Spiritual Networks

The oxymoron will save you!

Feelings are serious business. If you disagree, you might hurt mine, so be careful.

Feelings are for the weak, the lazy non-thinkers. The strong are tough-minded enough to think things through.

Feelings are a bottomless whirlpool. They whip you around and drag you down until you can’t breathe.

I grew up in a Germanic culture. Skill, not emotion, was the pearl of great price. Early and often I happily paid the price for skill. I was good at many things, and proud of it. Well, to be truthful, I didn’t really admit the pride. That would be a feeling, don’t you think? I thought everything through, convinced I had it all figured out. (What didn’t compute, I just ignored, and I ignored what I was ignoring!)

I had a firmly reasonable grip on the tail and was wagging the bull – until I drowned at the age of nineteen. The veritable whirlpool was actually a foggy morning on the beach of a still lake. The fog called to me. The deep water whispered. End your misery.

I wanted to die. Looking back, I realize I did.

I’d had a sleepless night following the first day of a sensitivity marathon. There, all of the young men with whom I’d been living for the past year, and whom I had pretty much figured out, turned into aliens. No wonder I had my Night of the Living Dead! We gathered in a room in the morning, told only to be honest about what we were experiencing. Before long, tears and roars were swirling around me, feelings I couldn’t ignore!

I held my breath, petrified. I didn’t want to imagine, nor find out, what would happen next!

Then and there I was inexorably overwhelmed by the real problem with feelings: you don’t know what they’re about to become! Like any good monster, they just show up with a life of their own. Suddenly, they’re just there! And immediately, they’re threatening your ability to predict and control things. The horror in feelings is in the loss of control. They swoop in, flood your reason, and carry your choice away.

That’s why I’d always pushed them out into the fog, and down into the depths of a seemingly still lake. I was only allowing myself to experience what made sense to me. Surprises forbidden! Save that for the movies. I was focused on skill, on what I could control.

After dying that night, I started a whole new life.

Terrified as I was, I could no longer ignore what I couldn’t control. Feelings were real, and powerful. I absolutely had to figure them out. Just about to start university, I changed my major from physics and chemistry, to psychology and philosophy. It was a bold leap into the unknown. I’ve been walking the walk for forty years since that night. First I did my head trip into feelings. Then I realized feelings are in the body, and mine was dead. For over twenty years I’ve flowed through body-oriented therapy, deep tissue massage, Yoga, Tai Chi, and meditation, all the while learning how to feel – how to feel alive!

The core wisdom I have garnered is that feelings require discipline. The oxymoron is the interplay of polarities. I need to learn to allow the surprise – and to be ready for it! Feelings just are. I have no choice about which one shows up. Suddenly there is energy in my body, calling for awareness. My choice is in how I respond to what I feel. What will I do with the energy within me right at this moment? Discipline prepares me to make choices while I’m going with the flow. This may be the secret to a life well lived.

What I feel is the quality of my life. It’s worth a little work!

Skillful Feeling

Below is a list and brief description of the forms of Emotional Discipline that I have come to believe in. It’s a lifetime of work, getting body and mind into concert. Practice makes progress. One step at a time. The oxymoron knows best.

  • Concentration: the meditative practice of focusing awareness on a singularity, a simple visual point, a mantra, one’s breath. This helps to still the mind of it’s often incessant, anxious chatter. When my awareness is empty, I am ready to notice what arises.
  • **Mindfulness: the meditative practice of staying present to whatever is in awareness at the moment. This helps with learning how to pay attention to what is happening, outside and inside of oneself.
  • Conscious Breathing: a form of meditation where awareness simply follows the breath, noticing what happens during each inhale and exhale. This helps to calm anxiety, and to be ready to breathe through a feeling.
  • Bodyscan: another meditative practice, focusing awareness within parts of the body, one at a time. This helps with getting awareness grounded again in the body, with being able to refine one’s discrimination of bodily experience.
  • Mindful Movement: deepening internal awareness while stretching into postures (Yoga), moving through forms (Tai Chi, Chi Gong), dancing, or exercising in whatever way. This helps with releasing toxins and tension, clearing out the body in preparation for emotional awareness.
  • Commune with Nature: getting one’s body out into direct contact with the natural world. This helps with feeling safe in one’s body, and connected to and energized by one’s surroundings.
  • Sifting: mindfully sorting through whatever bodily experience calls for attention, identifying a feeling and its location, connecting the feeling with images, meanings, and choices. This helps with clarifying and resolving unfinished business.
  • **Breathing a Feeling: mindfully tracking a feeling through its cycle as it flows along the wave of breath. This helps with learning to trust the bodily experience of particular feelings, and with slowing down to attentively allow a particular feeling.
  • Unbinding: tuning awareness into a particular bodily location of tension or pain, breathing into connection with the energy there, allowing images to arise from the energy, expressing the images into form through art and movement. This helps with releasing tension, and discovering feelings and meanings held within the tension.
  • Softening: conscious breathing with a comforting mantra into places in the body that hold pain or illness. This helps with releasing what needs to pass, and thereby opening the way for healing.
  • **Relational Review: the regular discipline of reflecting on an interpersonal experience where there are or may be unresolved feelings. This helps with learning to understand feelings and their meaning in any given relationship, and thereby with clarifying choices for further engagement.
  • **Emotional Availability: identifying which feelings are allowed (or not) in awareness and which are allowed (or not) in expression. This helps with clarifying where further work is needed.
  • **Lifeline: a method for tracking specific experiences of a particular feeling through one’s history, all the way to the earliest memory of that feeling. This powerful methodology helps with a deepening appreciation for the value, mystery, and personal challenges held by any given feeling.
  • **Internal Dialogue: bringing disconnected parts of oneself into a conversation wherein unacknowledged feelings can become clear. This helps with personal integration, and with resolving unfinished business.
  • **Responsible Anger: a way to non-destructively release the energy in the anger, to understand its meaning, and to use it to make needed changes. This helps with making anger a vital resource rather than a danger.
  • **Facing Fear: breathing directly into the fear while listening to its prediction of something bad, and then sorting through how to respond to relieve the fear. This helps with overcoming anxiety, letting go of the future, and living in the present.
  • Immediacy: the act of verbally identifying one’s feelings to and regarding another in the moment of experiencing these feelings. This helps with staying current and connected in any important relationship.
  • **Empathic Mirroring: verbally reflecting an understanding of what the other seems to be feeling. This helps with building the safety to share feelings, and with staying close to another’s experience of themselves.
  • Owning: exploring my judgments about another in order to discover what I can learn about myself. This helps with keeping boundaries clear: what’s me, what is other, and with recognizing the feelings behind my judgments.
  • Prayer: conscious contact with the divine within – and within all that is. This helps with everything!

**Note that the disciplines underlined and marked with a double asterisk will be addressed in the workshop by the same title as this article. Other disciplines may be addressed in the workshop, depending on available time, as well as in a possible follow up group (meeting regularly to support Emotional Discipline).

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