Adventures In Self Discovery To Transform Your Life
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),
and notice what is around you.
a few moments to enjoy the experience.
and take time to experience everything good that you find
to appreciate the moment.
There is always time in life for
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
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:
and be aware of what you are feeling now.
Let your attention roam looking for feelings everywhere in
Are there areas or points of pleasure? Pain?
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.
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.
word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by
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
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);
in touch with what's happening now.
you feeling OK?
not, is there a story involved.
• Is it happening now?
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.
With Your Feelings
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
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.
(20) in handling feelings.
time a negative feeling comes up, acknowledge the feeling.
your attention right into the feeling. Ignore the story that
came with it.
with the feeling and observe as it changes and dissipates.
• Turn your attention to the next action you want to
By focusing attention, you can
handle your feelings without running away or being run by
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
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.
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.
a deep breath.
• Sit or stand up straight, neck and shoulders back,
looking straight ahead.
alert, ready to take on the world.
Give it the full Duchenne smile.
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
become an aware observer of your present experience,
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.
stand in front of a mirror.
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
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
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).
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.
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.
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
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.
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
The key to relieving negative
emotions and depression lies in this adventure
(23). As soon as you are aware of negative emotions:
close attention to what’s actually happening in the moment.
aware of everything around you.
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.
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.
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 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.
can you do right now to feel better?
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
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
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
“Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.”
What is it like to be happy, to
feel happy now? You can bring up the feeling. Take yourself on
by remembering a happy time, a time when you felt overcome
with joy. A sunset, the presence of a friend, a
• Bring that joyous feeling into the present, absorb it
into the moment.
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?
of a person you love until you experience the feeling
• Be aware that you are the person doing the loving,
you are making the feeling.
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.
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.
©2012-2018 Keith Gilchrist - not for distribution or reproduction
5,001 words 17 pages 2.14.17 adv 17-25 Beta 1 rev
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