Getting Familiar with Your Feelings

Scene: It’s morning and we find ourselves at a neighborhood coffee shop, in (your town here). The shop is filled with individuals on their way to work, some adding cream and sugar to their coffees, other eating pastries at small tables while looking at their phones, while a long line of customers waiting to place an order. We find Tish at the register in her green apron as Harrison approaches.

TISH: Good morning, how are you doing today

HARRISON: Good thanks, how are you? 

TISH: Good, what can I get for you?

HARRISON: A medium light-roast. 

TISH: Oh, we’re out of the light-roast today, sorry. 

HARRISON: Oh, okay, the regular’s fine then.

TISH: Okay, sorry about that…thanks. Medium coffee, what’s your name? 

HARRISON: Harrison. 

TISH: Okay, Harrison, that’ll be $4.37, we’ll call you when it’s ready. 

(Harris taps his card on the square in front of the registers and moves over to the next queue of individuals waiting for their coffee. End scene. Blackout.)

I imagine that you’ve had one of these experiences before right? Not the bit about the coffee being out for the day, the casual interactions we have with people every day. The obligatory communication of ‘I’m a human, you’re a human, let’s say some stuff to each other that acknowledges we’re human and move on.’ We do this by asking, how are you? But that phrase has become a greeting not an inquiry into our actual human experience. 

Before we go any further, this article isn’t about trying to get you to change that common interaction. I’m not saying we need to open up to everyone we meet about how we feel, but we would do well to explore this within ourselves. To recognize how we actually feel in a given moment; how we feel right now. We get so used to this exchange that we don’t actually look much further. But ‘good’ isn’t a feeling at all, it’s our interpretation and reaction to the feelings we’re having. Feelings are tied to emotions and energy; happy, sad, joyous, anxious, ambivalent, punchy, rambunxious, unheard, etc. These are feelings and we can group them into ‘good & bad’ categories, but which category we place them in is up to us. 

One thing I’ve been practicing in and out of meditation is becoming more familiar with the subtle differences between feelings. I practice this so that I can distinguish and understand one from another in order to get more specific about how I actually feel. Because there’s a difference between feeling irritated and frustrated. There’s a difference between feeling happy and delighted. There’s a difference between feeling alone and lonely and coming to understand these subtle differences is an important step to feeling better. Why? 

Let’s say we’re in a ‘bad mood’ and we’d like to feel better. Maybe you can relate. Maybe you know why you’re in a bad mood and maybe not, but either way it’s helpful to take a moment and feel into your body. What are the physical sensations and how do you describe them? Is this bad mood because you’re feeling upset or angry with someone? Are you annoyed that your boss keeps piling on work with unreachable deadlines? Is it because you’re frustrated with your printer not connecting to your damn computer? Or maybe you had a fight with your partner this morning. All of these things can leave us feeling in a bad mood, but we’d have to take very different steps to resolve each one of these situations. 

It goes both ways too. We can use this discernment in order to know what kind of things allow us to feel joyful and fulfilled in our life and also recognize what things we think bring us happiness but may actually be something slightly different. A big one for me is money. I am usually happy when I’m making money but it’s not because of the money that I’m feeling this way. I’m in a good mood because the money allows me to feel secure financially. Now, this financial security is important to my well-being, as it means I can pay for my rent, utilities, and food but the money itself doesn’t make me feel good or happy or successful. Money is a neutral thing because it’s how we use it that makes it what it is (and that’s a whole other article right there). Now that I know that it’s not the money that makes me happy, I can take a deeper look into the things that actually make me feel good, which brings about qualities of harmony and joy in my body and mind. Money is still necessary but I don’t expect it to bring me joy.

But don’t take my word for it, try it yourself. The key is to inquire with compassion. There’s a huge difference between, ‘Why the hell am I feeling this way. Why do I always feel so depressed?!’ and, ‘Huh, I wonder why I feel this way?’. The more that we can accept that these feelings are okay to have the more open we’ll be to notice the feelings within the body and mind. Where is there tension? How do we feel energetically, emotionally, and mentally and where might these be coming from? Get specific with the adjectives you use to describe the feelings and explore, without judging your feelings or wishing they’d go away. 

Don’t get discouraged if you have a hard time feeling what’s going on inside. This is a practice and it takes time to get familiar with the feelings we experience. In our culture and society, we don’t place much value on self-inquiry and investigating feelings. Oftentimes we’re asked, directly or indirectly, consciously or sub-consciously from ourselves or others to suck it up and deal with our discomfort. To subdue it and triumph over it by pure grit and determination. And this is what makes it difficult to understand the difference between our feelings. They’ve all been tangled up into one big ball of feelings, so we must show patience to ourselves as we begin to unfurl one feeling from the next. 

So…how are you feeling today?