“Directions lay in hyperspace, feelings guide the human race” – Stuart Wilde
I hope Stuart is right – it’s best we are guided by our feelings, not our emotions. I have often pondered on the difference between the two and how they relate to intuition. This is the thrust of this post.
I first met Stuart late in my teens. I was quite green and unlike many others my age not very street smart. When one is with Stuart one got to experience a great many situations that were not available to the normal human being – so one is constantly forced to concur with one’s inner most feelings. But at a young age I was often baffled by the feelings that permeated groups of people. As a result the graces of life didn’t come natural to me – I had to learn them and because I travelled with Stuart a lot he would point these out in subtle ways with his characteristic wholehearted patience. It was a very challenging Wilde ride into a strange dimension of heightened energy, juxtaposed to the real world. One day I will write in-depth about that dimension and that ride but for now we will stick to our topic.
A little story to begin: Recently my partner and I almost bought a house. I say almost because we were just about to sign but pulled out. We had our list of all the things we wanted in a property and it fitted pretty well. We loved the property but it just didn’t feel right and it didn’t matter how much we intellectualised it – our decision came down to a feeling. Exactly eight months later a “once in a 50 year storm” hit the area and the house flooded.
I believe that ultimately our lives are governed by feelings and emotions and choosing which one may be the difference between a fulfilled life and one that is frankly a bit all over the shop.
So what is the difference? There is no clear-cut boundary between the two as they merge into each other and we often interchange them in our perceptions and how we speak of them. But we can loosely separate them as Professor Antonio D’Amasio from the UCLA states: Feelings are mental experiences of body states which arise as the brain interprets emotions, themselves physical states arising from the body’s responses to external stimuli.
The process could be: I am threatened by the snake on the path. I experience a jolt of fear. Realising the snake is several feet away, I feel dislike and decide to move away.
Both emotions and feelings play out in the theatres of our bodies which includes our mind.
Emotions could be considered to be lower level responses, genetically hard-wired into our brains or learnt behaviours as we grow to deal with the world. These responses arise from the subcortical areas of the brain such as the amygdala. The amygdala is a part where we form and store our emotional memories.
So if you experience the emotion of fear, then your body is responding to a stimulus – the tiger in the forest jumps out at you, you get a shot of adrenaline and you either fight or run. Perfectly natural as you react immediately – no time for feelings. But if you are at the in-laws and you have to sample the chicken and carrot stew and it all looks a bit suspect – no need for the fight and flight response, even though your fear is off the charts and you want to get out of there.
Being emotional has its rewards: bringing us closer to others is just one. But there can be many times in the day when we unnecessarily react to our emotions, in body and mind, creating unwanted stress. So we need to acknowledge our emotions by bringing them into our feelings – and that means using different parts of our brains.
Feelings: As we “grow up” we begin to process information more and more in the pre-frontal cortex – our so-called thinking area of the brain. It’s basic activity is for the orchestration of our thoughts and actions in accordance with our goals. By using more of the cortex (apparently making us more mature) we temper our emotional responses by giving them thought. This is where feelings come in. They are a reflection on our emotional and intellectual state. It’s hard to get a true feeling of a situation if we are emotionally flustered or overly mindful – full of mind.
With feelings we can adapt quickly to situations where we become highly intuitive in a biological sense…..we can tap into the subtle animal awareness instincts without getting emotionally overwhelmed.
So how do we connect with our feelings? If anger wells up you can say – I feel really angry. This engages the mind in a way that gives clarity – gives an understanding to a situation. Or if your mind chatters incessantly (like 40 chickens in the back of the truck – as Stuart Wilde once hilariously put it) then by feeling the chatter out you can put your mind at ease. It’s important to note that the aim here is not to clear out our emotions but as much as possible recognise them when they surface, and act on them. It’s like marrying the mind with the rest of the body.
Feelings are our guide: Most of us like to think we are rational beings making informed choices about our lives but our decisions are often based on emotions that lead to irrational choices. So in some way then, emotions are sort of half-truths because they don’t give us the full picture in any given situation. It might not be the chicken stew that is the problem but your inability to tell your mother in law that you would rather skip the stew and have jam on toast. Feelings are our inner balance; they are an intuitive response and a stronger truth – and truth being our strongest path.
The problem is we become scared of making decisions based on our feelings because when we are young we are often told our feelings are wrong. Example: when a child asks an adult what is wrong (the child is sensing something) the adult says “nothing all is ok” – protecting the child from emotional concern. The child gets confused. The learnt behaviour is that what the child is feeling is wrong or not valid leading to an emotional response – a reaction, instead of an action.
So a part of growing up is learning how to recognise feelings. With feelings we can adapt quickly to situations where we become highly intuitive in a biological sense (not a mystical sense). We can see qualities in things which are more refined. With feelings we can tap into the subtle animal awareness instincts without getting emotionally overwhelmed. Feelings are a whole body/mind dance full of sensation without the sudden stressful reaction of fight or flight.
People talk about feelings arising gradually but this is not necessarily true – they can strike you immediately and you can act on them. Emotions are a reaction – feelings are more an action.
Feeling things out just takes practice but worth it because it ‘s liberating – it lightens our load and sets us free. Meditation is an excellent way to process emotions and feelings. There are many others – anything which involves looking at yourself and your life in a quiet setting. Or discussing your emotions and feelings with someone and asking them what they think.
For general practice in feeling out people’s energy I like airports because we all experience heightened states of being when anticipating travel or travelling. Just look at someone, take a breath, relax, then look over their shoulder or just aside from them – sort of staring in space – and ask yourself: what is the feeling with this person?
Feelings and making decisions: I think that when making decisions about the small stuff in life we can be rational – where to hang the keys up so we can easily find them. But when we have to make decisions about the more complicated big things in life our rational minds can get in the way and cause us angst. Example – choosing a partner or buying a house (see story above). You can list all the things you need and then go out and try to match this with your choice but ultimately it will come down to a feeling and your mind will have to take a back seat. Why? Because there are just too many variables.
So when making the big decisions in life or for general wellbeing – look to your feelings.
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