Feelings without context are just sensations.
It’s easy to sense that you are hungry, cold, scared, jealous and so on. Even babies can sense primal forces.
It is a mistake to think that those sensations are your emotions.
When someone asks you how you are feeling, they rarely want to know what sensations you are experiencing at the moment.
Instead, they usually want to know your emotional state. What experiences are connected to those sensations for you? How are you interpreting your sensations in an emotional way, getting angry, upset, happy, amused, enlightened or any other emotion?
It is easy to act out when we feel a sensation that triggers emotions. It is the most basic response we can make; cry when we feel hurt, lash out against those we sense have hurt us, get angry at our powerlessness to change the sensation, spread despair and venom.
It is very, very rare that our emotional response to any event is all about what is happening in front of us.
Most of the time the sensations we are experiencing in the moment bring up deeper emotions, opening old wounds and triggering old patterns. We are not upset about what we think we are upset about, rather our old emotional buttons have been pushed.
The difference between knee-jerk reaction and considered response, taking that moment between stimulus and response to choose again, thinking about our best course rather than just playing out old habits, is the difference between a reactionary life controlled by our past and a considered life, claiming new and better.
It’s rarely hard to find the new, but it is usually very hard to give up the old, the comfortable and the familiar. We become so used to the way things are — like having our mother do our chores so we are not responsible for ourselves — that we resist change. We have a real emotional attachment to what we already know, what feels conventional and easy.
Change, you see, changes everything. It is almost impossible to just change one bit of anything, because change ripples through our relationships, our habits and our comfort.
We know that change is always going to involve both loss and work for us, a period of discomfort. The ego resists discomfort, so the ego resists change, even if we are quite certain that we are facing the limits of our old choices and new ones can lead to better.
When those old sensations come up, then, we play out the old tapes, focusing on the sensations and the habits rather than bearing with the feelings to understand them in a very present, very conscious context. We fall back on old resentments and prejudices, blaming others for what comes up inside of us rather than taking responsibility for our own feelings. We are reactionary rather than responsive, getting ourselves in a lather not about what is happening in the moment, but instead about our old thinking.
Putting the sensations we experience in a strong, aware and enlightened context lets us express and manage our deep feelings instead of being controlled by our habitual reactions.
Hate is always easier than love, because hate is just rejection, a knee-jerk reaction, while love demands engagement, finding ways to get past our own limits to really being in the moment and doing the disciplined work of making and following through on hard choices. Love always demands commitment and sacrifice while hate just demands arrogance and loathing.
Love, though, is always much more rewarding than fear & hate. None of us would be here today if someone hadn’t loved us, putting our safety, growth, comfort and happiness over their own. They got the gifts of maturity for that choice, the sensations around doing right, doing good and doing beautiful.
Letting go of old fears lets us be open hearted and vulnerable, able to experience deeper and fuller feelings. We can’t do that, though, if we don’t really put our sensations in a smart context, turning them into feelings that we own, allowing us to control our responses rather than just letting our reactions that control us.
Choosing to be mature, to be a grown up, means that we have to let go of childish things, get over not being the princess with everything we fantasized about and become the queen who has the joys (and headaches) of a real, mature world. Rather than just hating what is easy to hate — our job, the people we see around us — we have to learn to love what is hard to love, finding the discipline to really use the gifts we have been given.
When we allow sensation to bring up old tapes, unlocking our ego, we become unable to enter the full range and breadth of our feelings. The subtle, nuanced feelings are effectively erased by the blaring klaxon of our hate, beating us down into fear and festering.
You get more of what you focus on. If you focus on sensation, you become more reactionary, more mired in the pain & fears of the past. If you focus on feelings, really engaging them and putting them in context, you become more responsive, able to act with clarity & precision, not just thrashing about trying to do it all and failing to do anything good.
It is easy to act out of sensation. That’s what children do, calling their mother to put their feelings in context, to help get them back in control. They yowl and demand succour, demanding others to get them through challenges.
It is wise to act on your feelings. That is what grown-ups do, knowing that longer term satisfaction is much more important than momentary sensation. They take responsibility for their own feelings, their own choices and their own lives.
If your complaint about the world is that the people around you bring up your stuff, recognizing that the problem is your stuff and not the people who trigger it is the first step. Moving to work with more and different people will not change your experience of the world until you change the experience that is going on within you.
Trying to negotiate for a different deal, asking others to hear your woes and help you find a shortcut to avoid doing the work of putting your feelings in context, is a dead end. Nothing can ever replace the discipline and the practice required to own your own choices beyond sensation, fear and ego.
The wisdom has always been right in front of you, written on the wall, if you just have the willingness to open to it. The way to build a good life is to build, using all your feelings and all your mind, not just being controlled by your sensations, your fears and your resistance.
Feelings without context are just sensations, bringing up old reactions and overwhelming your own awareness and growth. They leave you chasing your tail rather than looking for the next bone, the next opening to the better.
Maturity is the only thing that can open us to the better, higher and more sublime things in life, even if that growth comes at the cost of losing our old habits, letting go of our old blankets.
Beyond resistance there is beauty, but only when we have the discipline, practice and commitment to open our eyes to it.