Sunday, November 4, 2018

I think I'm feeling something...

I aim to be mindful with language and languaging, particularly in the context of counselling. When people slow it down and begin to examine their mind-forged manacles thought by thought, the cost of the imprecise use of language begins to be more evident.

The More To Life programme taught me that it is useful to distinguish between beliefs and feelings. In colloquial English these two terms are used interchangeably by many people. People say things such a "I feel I'm a fraud" or "I feel like I'm being bullied at work" or "I feel undervalued". If we define feelings as energy, somatic events, that can be felt and located somewhere in the body, then there are only a few basic feelings, and these basic feelings are usually associated with a tightening or relaxing, expansion or contraction, weighting or lightening of some part of the body. Those energies which are associated with contraction or tightening or heaviness are given different names such as fear (anxiety), pain, hurt, anger, hunger, excitation and sadness (depression). Those energies which are associated with lightness and expansion are given names such as fullness (aka peaceful, content, happy, serene, grateful, satisfied), and joy (bliss, energised, curious, enthusiastic.) None of these energies are intrinsically good or bad, positive or negative. All are impermanent and mutate one into the other. All can bring to balance or lead away from balance. At any given moment certain energies will be present, and to deny or resist their presence is to suffer. So if an energy we label as anger is present, then it is present until it is not, or until it reveals itself as something else. Feelings cannot be argued with or wished away. They can be accepted, met, held, encountered. They are faithful friends.

Beliefs, by contrast, are the stories the critical, judgemental, evaluating mind spins out habitually, automatically and reactively. Beliefs are the mind's statements about the way things are which can be inquired into, challenged, disputed and verified.
"I am a fraud" is a belief, a story about what I am, and unquestioningly believed, will have concomitant feelings of heaviness, anxiety-fear, and contraction. Ditto the formulations "I'm being bullied" or "she shouldn't have said that" or "they made a mistake" or "I am undervalued"
The same is true of beliefs such as "I am safe", "I have everything I require" "things will get better" "I can't control how people view me", "I don't need to know" and "I am doing the best I know how", which will tend to have associated feelings of expansion, relaxing and lightening.

Byron Katie's four questions are one way of disputing, or inquiring into, any thought:

a) Is it true (for eg that I am a failure. Am I a failure in every situation? If others don't see me as a failure am I still a failure? How many people would it take to convince me? Are my expectations around competence in any given role realistic, or even achievable? Where do the standards I measure myself against and find myself wanting come from? Who wrote those standards?)

b) Can I absolutely know it is true? (Do I have absolute knowledge about what constitutes success vs failure? In any given situation and moment can I know with certainty that what I currently label as failure is not already giving birth to what tomorrow I will label a success? Where does one end and the other begin? Who decides or makes it up? )

c)How do I react when I believe the thought "I am a failure" (What happens in my body? Heaviness or lightness? Tension or relaxation? Joy or sadness? And how do I behave? Do I turn down opportunities or remain open to them? And how am I in the presence of others when I am believing that thought?)

d)Who would I be if the thought "I am a failure" had never occurred to me, had never, so to speak, entered my system and coloured my vision? If I could drop the thought, how might I move through Life?

There is more to say about all of this, and even the best languaging has an element of approximation. I have not, for example, taken the time to distinguish between emotions and feelings. The bottom line, however, is that feelings and beliefs are connected, often in a reciprocal causal relationship. However feelings are real energetic presences in our body mind system, which will not shift in quality before they have been unconditionally felt, just as they are. Questioning an uncomfortable emotion that is being avoided does not get rid of it.

Thoughts/beliefs/cognitions, by contrast, are often not real, and often not truthful. They can be questioned, and in the process, greater aproximations of the truth, or the real, are arrived at. And in the clearing away of stories and falsehoods, the emotional experience inevitably shifts too. All this is experientially verifiable through our own work with these processes.