So, what are you feeling right now? No…, not what you are thinking, believing or judging. Really, what are you feeling?
The words “I feel” are among the most misused in our culture. “I feel he is wrong;” “I feel that I should get a raise;” “I feel she is not listening to me” – actually, none of these phrases have anything to do with our feelings. They are judgments, thoughts or beliefs. How do we know? None of these phrases have any connection with our current mental or emotional states. Our feelings are never about someone or something else (i.e. whether they are “right,” “wrong”, or are “not listening to us”).
Not only do we misuse the words “I feel”, our conditioning discourages us from actually feeling. For instance, a young athlete would face an enormous stigma if she expressed fear, worry or anxiety before a major football match. And, certain professionals, like lawyers, are taught to discount their feelings because feeling would make them “ineffective advocates.”
In fact, the very casual and misleading way we use the phrase “I feel” represents our collective escape from feeling. Our idea is that if perhaps instead of feeling, we could think, believe or judge, we never have to become vulnerable, keeping our armor impenetrable to anyone outside of us.
The problem with this approach is that it maintains the illusion of separation between us and forces us to communicate with each other in most violent ways. As is brilliantly described by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg in his infamous book on Non-Violent Communications, instead of communicating with our feelings and needs, we communicate (even to ourselves!), using judgments, threats and demands. The result is a deeply violent society, where we practice conditional kindness, love and respect (i.e. “I will love/respect/appreciate myself/others only if I/they fit an idea of how I believe things should be.”). And, because communicating our true feelings requires deep listening to ourselves and facing all, even discomfort within us, we would much rather escape and attack than be with our discomfort and display any vulnerability to others.
In dissolving conflict in our lives it is absolutely key that we learn to feel. Feeling means that we have absolute willingness to be fully and unconditionally with whatever is arising within us in this moment, without trying to put a label on whatever we are feeling. Finding the right word or phrase to describe our feelings actually takes us away from feeling. Rather, feeling is about taking absolute, unconditional responsibility for all states of our body and mind, observing as all of these sensations arise in the moment.
So, if we are serious about transforming conflict in our lives (and us in the process!) it is time to stop trying to feel better. Instead, let us get better at feeling. Feeling everything that arises, without concerning ourselves with labeling it or analyzing. So, when asked “what are you feeling?” don’t think, believe or judge. Feel, what is right here and right now.