Learning to Feel

March 27th, 2009

Our feelings are like weather patterns. They are changeable and act on the environment with great power. They inform and distract with their intensity. They reflect the nature of the moment with great accuracy. Our ability to experience and share our feelings in meaningful ways is one of the profound marks of our humanity.

Yet feelings are, for many people, a locked box; an experience that overwhelms and is difficult to express. We are taught in a variety of circumstances and for a variety of reasons to suppress our feelings. We learn to silence our feelings so well that the messages in our bodies are not even discernible. Suppressed feelings are not as invisible as you might think. They take on a life in our dreams and eventually become diseases in our bodies. Our inability to express our feelings cuts us off not only from our own experience but limits the connection we feel with the people we love most.

Part of the reason we disconnect from our emotional life is because we are afraid we will be overtaken by our feelings. Small children are frequently shaken by the enormity of their emotional experience. When was the last time you witnessed a temper tantrum in the grocery store- what better metaphor for a giant storm raging inside a little body? What happened when your feelings were too big to hold when you were a child? What happens now?

Jim Carrey was quoted in a Playboy magazine interview last year saying, “Heaven is on the other side of that feeling you get when you’re sitting on the couch and you get up to make a triple-decker sandwich. It’s on the other side of that, when you don’t make the sandwich.It is about giving up the things that basically keep you from feeling. I am always asking myself “What am I going to give up next?” Because I want to feel. Learning to feel begins with a choice and the realization that authentic living demands the maturity to open up to your full experience, as messy as it might be.

This is, in fact, the do or die work of relationships; to have the courage to feel the full range of emotions that comes with intimate connections. It is literally the fuel for the fire of passion, the air that keeps a relationship breathing, the stuff of transformation and growing up. Just as our weaknesses and frailties are wedded to our virtues and strengths- the ability to express uncomfortable emotions creates the possibilities of discovering the love and passion that we want most.

How then do we make this choice to live a feeling life, to physically experience the internal storms of growing up and growing old? It is a practice, no different than learning a new musical instrument. Some days you hit the right notes, other days there is no melody at all. In agreeing to the practice, something opens and each moment gives you an opportunity to try again. Slowly you become comfortable with the weather systems of your emotions. Some days it is even comforting to know they are there.

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