Not taking what a feeling tells us as true

 

Wil Wheaton has talked about his depression and how he went from believing what the depression told him to recognizing that it lies to him. For instance – and this is just my own imagination – he may feel depressed and assume the feeling is true and that his life is terrible and not worth living. Or he feels depressed, notices the feelings, and knows that his life is not terrible and may be wonderful in many ways and definitely worth living.

The stories we connect with feelings, and especially the stressful ones, are not always true. It’s good to take them with a big grain of salt. Examine them. Question them. Find what’s more true for us.

This is a very important insight. It’s very simple, not always easy, and it makes a big difference in our life whether we get this or not.

How can an unexamined feeling-thought connection show up in our life?

As Wil Wheaton wrote, we can feel depressed and assume our life is terrible and not worth living. (Even if our life may be wonderful and meaningful in many ways and definitely worth living). We may feel anxiety about a situation and assume it means it’s dangerous and we should avoid it. (Even if we really want to do it and it’s not really dangerous.) We may feel deeply hurt by what someone said or did and decide we need to avoid that person. (Even if he or she didn’t mean what we thought they meant and something entirely different was going on.)

How do we work with this?

The first step is to recognize that our bodily feelings and our stories about them are distinct and separate. And that our interpretations about what the feelings mean are not necessarily accurate.

We can explore this through examples in our own life and ideally what’s here and now. For instance, I notice a mild sense of dread in my body – in my belly, solar plexus, heart, and throat. I also notice a thought saying “something terrible is happening” or “something terrible will happen”.

If I take this thought as true, and the feeling as having this inherent meaning, I’ll terrify myself. I fuel the story and make it seem true for myself.

If I instead notice what’s really happening, it’s different. I notice the sensations in my body and can feel them and welcome them, and notice they are already allowed and welcomed (by life, consciousness). I can notice the thoughts about them. And that my mind has created those thoughts to interpret the sensations, or even that the sensations are created from the thoughts.

I see that these thoughts are coming from a fearful and wounded place in me. They come from something old in me. They don’t necessarily reflect how I see the world now. They don’t reflect my current situation.

I see that the reality is that I am sitting here in this chair, by this table, with music I love and delicious herbal tea, that the breeze is coming through the open window, and outside children are swimming in the lake. In reality, I am safe here and now. Nothing terrible is happening.

I can continue exploring this. I can explore the thoughts further. I can find underlying thoughts and assumptions. I can find my earlies memory of having that feeling and thoughts. (Living Inquiries.) I can also examine each thought more in-depth and find what’s more true for me. (The Work of Byron Katie.)

I can befriend this part of me feeling this and thinking this. I can listen to what it needs from me and how it experiences the world.

I can meet it with presence, patience, and love.

And so on.

In these and many other ways, I can learn to differentiate body sensations (feelings) and my thoughts about what they mean. I can learn to question these thoughts. And that makes a big difference in my life.


Draft….

Wil Wheaton has talked about his depression and how he went from believing what the depression told him to recognizing that it lies to him. For instance – and this is just my own imagination – he may feel depressed and assume the feeling is true and that his life is terrible and not worth living. Or he feels depressed, notices the feelings, and knows that his life is not terrible and may be wonderful in many ways and definitely worth living. 

This is a very important insight. It’s very simple, not always easy, and it makes a big difference in our life whether we get this or not. 

Our minds typically associate stories with feelings. Some stories may trigger a feeling. And some may be the mind’s attempt to make sense of a feeling. In either case, it makes sense to take these stories with a big grain of salt. 

If I feel depressed, it doesn’t necessarily mean my life is terrible or not worth living. The reality may be something very different. If I feel angry, it doesn’t necessarily mean that someone did something terrible to me or that I need to take revenge. If I feel anxious, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the situation I am in is dangerous or that I need to avoid it. It’s good to question these thoughts. 

There are several ways to work with this. We can do it on our own but it’s often easier when guided by someone skilled in this. 

The most immediate is to examine real-life examples in our life, and ideally what’s happening here and now. What do I feel now? What is my mind telling itself it means? Is it true? 

Another is to bring attention to the physical sensations of the feeling. Where in my body do I feel it? What’s the quality of the sensation? How strong is it? Does it change over time? This, in itself, gives us some insight into what’s happening, it brings some of our attention out of the stories, and it helps us recognize that the sensations are different from whatever thoughts we have about it. (We can take this further through, for instance, Living Inquiries.) 

When we are starting to recognize these patterns and get a little distance from them, we may still notice we get pulled into the stories. Here, it can be helpful to be strict with ourselves. Yes, I feel these things. Yes, I notice these stories about what it means. And I know it’s not true. I know where it’s coming from. I can chose to not get caught in it. 

Since I just wrote a post about the Stockholm syndrome, I’ll mention that this is another example of just that. We can identify with the feeling and the mind’s stories about i, and even defend and prop up these stories. (We are held hostage and defend the hostage taker.) Or we can recognize what’s happening, create some distance to the feelings and the stories, and recognize that the stories are not necessarily true – and may be clearly not true. (We don’t defend the hostage taker and may not even be a hostage anymore.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.