Feelings

I read a post this morning giving advice that we should not use our feelings as a guide in decision making. I think the writer means well but may have some confusion about the difference between emotions and feelings. One reason could be, that the dictionary definition of these words leads us to use them interchangeably.

Dictionary Definition
Feelings: an emotional state or reaction.
Emotions: a strong feeling induced by an event or circumstances.

This may be correct linguistically but spiritually speaking, emotions and feelings are very different. Although emotions can be split into two groups, positive or negative, each emotion corresponds to a very specific label – anger, sadness, happiness, excitement, guilt etc. We find them easy to label because of the thoughts that occur simultaneously with the emotion that we are experiencing. For example, we do not feel anger without having corresponding angry thoughts. We can differentiate feelings of resentment from anger because of the thoughts we are having in that moment. Just to complicate things we ‘feel’ our emotions.

When spiritual teachers advise you to follow your feelings they are not asking you to follow your emotions or to make decisions based on transitory emotional states. In spiritual terms there are only two feelings, one feels good, the other feels bad. There are no corresponding thoughts as such, although the mind will scramble to find a reason for the positive or negative feeling. These feelings arise from a deeper place within you and come from beyond thought. The bad feeling is like an inner pulling away from and the good feeling is like a pulling toward – essentially this is what intuition feels like.

Perhaps the following story will illustrate my point more clearly.

Many years ago I needed to find a new rental property. I had a very good friend who was going overseas for twelve months and she asked me to rent her two bedroom cottage whilst she was away. It seemed like a good idea, it was the easiest option and the most logical. I didn’t have to go through any sort of selection process or pay a bond, the rent was affordable and she had no issues with me having a pet. It was close to work with several public transport options and lots of good local restaurants and shops. I couldn’t think of a single reason not to rent the cottage but every time I thought about doing it, I had a bad feeling. This bad feeling didn’t make any sense, it wasn’t an emotion that I could label, so I ignored it.

We made arrangements for me to move in, a few days before her scheduled departure, then her departure date was delayed by a month. We shared the cottage in the interim, during which I discovered a very unpleasant side of my friend. It was the longest and most stressful month of my life. Finally she left, what a relief, or so I thought.

A few days later I woke up one morning and the bad feeling had returned with a vengeance. Just as before I couldn’t make sense of it with my logical mind. I had an appointment that day in town and I had a feeling to cancel it but I ignored the feeling and went to my appointment anyway. When I returned, as I was walking up the street toward the cottage, I suddenly felt overwhelmed with a terrible feeling and knots in my stomach. When I opened the gate I saw why. The fly-screen had been ripped off the window and the pane smashed in. My home had been burgled.

I moved out two days later but it took me years to get over it. I became hyper-vigilant in regard to the security of my home and feared leaving it to go to work. If I had paid attention to my feelings I would not have experienced such unpleasant events.

Since then I’ve taken up meditation and over time I learned to distinguish the difference between my emotions and my feelings. I do admit though, it’s not easy to follow your intuition when your logical mind doesn’t back up your feelings – it takes practise and mistakes will be made but hey, that’s life!

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Photo Credit: Averie Woodard via Unsplash

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