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Adventures In Self Discovery To Transform Your Life

Chapter 6
Feelings Are First

What Are Feelings

Emotions are body chemistry. Emotions are unconscious processes that run automatically. They are quick triggers for action in response to worldly or bodily changes. Emotions switch on or off in a fraction of a second. Seeing the snake at your feet gets you moving before you have time to think about it. The basic emotions are fear, anger, disgust, sadness, surprise, joy and happiness.

A feeling is the conscious experience of an emotion. Feelings arise as the brain receives and processes emotional signals from the body. We experience a feeling but not the organs and cells that generate it. Feelings are reports after the fact. A background feeling sets the tone for our point of view. Attention then focuses on the flow of experience and lets us know how we feel about it. As an adventure (17),

Stop and notice what is around you.

Take a few moments to enjoy the experience.

Notice and take time to experience everything good that you find around you.

Pause to appreciate the moment.

There is always time in life for joy.

Are there dangers or pleasures to be noticed. Feelings tell you how your life is working right now. If you feel good, it is. If you feel bad, it is not. That simple. Long before your thoughts kick in feelings tell you what is working or what is not. Knowing how your feelings work will let you increase the feel good parts of life and reduce the feel bad parts.

We can 'allow' our feelings; notice them, acknowledge them and accept them. We can change them and suppress them. We can't necessarily 'control' them.  You are not the slave of your feelings. You can understand what's generating them and accept or change that. You can turn your attention away from feelings that are upsetting.  You can stay away from feelings that are not constructive. You can support feelings that guide you toward a pleasant or supportive experience.

Feelings get made moment to moment by the chemistry in our bodies and brains. Your body generates feelings in response to your situation or to the stories you are telling yourself. Change your situation or stories and your feelings will change. Most of your stories are not happening now so you can let them go and improve your life immediately.

Feelings come and go as your chemistry changes. Any changes have to start with what you are feeling now. Feelings are not stored up somewhere. We do not have hidden feelings lurking in our brain. There is no ‘unconscious’ full of repressed feelings. If you are not aware of feeling something, you are not producing the chemistry that makes a feeling.

Once the neurochemical process of a feeling starts it takes time to work itself out. The process is always going on even when you are asleep. You can't hold on to feelings. You can repeat them by recycling the memories or whatever stimulated them. As an adventure (18), explore your feelings:

• Pause and be aware of what you are feeling now.

• Let your attention roam looking for feelings everywhere in your body.

• Are there areas or points of pleasure? Pain?

•What happens as you move your attention around?

It works best to accept and allow every experience as it comes and then let go of the memory and the feelings. You may have to accept experiences and feelings that you don't like or want to have.

How Feelings Work

We are made to enjoy life. Our brains rewards thoughts and actions that promote survival with a feeling of pleasure. It punishes thoughts and actions that threaten survival with a feeling of pain. Pleasure and pain are always weaving in and out of our experience. The body tries to balance the ups and downs in a process called homeostasis. A healthy, well exercised body will start out feeling better than a hungover one. We try to avoid long emotional swings, either positive or negative. The body wants balance with a treat now and then.

“The word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness.”
Carl Jung

There are separate brain systems and chemistries for generating positive and negative feelings. When we get what we need or want chemicals called endorphins get released. We feel good. Negative experiences, like hunger or fear, release dynorphins. We feel bad. Bad and good feelings can coexist, working together. Bad feelings don’t block good ones. So positive feelings can override negative ones.

Feelings are there for a purpose. The brain is set to remember negative experiences. We get reminded about anything negative that may be coming up. Take a look around. Are you in a stressful situation? We need some sadness to learn from mistakes and losses. We need some joy to celebrate being here. Life works best when we are balancing around a range of feelings.

Suffering is a pattern built into the brain and body. By reliving memories of distress we strengthen their recall and rehearsal. We suffer and remember over and over. That process teaches us to avoid feel bad situations. If we are not to be forever rehearsing negative experiences, we must break that pattern. Try this adventure (19);

• Get in touch with what's happening now.

•Are you feeling OK?

• If not, is there a story involved.

• Is it happening now?

• Can you turn away from or let go of the story and the feeling?

Reliving and rehearsing feelings and the attached stories is an endless project. It can be boring to yourself, as well as to people around you. You can learn to handle feelings. You can accept them and open to them. You can use their energy to vitalize yourself whether your situation is good or bad. Yet you can't hold on to feelings. Your chemistry will change.

You do have some power over your feelings. You can call one up again by remembering. It works best to accept the feelings of every experience as they come and then let them go. Sometimes that means accepting experiences that you don't like or don't want to have. You can stay positive and responsive to stresses. You can be aware every moment, taking action now to sustain or to change your situation.

Feelings are just brain and body chemistry. We experience them and they pass, fading over time. They do not have meanings, unless we add some. They do not need to be expressed, just experienced and released. Feelings are information that we can learn from. Naming them good or bad misses the point. Imagining we should only have good feelings is silly. All feelings are acceptable. They tell us we are alive.

Working With Your Feelings
If you are not paying attention and guiding your life, your feelings will take over. You'll spend your life moving from one promised satisfaction to the next. Check your email. Call Bob. Pick your nose. Play Dungeons and Dragons. Look at Facebook. Check your email.

Your body automatically generates feelings in response to your situation or to the stories you are telling yourself. Change your situation or stories and your feelings will change. Most of your stories are not happening now so you can let them go and improve your life immediately.

Making something important tends to run your life. An idea, a rule, some expectation, a demand, a desire, a deadline can convince us that life has to be this way. Then we can get upset, blame someone and turn on the “bummer” chemistry. Experiencing this cycle is not mandatory. Feelings trigger thoughts that trigger feelings. A situation triggers a memory and a feeling swells up. When you are about to make a choice, allow yourself to 'pre-feel' what it would be like one way or another.

The brain is not good at turning positive experiences into long lasting  memories. We enjoy the sunshine, children laughing, the taste of ice cream and we move on. Positive thinking is usually done in ideas and words. It does not involve the body's deeper structures. We get an immediate hit but do not hang on to it for the few extra seconds it takes to get built into long term memory. Take a little extra time to enjoy positive experiences. They will turn into lasting memories with good feelings.

Lingering in and expressing strong feelings, reinforces their hold on our attention. That’s good if you are enjoying yourself, not so good if you are on a bummer trip. The body tends to re-balance around a norm and it may take you through the pits on the way there. What works is to notice a feeling, acknowledge and accept it. Then move your attention to what’s going on around you now.

Here’s adventure (20) in handling feelings.

• Next time a negative feeling comes up, acknowledge the feeling. Name it.

• Turn your attention right into the feeling. Ignore the story that came with it.

• Stick with the feeling and observe as it changes and dissipates.

• Turn your attention to the next action you want to take.

By focusing attention, you can handle your feelings without running away or being run by them.

You don’t have to act on your feeling. Talking about your feeling doesn't commit you to do anything. You can talk about your feelings at any time and place you choose. Then you can take the actions that feel best. Feelings trigger actions. We tend to feel, then act, then think. You may not be able to control your feelings. You can control your actions.

Our situation doesn't make us feel bad or good, what we think about it does. This sucks. Get out of here. Feel better already Feelings are temporary. They must clear away to ready us for the next treat or threat. Thought patterns from the past can also bring up a feeling. Reactions to our own feelings may keep them going.

Feelings energize your story and your actions. You can’t think your way out of your moods by figuring out what went wrong. Pondering the facts keeps you stuck or even spiraling downward. You prolong unhappiness by thinking about problems over and over. That keeps them coming back into attention. Sometimes it is necessary to step aside and separate from the feelings. Then you can take a neutral or critical look at the story and your actions.

Changing Your Feelings

A smile causes your brain to release dopamine that produces positive feelings. If we can’t take some immediate action to change a situation, we can start up a Transformer. A Transformer is anything that interrupts or changes our process.

Consider the smile. A full on smile, called a Duchenne smile,

• lifts the corners of your mouth,

• raises your cheeks high and

• crinkles the corners of your eyes.

A smile causes your brain to release dopamine that produces positive feelings. Whether you are making one or seeing one, a full smile is a natural high. You cannot fake it. Humans can recognize the difference between an authentic smile and a PanAm smile. It is called that because airline stewardess’s try to look cheerful no matter how they feel.

Here’s an adventure (21) in generating a positive feeling.

• Take a deep breath.

• Sit or stand up straight, neck and shoulders back, looking straight ahead.

• Become alert, ready to take on the world.

• GRIN. Give it the full Duchenne smile.

• Be aware of how your body and feelings change.

You just put yourself on a natural high. You will find yourself alert and energized with positive feelings. You can stay in this state by being active, focused and engaged in something interesting.

This is a powerful tool. GRIN changes your body chemistry. You feel the difference. It does not change your situation. MOVE changes your situation. To change something you are doing, use GRIN to interrupt the flow of experience. Then MOVE to open it in new directions.

Here’s why I think of it as a Transformer.

• you become an aware observer of your present experience,

• you choose to change it,

• you remain aware to shape the experience you want next.

This is the core practice you can use to change your life.

• Go stand in front of a mirror.

GRIN

It works if you do.

As we go along, we will use GRIN to interrupt the flow of a repetitious, negative story or a serial bummer. You need a Transformer just long enough to put your observer back in charge. With practice, turning your thoughts away from the negative becomes easier, and then automatic. Try using GRIN, to change your experience until you feel good about yourself.

People tend to rehearse their miseries over and over. Their feelings follow. Miseries are part of your inner theater. They are usually not happening now. Next time you find yourself miserabling away. Stop. GRIN. Good feelings, even a laugh, may start up. Your miseries will change, even retreat.

Do it now.

Do it often.

You may design your own Transformers by finding a body change that produces a clear feeling. Invent a trigger word or gesture. Then practice it until the body change comes up whenever you trigger it.

Desire Feeds Feelings

A new desire turns on our expectation system. We see a goal, the brain releases endorphins to give us a foretaste of pleasure and gets us moving toward it. When we achieve our goal, more feel good chemistry gets released as a reward.

We are always seeking change, always wanting something. Wanting gives us motivation to work toward a goal. Our hormones spike in anticipation of a reward. Have you noticed that the pursuit of a goal can be as satisfying as reaching it. Achieving a goal sets a reference point for future endeavors. The special becomes the new norm.

We are set up to pursue success rather than happiness. Focusing on a desire tends to lessen our enjoyment of the present. Happiness at getting something leads to habituation. We experience the small sadness that follows the high of success. Next comes worrying and fear of loss. Then we go on to wanting the next new thing.

Addictions are desires that get learned and repeated. If we are constantly driven by our circle of desires, our brain will rebuild itself to support that. Dependency is desire out of control. Many of us have become stimulus junkies by always going for the next hit. We can lose our sense of reality. Screen slave? Over time, we may lose the ability to see and appreciate the lasting pleasures. Free of desire, we may open to the experience of the stillness of creation.

There are alternatives. You can choose and act to get just what you need. You can get the best you can find and enjoy it now. When you stop enjoying it, you can let it go, give it away and give yourself a good feeling. You can be glad for what your neighbor has, congratulate her, enjoy her pleasure. To be happier, it makes sense to enjoy what is available now. You can compare downward, have less, do less and detach from the tickles of desire.

There is nothing to fear...but fear itself.'

One of my heroes, Franklin Roosevelt, said that. Fear is one of the basic emotions. We are here because our ancestors knew fear and acted on it to survive. We recognize danger at once and want to fight or flee from it. Fear can be an instant reaction to something happening right now. It can be a reaction to a potential or imagined danger in the future. Fear accelerates the heart rate and dilates the blood vessels. It increases muscle tension and breath rate. We are ready to move.

Everyday threats have increased, especially in cities. You are walking on a dark street. Is that strange person behind you walking too close? Fear is also politically and culturally manipulated to control our beliefs. We may be forced to accept restrictive policies. We watch negative and violent movies and television. We play violent games coupled with daily news of death and disaster. Every day seems filled with threats. We need to wake up to this manipulation and counter it. Most of our fears get supported by stories that we remember, rehash and share. Rarely are these stories happening now.

I fought in World War II in the infantry in France and Germany. Military dictatorships in Germany, Italy and Japan attacked our people and threatened our freedom. It was the “war to end all wars.” Since then American troops have fought all over the planet. Including Korea, Vietnam, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan. We have not decisively won any of them. We have steadily lost our freedoms and increased our fears.

Wars get started by fear of an adversary powerful enough to destroy your country and your people. Look around you. There is no adversary on earth that can destroy the United States. Yet, fear leads us into allowing torture, illegal detention and the mass surveillance of our population. Our liberal democracy is turning into a paranoid plutocracy.

Being fearful all the time is like being an animal in strange territory. It is always alert, watching for threats. We are like that. Fed by our news and entertainment media we see disaster emerging from every direction. The media uses fear to get and hold our attention. Then it can show us ads to shape our desires in this paradise of consumerism.

Don't Let Fear Stop You

Nature has made us sensitive to dangerous things. We get a hit of fear before we are even aware of what's up. At the same time dangerous things can be great opportunities. Or an adventure(22).

• Make a list of five things you fear.

• Look at each one and imagine what your life would be like if you moved past that fear.

• Pick one fear and imagine it happening.

• Let it go.

Check your feelings. What’s possible now? Freedom is individual. The first freedom is from fear. Stop. Look around you. Is there anything going on that is a direct threat to you, your family or friends? Probably not. The most frightening things you encounter in your day only appear on television, video games and cell phones. You allow your feelings to be stimulated over and over by something that isn't happening. The solution is obvious but most of us aren't able to do it.

Handling Anger
You are not a tea kettle. Expressing your anger will not free you from it. Boiling over harms others and weakens your immune system. Expressing anger is a way of practicing it. You keep inviting the memories to return, driving you deeper into depression.

Something upsets me. So I blame the experience on an event or thought or on someone or something else. I make myself angry. Yet I can’t be angry with another person without suffering myself. My anger may poison my experience without affecting the other person in any way. What works is to let it go.

Guilt is also a useless emotion most of the time. It’s you feeling bad about yourself for doing something you didn't think you should do. Life is punishing enough without getting on your own case. Guilt is optional. Your actions failed, you didn't.

To handle a negative feeling, rest your attention on the feeling itself rather than on its object. Just observe. Let the anger change and dissolve. Sharing your feelings is helpful. “A trouble shared is a trouble halved.”

All feelings are acceptable. All behavior is not. Expressing our anger doesn't get rid of it. The anger comes back again and again, like a game we are playing with ourselves. Talking about our judgments of others, reveals our own pettiness. Bummers just create resentment and boredom.

It works better to admit how you feel, when you feel it. Share with others as your life happens. Being honest and open and sharing what you experience and feel shows that you are trustworthy. Sharing your joy lifts everyone around you.

There is no virtue in tolerating unhappiness or misery. You do not need the approval of others to feel OK about yourself. There is plenty of happiness for everyone. Make what you need. Look for the place in your body where you feel happy or sad. Then, just let your attention be there while your feelings change.

Negative Feelings
All feelings attract our attention. Attention gets drawn to emotional stories. The brain works to keep a negative mood going. Repetitive thoughts and rehearsals of past events lead to a negative pattern. Run it again it hurts so good. We teach ourselves to be unhappy. Deliberate attempts to suppress negative events lends them energy for another demand on attention. Yet, you can write about a negative event to change your memory of it. You can construct a meaningful narrative that explains it. This will open insights and some future direction. It will reduce the need to rehearse the event and rexperience the feeling.

Nobody is doing your feelings to you. No one is responsible for your unhappiness (or happiness) but yourself. Feeling bad does not mean you are a bad person. You are not guilty and are not being punished for something. What you think about your situation is making you feel bad (or good). Your chemistry is out of whack.

When we feel unhappy or depressed, it is best to take immediate action. Depression can get to be a practiced action. You can recognize the start of a negative feeling and stop it. You have a natural off switch for negative feelings. As soon as you recognize the negative feeling, realize that the best action is no action. You can stand back and let it go. You can try not to get it on anyone else.

The key to relieving negative emotions and depression lies in this adventure (23). As soon as you are aware of negative emotions:

• Stop.

• Pay close attention to what’s actually happening in the moment.

• Be aware of everything around you.

• Be aware of your body and feelings.

Your experience has already changed. You are now the observer controlling where your attention goes and what feelings it holds.

• Start your Transformer.

• Stand up tall, neck and shoulders back, waist and knees relaxed. Place your feet shoulder width apart and pointing straight ahead, ready to take on the world.

• Take a deep breath.

• GRIN!

• Move on to the next thing.

Repeat this each time your attention moves to a negative or depressing thought or feeling. This is not a waste of time. Depression is.

Practice makes turning your thoughts away from the negative easier, then automatic. You will find a point of view in which you have the power to act differently and feel good about yourself most of the time. Experiment. You might try becoming active at simple things. Consider moving around, take a walk, do sports. Savor your positive feelings.

Happiness

Happiness is the experience of “all’s right with the world.” Happiness can be a feeling of pleasure now or contentment over time. Scientists say this happy state is 50% genetic, 10% situational and 40% intentional. Happiness is an inner state, not a state of the world or of your achievement. You don't need either of these to feel happy. Happiness is in your body chemistry.

Happiness is an experience of the moment, occasional and transient. Our striving brings us success and brief happiness. Then we adapt and start looking for the next hit. The relentless pursuit of happiness can make you miserable. Happiness can only be experienced now. If your goal is to be happy, why put it off? Be happy now. Be who you want to be.

What can you do right now to feel better?

Did you?

Why not?

Is there a habit, practice, story or goal that keeps you from being happy or enjoying now?

You bring your expectations into this moment. If it is as good as you expected you can be happy. If it is better, you can be surprised and even happier. Watch how you build your expectations. Catastrophic expectations will poison your happiness now. They can be a burden until you prove them empty. Make happy plans. They will increase your happiness now.

No one can make us happy. We allow our own happiness. Is this how you want to feel now? Is this what you want to be doing? We build what we are after out of what isn't now. Ask yourself, “Is this how I want to feel now? “Is this what I want to be doing?” “What will work better for me now? Life is incredibly rich any time anywhere you take a moment to be here.

Happiness doesn't last. It generates a change of feelings by changing your chemistry. As your body re-balances, your feelings swing back toward a normal balance. For the same reason, unhappiness can't last. When you are unhappy, you can detach and help the re-balancing process. GRIN.

Achieving big goals may be worthwhile. Yet the happiness this brings dissipates by and by. More money doesn't yield much increase in happiness. Wants can be mistaken for needs and are infinitely expansive. Luxuries can get transformed into necessities. Our only imaginable form of leisure becomes consumption. That can change only when we choose to want no more than we need now.

We can only be safe, satisfied and happy in this moment. Anything that doesn't support or distracts from this is a waste. Here are a few ways to find satisfaction now.

• Turn away from the distracting ideas and stories. 

• Act only on the needs of the moment. 

• Drop the restraints of culture and custom.

• Stop worrying about the past or future.

• Go with your spontaneous nature.

• Accept and enjoy the present.

• Live in the depth of your being and in harmony with nature.

Franklin D. Roosevelt had it right again:

“Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.”

Beyond Happiness
With a quiet mind, you can have an intense, even ecstatic experience of the world in the present. Children experience this world of wonder until their memory loads up. You may remember the intensity of a childhood day, lying in the grass watching the clouds or a bird flying by. Life is incredibly rich any time, anywhere you take a moment to be here.  

What is it like to be happy, to feel happy now? You can bring up the feeling. Take yourself on an adventure (24).

• Start by remembering a happy time, a time when you felt overcome with joy. A sunset, the presence of a friend, a lover’s smile.

• Bring that joyous feeling into the present, absorb it into the moment.

• Let the memory go, stay with the feeling.

You can bring up the feeling any time you want. Notice that you can feel happy but you have to detach a little to identify the feeling and think, “Oh, I am happy.” The happy feeling is a reward for everything being OK. Connect with this feeling as often as you need to. It’s free and you can’t wear it out.

Nobody owes you happiness. You do not need a reason to be happy. Happiness is an attitude, a choice. Happiness is something you allow. Look for the happiness that is always there. Why postpone joy?

Loving
Love doesn't conquer anything. Love has no conditions, no expectations, no judgments. Love is without rules. In this adventure (25):

• Think of a person you love until you experience the feeling of love.

• Be aware that you are the person doing the loving, you are making the feeling.

• Now, direct that feeling of love toward yourself. You deserve it.

• Pick out something you like about yourself and love yourself for being that.

• Say, “I love you, (your name).”

The more love you feel for yourself, the more you have to give to others. Love is strengthened by acts of love. When you feel loving, act on the feeling. Do something loving. Each of us has a great well of love and tenderness. It is the most wonderful part of being human. Open yourself to these feelings and share them with a fellow human being. This is an ecstatic experience. Start with your loved ones.

Connect
We tend to be out of touch with our physical reality. Between ourselves and the earth, air, sky and water we put buildings and machines. Few of us understand or control the means to keep ourselves fed, housed and clothed. In a real sense, we are helpless.

We are out of touch with our own bodies. Between ourselves and our bodies we have put outside experts, medicines and diets. We no longer understand how to eat and exercise. We often do not feel or trust our own body.

We tend to be out of touch with our thoughts and feelings. We put psychologists, astrologers, self-help books and advice columns between us and our thoughts and feelings. This is an adventure book, remember?

We tend to be out of touch with each other. Between ourselves and our bothers and sisters, we put television, smartphones, email, texting. We need to reconnect, face to face.

The more you focus on what is happening around you, the more amazing novelty you will find in everyday experience. We evolved out of nature. We are at home there. The shore, the woods, the open fields are places of healing. Connect with the beauty of the sun, the sky, the wind. Let natural beauty energize your body and mind. Make your own self a quiet, safe place.


©2012-2015 Keith Gilchrist - not for distribution or reproduction
5,001 words 17 pages 2.14.17 adv 17-25 Beta 1

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