Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D. is a seasoned clinician with experience working with adults, couples, families, adolescents and older children since 1976. His aim
Feelings Are Also True To Life and Accurate as a Direct Function of Underlying Perceptions, Thoughts & Beliefs Matching Reality and “What Is”
Our thoughts create the context which determines our feelings.
—Ellen J. Langer, Mindfulness
Anyone’s feelings are a priori (“before the fact”) authentic and valid, whether or not the perceptions, thoughts and beliefs one has of the situation are true to life and accurate. Being direct feedback from your body, feelings are simply somatic reports on what is occurring both within oneself and the immediate environment. Whatever you feel is undoubtedly what you feel. We do not know what another living thing feels, and any presumption or assumption about what another human being feels is speculative, problematic and often wildly off. A Zen koan portrays this clearly:
One day Chuang-tzu and a friend were walking along a riverbank. “How delightfully the fishes are enjoying themselves in the water!”, Chuang-tzu exclaimed.
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“You are not a fish,” his friend said. “How do you know whether or not the fishes are enjoying themselves?”
“You are not me,” Chuang-tzu said. “How do you know that I do not know that the fishes are enjoying themselves?”
Of course, neither Chuang-tzu nor his friend actually know whether the fish were enjoying themselves in the water or not. In point of fact, it is a pure speculation on the part of both of them! Just because what you feel is authentically and validly what you feel, this does not mean the feeling is true to life and accurate, since it can be powerfully influenced by what you think and what you do. In a way, when you are present and observing your mind with all it’s perceptions, thoughts and beliefs, all of these begin as “suspects” since none of these are true in reality, only conceptualizations. Once seen through, and if recognized as not unduly influencing and distorting feelings, then they are “prospects” and benign in terms of distorting the message inside the feeling as it is felt all the way through your body to decode its message. Otherwise, look again at what is real. Here is an example to see the influence of beliefs and the sanity of seeing through them:
You are working in your office after hours and think you hear something. You start to imagine all sorts of cruel, violent and ugly scenarios, and begin to get very jumpy. As you continue in this vein, you start experiencing a panic attack.
You cajole the one other employee who is also working after hours in the same workspace to go investigate the sound you heard because you are too discombobulated to do so. Reluctantly the other employee slowly opens the door and pokes a nose out. When nothing happens, the fellow employee gets bolder and starts to walk around a bit. Pretty soon, this co-worker is casually walking about and says, “All’s clear! Nothing to be afraid of!”
Slowly going outside yourself, you too find nothing amiss and in short order you say to the fellow employee upon returning, “Gee, it must be my imagination. Thanks a lot.”
This illustration shows how your feeling of discomfort, jumpiness and panic were all what you were feeling, and therefore authentic and valid feelings. At the same time, spurred on by false and unrealistic thoughts, these feelings were not an accurate reflection of the reality, that is, what matches or fits “what is” in the moment. What’s to be done when feelings tell us one thing and direct “reality-testing” tells us something else? Which is to be trusted as real—Presence or perceptions and beliefs? Here is a two-step approach:
First and foremost you can know that all feelings are authentically and validly what they are. If anyone aims to tell, cajole or convince you that you feel differently than you do, then in this moment you can be certain that this other person doesn’t know what they are talking about since it concerns how you feel, not him or her. Such behavior, designed to influence and convince you that what you are feeling is not so and it is supposedly some other feeling and that the other person knows better for you know than you know for yourself how you feel, “crazy-making” since it totally contradicts your direct reality, thus setting you up to think you are “going crazy.” While the other person’s intention may seem, perhaps in your and/or their mind, to be caring and out of love, the reality is that each person is the only one who truly can know what he or she is feeling in any situation and at any time, and not anyone else, without any doubt or exception.
Second, pause in presence and objectively witness from outside the mind what the mind is up to in this moment, specifically what perception, thought or belief is occurring, as well as what you are doing. By inhabiting the spacious timeless now and bringing awareness without judgment to what is right in front of you, you can see what your ego-mind is making of your direct experience and feelings, and in this moment all is revealed, dissolved and surrendered to the only truth that remains—what is now, here, This!
Engaging in this movement of awareness is not as difficult as it may seem since all feelings occur in one place and only one place—the body. When you find anything that is not located in the body proper while witnessing the mind, with the exception of an intuition or inspiration, there is a very high likelihood that it is a perception, thought, belief, conceptualizations all. When you uncover one of these, see just how accurate it is in the reality of this moment. Usually this is called “reality-testing” since you are literally testing the perception, thought or belief with what is real (e.g., in reality) here-and-now and matches “what is”. Even more concretely, you can notice what you are doing in actions and ask if this doing or action is “setting up” or influencing the feeling itself. To sit inside and contemplate these distinctions powerfully supports clarity of Awareness.
When you find the perception, thought or belief as well as the doing or actions to be matching the objective reality you find in this moment, this provides verification that the authentic valid feeling is also true to life and accurate, which provides you a secure footing in trusting the feeling to be in reality or “what is”, and the decision-making that comes out of this. This singular act enhances your experiencing a confident solid ground upon which you can take any and all appropriate and necessary actions. At the same time, when you find the perception, thought or belief in addition to the doing and actions to not be in alignment with the authentic feeling you are experiencing, then it’s time to consciously look and challenge the reality and accuracy of all that underlies this feeling feedback since it is now highly suspect for being misguided, distorted, erroneous, or all.
Quite often the feeling is simply following the lead of the underlying perception, thought or belief plus the doing or actions. When feelings are led by what is not true to life and inaccurate as dreamed up by our minds or egos, it is most practical and helpful, constructive and effective, to come back to the present in a calm, centered way and methodically deconstruct the inaccurate or mistaken perception, thought or belief. Similarly, it is equally useful to observe the impact certain behaviors and actions have in experiencing your feelings. Deconstructing what underlies feelings, such as perceptions, thoughts and beliefs, can be addressed in several inquiry approaches with psychological professionals. Author and workshop leader Byron Katie has championed what she calls “the work”, putting the careful deconstruction of beliefs as the central therapeutic focus.
In summary, not all feelings are created equal, you might say. While all feelings are authentically and validly relaying what is occurring in your body as feedback from your inner and outer environments, anyone contradicting what you are feeling as not what you are feeling is speaking of what he or she does not know, and further can place you in some serious jeopardy of being “played”, manipulated and misused if you go along for this unhealthy, “crazy-making” ride. The power of your “No” largely determines the quality of your lived experience. Forewarned is forearmed, and practice makes perfect.
Moreover, it is proposed that the true to life accuracy of feelings are a direct function of the underlying perceptions, thoughts and beliefs being realistic and matching of reality or “what is.” The more direct the association, the more you can be confident, secure and assured that you are standing on solid realistic ground; the less direct the association in what is real right in front of you in this moment, the less confidence, security and reassurance you have that anything real is occurring.
Honing the suggested two steps is purely attention and Awareness itself. In honoring the authenticity and validity of feelings, coupled with witnessing or awareness without any judgment the impact of underlying perceptions, thoughts and beliefs along with behaviors or actions upon feelings, enormously helps to determine the true to life accuracy of the feelings. These simple practical tools are forwarded as remarkably useful structures for claiming the inherent freedom that is everyone’s birthright in navigating life moment by moment. It is precisely at this crossroads that you can make the best, most informed apparent choices you can, since it is these very decisions that serve as the hub of an awakened, well-lived and satisfied life.
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