Be Aware of the Feeler Who Feels the Feeling
Recognizing our active and imperfect agency is the road to emotional freedom
Once upon a time feelings were my badge of honor. I was proud that I was a “sensitive guy” who could easily feel sadness and joy, who could feel what the others were feeling, all the way down to what I presumed to be the way even the animals were feeling.
I almost ended up hugging the trees and starting to talk to them when I started to sense that something was not quite right with this picture.
What was wrong was this: I wasn’t happy despite all that emoting.
Why was I not happy?
Because I was not in control.
Feelings ran over me like a tsunami and my heart and mind washed all over the place like flotsam.
The only substantive thing that came out of that experience was poetry.
I started to write poems laden with emotions of all kinds. At one point I was even accepted to the “Poetry Master Class” of a nationally renowned poet at the Writer’s Center in Maryland.
But later on, my poems started to disappoint me. The experience was perhaps similar to the writer who thinks she is creating a masterpiece after draining a few bottles too many at night, only to wake up the next morning and wonder who wrote all that garbage on the laptop screen.
Obviously, abandoning my critical faculties to the Richter 9.0 earthquake of raw feelings was not how good art was created either.
The Second Stage
Thus a time arrived when I started to become aware of feelings as entities separate from me.
I started to realize that there were days when I was not washed away with Feeling #49 even though I internally still felt like the same person.
If feelings came and went like trains passing through a train station, they could not be me and I could not be them.
I arrived at a point where all yoga teachers recommend their students to watch thoughts and emotions like watching the clouds pass through the sky.
However, even at this stage feelings preserved their monolithic and objective quality. They were still a given.
Yes, they arrived, I could see them delivered to my front steps like Amazon packages but they were still finished objects coming to me from somewhere else. It’s as if there was this “Repository of Feelings” from where “Feeling Central Hqs.” dispatched all kinds of emotion packages according to the needs of the day. My AGENCY, my active role in this feeling-emotions business was still not apparent to me.
The Third Stage
The third step in my education was recognizing my own active involvement in feeling these feelings. I was not only receiving these feelings but constructing them as well. I was not quite a passive receptacle for these internal tornadoes; I was an active designer and even instigator of them as well.
Comparing memories is a good practice to realize our active and imperfect agency. One famous psychological thriller that addresses this issue is Akira Kurosawa’s “Rashomon” where different witnesses tell a totally different story about the same murder.
Since emotions are usually based on one story or another, realizing that your own story is not the only one out there is a good way to awaken to your active role in keeping emotions alive.
The interesting thing is, at this stage, we find ourselves having lived with this emotion for so long that we sometimes forget what it was supposed to refer to. Memory gets cloudy and vague and we start to lose the concrete details of the original story while still living the impact of the emotion that grew out of that now-blurred incident.
You might have heard the famous joke:
A man is drinking at the bar. The barman asks:
“Why are you drinking?”
“To forget what?”
“I dunno. I forgot.”
If you feel unable to recall the reasons why you started to feel that way in the past, that’s yet another reason to drop the emotion and attribute its longevity to your active agency, to the way you had actively stoked the fire and kept the emotion alive for all those years. You are the reason why the monster is fed and well taken care of in your dungeon. Open the doors, let the bastard out.
The difficulty is, sometimes our negative emotions define who we are a lot stronger than positive emotions do. Once they are expressed in a language such as “I’m a loser,” “I’m a victim of so-and-so,” “I’m so unfortunate,” “I always mess everything up,” etc. the emotions get baked into our personality and who we are.
When the time comes to drop a feeling, it becomes as hard as dropping our name or face. There emerges the need to construct another persona in which there is no room for old emotions from which you suffered for all those years. And that’s a lot of regenerative and reconstructive work. That’s why this third stage sometimes is the hardest hurdle to overcome to free yourself from the oppression and baggage of the past.
The Fourth Stage
But even when you realize that you are the feeler who feels these feelings, you are still not home free.
There is one final attachment to emotions that you also need to overcome: the impulse or the self-assigned mission to “help others.” In certain intractable cases the same impulse acquires the fever of “reforming someone.”
Even when we fully realize how made-up a lot of emotions are, we insist on owning them in the name of someone else, on behalf of someone else, since “it would help them.” This is one last obstacle and illusion you need to overcome to really divest yourself from heavy emotions that weigh you down like a big fat anchor.
“I’m concerned for his own good” is an expression you must have either heard or uttered in the past.
“How can I not worry about [fill in the blank]? She would be in trouble without me,” is another.
When you hear statements like that, question if it’s your ego speaking or not.
We want to be relevant not only in our own lives but in the lives of others as well. So we sometimes self-assign missions to save others from themselves. And that becomes a powerful glue to weld the emotion to our persona.
The world keeps turning…
Yet when you look at it from a long-term angle, the world turns around perfectly well without us or without our emotions. The assumption that the world and the others need us and thus we need to emote this or that way is sometimes the most insidious form of self-flattery.
I have a writer friend in New York City for whom I used to have genuine feelings of pity, dread, and worry because she was not making any money and was living hand-to-mouth, barely making it to the end of each month. I did a few things to help her in my own way and god bless, she is to this day very gracious about it, praising my attempts and spoiling me with ample credit at every opportunity.
But the point is, I still ask myself: how the hell did she survive for all these years? I have no idea. It’s obvious that she did not survive due to my emotions or due to the way I assigned her welfare to myself as an urgent agenda item. Life and Providence somehow took care of her and now I realize that all my worrying and the kind of daily dread I used to feel about her predicament were perhaps totally unnecessary, to begin with.
Things that you’ll never know or they’ll forget to tell you…
Another factor why you should guard yourself against such saintly impulses to emote on behalf of others is your lack of absolute information about any given situation.
Sometimes we think we know everything about a situation without actually knowing much. This causes us to take sides prematurely and emote in a totally unnecessary and incorrect direction.
For example, I noticed that people are more eager to share their misfortune and misery than their good fortune and good luck.
When someone you know goes bankrupt, the chances are you’ll hear about it instantly and you would, of course (the good-hearted person that you are) feel obliged to help.
But if that same person stumbles on a good-sized inheritance, the kind that would obviate the need for him or her to work ever again in life, I bet more often than not you wouldn’t hear about it even though you’d be continuing to worry about your friend’s bankruptcy.
Sometimes we emote for situations that are not there any longer; things have changed and either we missed to take notice or someone forgot to update us about it.
So that’s yet another reason why you should be on your guard for emotions that are based on a concrete situation that may be changing right under your nose without you being aware of it.
Relieve yourself from the burden of emotions by becoming aware of them as distinct entities that you help create and maintain; feelings which at times might be due to incomplete information about a changing situation.
It’s hard work but someone’s gotta do it and guess who?