really are, at our core, similar.
Some might argue that not all of these are emotions. Some would characterize them as mental states of being. In the 1991 book, “Emotion and Adaptation”, author Richard Lazarus lists several mental states that may be emotion related, but are not themselves actual emotions. The list includes the complex states of: grief and depression; the ambiguous positive states of: expansiveness, awe, confidence, challenge, determination, satisfaction, and being pleased; the ambiguous negative states of: threat, frustration, disappointment, helplessness, meaningless, and awe; the mental confusion states of bewilderment and confusion; the arousal states of: excitement, upset, distress, nervousness, tension, and agitation; and finally the pre-emotions of: interest, curiosity, amazement, anticipation, alertness, and surprise.
Again, we all experience those very same mental states of being. Why? Because they are related to our emotions, the very same emotions we all experience. So how does this affect our actions? After all, most words used to describe emotions are adjectives, not verbs. It is relevant because our emotions often affect and determine our actions. More importantly, when we criticize others for their feelings, we limit our right to experience those very same feelings.
No one is so good that they should not experience sadness and we all, at some point in time, will. Even the bravest of us have felt fear and I sincerely hope that we all have hope. My wish is that I get back hundreds of responses telling me people felt happy, relief, joy, gratitude, etc. but the reality is that some today experienced grief, uncertainty, or pain. Life is not easy. Not all feelings are going to be positive.
“Isn’t it odd how much fatter a book gets when you’ve read it several times? …As if something were left between the pages every time you read it. Feelings, thoughts, sounds, smells…and then, when you look at the book again many years later, you find yourself there, too, a slightly younger self, slightly different, as if the book had preserved you like a pressed flower…both strange and familiar.” This passage from Cornelia Funke’s book “Inkspell” refers to reading a book but I think it applies to our feelings.
Feelings broaden our perspective and when we allow others to have those very same feelings, we broaden our world. We begin to see that the world is not made up of many different people but of different variations of ourselves. The outside packaging might look very different but each is a version of one, at different stages. When we learn to respond to the pain of others, listen to their feelings, then we can begin to be together, truly together, living in peace and harmony.