“How are you feeling?” It’s a question we might ask someone who’s going through something hard or anticipating something new. And it’s a question I ask often in spiritual direction in various forms. Recently, I’ve asked this question of myself and others, but with a different slant. Rather than “How are you feeling?” I want to know “How are you feeling your feelings?”
I don’t know about you, but when I experience distressing emotions, I really don’t like them and want them to go away! Feeling upsetting feelings is unpleasant and can cause me to lose sleep, eat for comfort, binge-watch TV, get cranky with my husband, and become generally unproductive.
Here’s the thing about feelings. They’re really important to pay attention to! Why? Well, as a friend and colleague used to say, “Feelings make terrible masters but important messengers.” Feelings have a lot to tell us. If we befriend them, we can learn what they have to say about how we view ourselves, our life situation and God.
So this week, I kept a journal of what I noticed that helped me “feel my feelings” and recognize them as invitations to greater self-awareness and intimacy with God. Here’s what I discovered:
When I feel unpleasant feelings—
It is a signal to GROUND MYSELF IN MY BODY. If I can live in my body and take deep, intentional breaths, it helps me to remember that I am not my feelings or the frenzied thoughts that keep them whipped up.
It’s also helpful to DO SOMETHING PHYSICAL when I get stressed by emotions. Upsetting emotions generate energy that has to go somewhere. So any form of physical exertion—taking a walk, a bike ride, changing the sheets on a bed, gardening, etc.—is a good outlet to discharge the energy.
I’m learning to BE COMPASSIONATE TOWARD MYSELF. If I can be gentle and non-judgmental toward how I feel, I will be more likely to discover the message in the feeling. If I engage empathy toward myself, I will more likely be able to relate compassionately toward others who may have contributed to my distress.
An important question to ASK myself is “WHAT AM I AFRAID OF?” Fear is such a basic, instinctual emotion and is often behind or underneath many unpleasant feelings. It’s been said that many people fear feeling fear—more than what they fear.
Becoming aware of what I’m afraid of helps to RIGHT-SIZE THE SITUATION. What am I upset about? Is it really the catastrophe that my feelings and frenetic thoughts are telling me it is? What’s the worst thing that could happen? Am I eminent danger?
Finally, I’m finding the gift of FEELING MY FEELINGS WITH GOD, in God’s presence and through prayer. If I can become still and quiet within, and open myself to God and share what I’m feeling, I am able to receive God’s comfort and hear God’s truth.
Each of us has a complicated relationship with our feelings. At times we give authority over to them and allow them to knock us around. At other times, we are so disconnected from our feelings that to answer the question, “How are you feeling?” is like being asked to drill down into frozen tundra in search of buried treasured.
However, learning to “feel our feelings” is one of the indispensable keys that unlock our relationship with ourselves and God and opens the door to deepening intimacy and integrity. So, how are you feeling? Aren't you glad I asked?