Feelings vs thoughts
Life is multifaceted and we experience it with a range of human emotion. There are plenty of valid reasons in this world to get upset as well as delighted, both on a global and personal level.
Most of us, however, would prefer only to experience positive, uplifting feelings. Some people may work so hard at being happy that they try to ignore “negative” emotion. But stifling anger, sadness and frustration, in an attempt to be happier, will not have the desired effect.
If you have been to a few of my yoga classes you have probably heard me say that we always have a choice about how we react to anything. There is always a different perspective. I like saying that. I like reminding myself that we have the flexibility and freedom to shape our experience of the world. But that doesn’t mean ignoring what makes us angry or sad, or pretending that we don’t have those feelings. We need to meet the world with open eyes, to see as clearly as possible the facts before us and allow ourselves to feel the emotional responses. When we try to suppress unwanted emotions they don’t go away, but may rather intensify or get redirected into physical pain or destructive behavior.
Most of what we think is not really based on facts but rather on interpretations influenced by our habitual thought patterns. How we feel is mainly a result of how we think. Often we may get stuck feeling sad or angry because our minds are repeating a certain belief that make us feel that way. It is important to make a distinction between the physical experience of an emotion and the thoughts that are prompting the emotional response. Emotions are essentially chemical reactions. From the moment the emotion is triggered it takes about 90 seconds until it has physically moved through our bodies. If we can pause, feel and observe that process without reacting or feeding the emotion with our thoughts, then we have an opportunity to question the thought process that caused the emotion in the first place. Is it valid? Is there a more constructive response to be found or another perspective to be considered? If we keep feeling the same way it is because we are triggering the chemical reaction again and again through the way we think about the initial event.
Sometimes that is absolutely warranted. Some events take much longer than 90 seconds to work through. You may have experienced something traumatic. Maybe you have been deceived by someone you trust. Maybe you have lost a loved one. Working through an experience like that obviously takes time. That sadness or anger may never fully go away. But if you allow yourself to feel it, there will at some point be space for other emotions and experiences as well. By questioning your own thoughts and beliefs around the event you may also be able to keep yourself from getting stuck in a destructive thought-loop.
Quite often though, we are stuck feeling down due to mundane and unnecessary reasons. Many of us carry around negative and limiting beliefs about ourselves or others that we keep repeating over and over, constantly triggering new waves of anger or sadness or whatever the emotion may be. Some of these beliefs may very well be factual, but many are not. Even when they are based on true shortcomings they are rarely depicting the full picture nor are they allowing for change and growth. This is where we can work with our thoughts. This is where we can apply a healthy dose of skepticism towards our own self-proclaimed truths. This is where we can choose to be constructive and have the flexibility of mind to consider different perspectives.
Working with our thoughts will affect how we feel, but attempting to manipulate our feelings directly is counterproductive. We will get annoyed, resentful, anxious and gloomy as well as excited, thankful, giddy and blissful. We are human and we live in a world that encompasses horror as well as love. But if we take the proverbial deep breath and allow the physical experience of the emotion to move through us, we do have a choice about how to proceed. We don’t need to be controlled by our emotions or limiting beliefs. We can meet the challenges of our lives constructively with clear eyes and open hearts.