A very interesting question was asked a few weeks ago in mindfulness class… how do we tell the difference between thoughts and feelings? Yes, they seem to come as a packaged bundle, but in fact it’s super important to be able to know the difference… but how?
Well, thoughts exist as bursts of electrical activity in the mind, and feelings show up in the body. How do we know we feel good? The body tells us so…
A backstory first: for a large part of my life I was basically not living in my body. Well, let me rephrase that, I was in a body that I didn’t know belonged to me. Feelings were something to be ignored. I was disconnected from the wealth of information and rich landscape that lay below my neck. I didn’t know that true joy and passion needed to be felt and savoured in order to provide the signposts for where to follow. The result of this is that, we live from a place of ‘shoulds’. I ‘should’ go to university, I ‘should’ get a good job. Not altogether unhealthy thoughts, and luckily it turned out to be something I loved. Living from thoughts is an easy way to do it, but the body catches up eventually and shows the score. I ignored my body, other than to chastise it. I ran alot, I ate what I thought I should eat, and then followed up with junk food, and if I had noticed, underneath it all was an uneasy feeling of angst telling me this wasn’t enough, but the next moment would be. Always moving, looking for the next thing. Probably a combination of the training of university, and also the excitement of life, but I suffered with anxiety and eating issues because I wasn’t connected with, and fully inhabiting my body.
This, I find out, is not uncommon. We live with thoughts, beliefs and stories that may or may not fit for us, just because we think they should. We ignore emotions and pain as they show up in our bodies because it’s not always comfortable No-one gave us a manual on how to manage them so they will pass. We run around being busy, escaping this feeling of ‘not enough’, filling our days on auto-pilot just because, not ever stopping to ask why, what do I value, what actually lights me up, makes me feel alive, in fact, what am I feeling at all?
When I became pregnant with my first son, I first started to really tune into this machine that was carrying another life. I started to take great care of what food entered my body to fuel him. I started to go to yoga, to breathe, and feel into this beautiful soul that was growing, both mine and his. I noticed my emotions, and felt them. I did what felt right (and a lot of what I ‘should’ do too :). I had done a lot of yoga before, but that doesn’t mean I was present in it, and some of my yoga was pretty hectic! Now, my body said ‘welcome home.. it’s about time you got here’.
This gathering up of your experience and noticing the good, bad and ugly is our ‘interoception’, the ability for the body to be aware of itself. It turns out that this brings some sense of peace over time. It’s the continual escaping from it that causes angst.
Most of my work with clients involves just this. Moving from a fear-based life to owning their experience and finding a home in their body. As we befriend the body and the emotions it contains, we can then see what stories are fueling them and decide whether that story is true. I love my work!
Living from the neck can be limited, anxious and unfulfilling. It can also produce innovative ideas, mathematical equations, and theoretical physics, depending on how the mind is used. That is thought. Living as a whole breathing, alive human being that feels and experiences, that cries and laughs, that feels sensations, the heaviness of sadness, the lightness of joy, the butterflies of anxiety, the pit of dread… those are feelings. When you stop, you can sit with the good and bad, know they will both pass and ultimately see the beauty in both. Then choose your next move..
Emotions are felt in the body. Thoughts are stories, words, imagination, dreams, that occur in the mind. Be with what is in the body, but you get to question the mind. Notice how your thoughts make you feel. Or conversely, notice your feeling, and see if you can catch the story you are telling yourself. Thoughts and feelings, two experiences that are intricately connected. This inquiry is the gateway to yourself. Try it out as you move through your day and remember it’s all an experiment.
Ok.. now the two paths: either breathe into and feel the emotion, the sensation until it starts to dissolve, or, notice the story behind it and see it for what it is: a story.
Breathe now. Feel into your body. Notice the sensations of what is there. Notice the tingling, the aliveness. Notice the tension or ease. Notice your judgements (thoughts), your evaluations (thought), your doubts (thought), your to-do list (thought).
Mastering yourself is no easy task, but even if just for a moment you can be aware, and throw in a dose of compassion, you are well on your way. I am adding a manifesto for living as a reminder of what is important.. enjoy!
Have a great week!