As I begin writing this I imagine (think) that many of you as readers may have a preference and privilege towards feeling over thinking. This is something I have noticed within our evolving culture that as certain stages of development begin to come online that there is a natural movement towards feeling becoming an increasingly important source of information, again. Our feeling and moods can often shine a light on what may be appropriate for us and I notice for myself that when I drop into a trusting participation with my feelings, providing they are genuine, there is an effortless flow that comes online. Feelings are powerful and they can indicate so much of what is happening at a deeper level within us.
Feelings are a source of information that seems to be responsive to the environment, both internal and external, in the moment. Listening to my feelings I can know when I am scared, excited, angry, nervous, etc and when I follow this with an authentic expression of this feeling into the world “I feel nervous about writing this” the next appropriate moment suddenly has space to emerge. It is a beautiful thing to be aware of and express what it is we feel, especially if we can hold that with a level of non-attachment. As a witness I can observe nervousness, or anger, or discomfort, or even happiness moving through my body and when I am unrestricted I allow it to emerge into the space where I am, either as a statement or some other expression like a sound or movement. When I can do that without attachment to an outcome, without needing something to happen as a result, without needing my feelings to be affirmed or comforted or dissipated, then I become a conduit for the present moment.
So feelings are great, to an extent. If I don’t carry this deep non-attachment, which we can also consider as appreciation or being a “yes” to what is and instead I am needing something to happen as a result of my expression, then more often than not my expression of feeling will make a space fall flat. This may cause others to distrust or feel less close to me and there is often a sensation of being out-of-sync with the present. Somehow my life is jerky and not quite congruous to what is actually happening within and without me. Another way we can fall out of sync with this participation is to confuse feelings with thoughts, and this happens A LOT. My experience with myself and others when this confusion happens is that the moment takes on this kind of lukewarm sensation. It is like I can see or feel a depth yet it never quite gets accessed, and sometimes it is because it is scary and vulnerable to begin allowing this depth to bubble up into the moment.
The reason for me writing this post is not to pit thoughts against feelings or to make one better than the other, rather it is to highlight a distinction between the two, show when and how they can be confused or merged, and make a case for thoughts when being applied appropriately as having just as much power as feelings.
For me a feeling comes from somewhere inside my body, usually my chest but not always. There seems to be a movement or direction often associated with this feeling and sometimes it is response to a thought while other times it triggers a series of thoughts. Thoughts, in contrast, I experience as originating in my head somewhere. There is also a movement or direction behind my thoughts yet they definitely occupy a different space than my feelings. In some ways I experience it as feelings moving the moment within while thoughts are outside looking at the moment. Both are occurring right now yet there is this somewhat removed quality to thoughts as they seem to be able to project forward into the future and back into the past while feelings only happen right now.
Thoughts have their own power though. Every single invention on the planet, this computer I am using to type on for example, came about because of thoughts. This article emerged from a thought I had while meditating.
To relate both of these to my bigger inquiry into relationship, and in this case human relationship, where do the two become confused and where is each most useful, powerful and appropriate?
A way of distinguishing between thoughts and feelings and how they get confused is by paying attention to language. The way we phrase a sentence determines exactly whether we are referring to a thought or a feeling. Even though we often use the word ‘feel’ in a sentence many times it is a thought we are expressing. An easy way to see this is if there is no feeling word in a sentence or if there are any words between “feel” and the actual feeling then it’s not a feeling we are expressing, it is a thought.
“I feel like you are not listening to me”.
What is the feeling being expressed in this sentence? There is no explicit feeling, rather a feeling and a thought are being merged together. The effect of an expression like this is likely to cause conflict or confusion.
Teasing them apart we can express them separately:
“I think that you are not listening to me” and the feeling may be “I feel alone right now”.
The expression of either of these independently is already powerful, sometimes even more powerful than expressing them together as the negative space created by the absence of either the feeling or the thought allows room for and in some ways draws the other into an authentic interaction.
To combine them is something like this:
“I think that you are not listening to me and I feel alone”.
Be very very careful here in not creating blame for the other person by adding the all too frequently used “and this makes me feel”. Just because a thought and a feeling are happening at the same time and in response to a situation does not mean that the situation imposes those thoughts and feelings upon us. The situation is not responsible for us feeling and thinking in any particular way, it is our own unique make-up and history that create a context around what happens in our minds and hearts. In this example it may be a memory of an older sibling never listening and the alone feeling that would come up that is being triggered. It may also be that the other person is listening yet they are not looking, or any number of things.
As a quick aside, we started this example with an already reasonable level of awareness. To regress to show a considerably less elegant expression would be to say “you are not listening to me”. These kind of assertions hardly ever go anywhere other than conflict. Absolutely grow the skill in your life to avoid ever telling another person what their experience is, own your own!
Back to the refinement of expression we can also create an even bigger context by giving an insight into why our thought was formed:
“I notice you aren’t looking at me when I talk and this makes me think you aren’t listening. I feel alone over here”
See again that I left the feeling independent of the thought. The space between a feeling and a thought allows for exploration and co-discovery with another person.
This kind of sentence, while cumbersome, provides an elegance that gives all the pieces of the puzzle to another to know what is happening in our inner world. With that information they have a lot of room to respond without being reactively triggered. There is no blame, only a conveyance of three distinct pieces of information that may or may not be linked. By inviting another person into this with us we create a collective field and this is where things can get really juicy.
The three pieces of information:
- noticing what is going on
- the thought one is having about what is going on
- the feeling that is occurring in the moment
This simple format is a powerful to communicate in a way that invites connection rather than creates conflict. Sometimes conflict will still arise and there is nothing wrong with that, conflict is powerful fuel and life would be a dull place without it. However, we can move towards conscious and productive conflict and away from the reactive and destructive conflict that many of us are all too familiar with.
When I started writing this piece I had something entirely different in mind yet as my fingers danced across the keys the words formed themselves and this is what arose.
The message, however, that I feel most inspired to bring is to reclaim thoughts as thoughts and recognise that it is entirely ok to have them, own them and express them. When I can express a thought, even one that is a negative judgment, and own it as what is happening inside of me while simultaneously being unattached to an outcome and open to discovering new… then I am able to bring my inner world out into deeper and more powerful connection with those around me.
Own your thoughts, whatever they are. Express them as thoughts, use the phrases “I think” or “I imagine” for any occasion you have a thought about something and are not entirely sure about the truth of the matter.
Use feelings to express and convey the flavours of emotion happening inside of you and to show that part of your inner world to another.
Be distinct and conscious in your language and watch how your interactions evolve!