June 19, 2005

Feeling Great

We usually learn to shut down our feelings when we are very young. Probably too young to realize that our feelings were not dangerous, but were part of the experience of being alive as a human being. Back then, experiencing the intensity of our internal physiological changes we came to label "emotions," seemed so overwhelming. We probably thought we'd die, if we didn't take some action to at least diminish their intensity.

In order to protect ourselves from experiencing the feelings we fear, we develop very ingenious ways of functioning at the very edge of non-feeling. We engage in numerous ways to silence, deaden, numb, anesthetize, or otherwise withdraw from our feelings. And the problem created by these protective strategies is that we become, like good ol' Rip, unconscious of our being alive. We sleep through our existence until we die.

Practical ways we avoid feeling may include: watching TV every moment we are alone...every moment we are home; wearing headphones to fill our awareness with canned music and words; avoiding silence at all cost; continually talking to anyone who will listen and if no one is around, we'll talk to ourselves; bringing out the food, the alcohol, the drugs to fill our bodies with chemicals which will distract us from knowing our own internal experiences. Rather than allow ourselves to become aware of what we feel within, we only pretend to live through overwork, oversleeping, overdoing, and continually searching for new and better ways to block out those feelings we fear. Is it any wonder we usually don't feel great?

To begin feeling great, you need to be reassured that no emotions you might experience, no matter how intense, are dangerous in and of themselves. Every feeling you have, even feeling nothing at all is worthy of your attention. Begin by paying attention to your senses.

Spend a minute or five every hour to really answer the questions: what am I seeing now? What am I hearing? What am I feeling from my skin? What am I tasting and smelling? Begin attending to the signals your senses are always sending.

With gentle acceptance of whatever bubbles up from within, spend some time every day attending to your body. What part of your body feels tense, empty, painful, relaxed, nothing at all. Take your time and breathe deeply. Sometimes physical shaking or tingling in some part of your body occurs. Allow to happen whatever happens within.

Learn to regularly focus your attention to your thinking and begin to shut that down. Thinking usually effectively blocks the awareness of feelings. Resist the temptation to think about what is happening or to analyze all the time. Allow your attention to focus on internal sensations apart from thinking.

Eventually, as you continue to focus your conscious attention on your feelings, your fear of being overwhelmed by their intensity, or losing control of them, will diminish and perhaps be replaced by a genuine confidence in your emotional life.

Feeling great requires feeling greatly. It requires waking up and paying attention to our emotions, no matter how intense. It is, after all, our emotions that enrich our experience of being alive, signal our consciousness of our wants and needs, and add zest and joy to every single change inside. Feelings also provide us with energy. Energy to use in fulfilling our needs. Energy to express what our being alive really means. Energy to feel great about being awake, alert, vital, and aware. Energy to feel alive at all! I agree with what Carlos Casteneda once wrote: "You must feel everything, otherwise the world loses its meaning." May you feel great about everything in life!

By Lloyd J. Thomas, Ph.D., Licensed Psychologist.

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