Saturday, January 28, 2012

Circle of Feelings

Today I woke up in a funk and set off on my walk to see if I could shed some light on what was going on. I performed one of my meditative walking exercises I call Circle of Feelings. In it I allow my feelings to surface and experience them without judgment. This helped considerably today and I came away with some information that I thought was worth sharing.

Basically I notice that there are 4 BIG feelings: Joy, Anger, Fear, and Sadness. The four main feelings each act as umbrellas that cover most other feelings which fit under one of the umbrellas. For instance, under the umbrella of joy we might feel love, under the umbrella of anger, we might feel jealousy, under the umbrella of sadness we might feel grief, and under the umbrella of fear we might experience depression. But basically the four feelings of Joy, Anger, Fear and Sadness seem to capture the essence of feelings.

Joy is the feeling we strive for and would like to live in the most. Joy is a positive and uplifting feeling. Joy makes our heart happy. When we feel loved we feel joy, when give love we feel joy. We like being here.

Conversely, anger, fear, and sadness are heavy feelings that we would prefer to exclude from our day to day experiences. They feel negative, overwhelming, and burdensome. So we often try to pretend these feelings don't exist. The thing is, they do exist, they are part of the human experience and we can't really get rid of them, but we can bring them into balance.

How do we do this? It is actually easier than we realize--and joy does play a part in helping. When we experience a negative feeling, we must simply honor it by acknowledging its presence, allow it to have its ''voice," then release it. Negative feelings may feel overpowering but they don't really want to take over, they want to be released. However, a negative feeling can't be released if you deny it's there in the first place.

Negative feelings come to teach us something, they act as guide posts reminding us to journey on bravely and be who we are. They hold power only in their message--to feel. When heavy emotions, like anger, fear, or sadness are simply acknowledged they do not need to take over; they are "heard." They are just a part of us, not who we are.

I think the one exception to this is joy. I think joy is who we are because when we are joyful we love more, we laugh often, we breathe easy, we feel well, we are at peace. Joy is like the mother of all feelings and it can support us when the other feelings need to be expressed. Joy can hold a loving space so that when heavy feelings come up, we can feel them but still feel balance. Joy is the happy reminder that, "this too shall pass."

So let's investigate each of the heavy feelings for the purpose of balance and flow.

Flow, 2011


What is anger really but a feeling that comes from being discounted? When we feel unheard, cast aside, disrespected, unimportant, we feel angry. Sometimes if we watch this happen to someone we care about we feel angry too. The problem with anger is, we are not taught to speak up for ourselves, or to simply speak the truth when we feel discounted, and so we bury our anger around not being heard.

This happens once we start school. As children we are taught not to disagree and not to express our opinions, but instead to cast our ideas aside and allow the authority figure in charge to make all the big decisions, even if we feel they are wrong or unfair. If we do speak up, or disagree, we are labeled and we are shamed or punished.

But burying anger just causes a bunch of accumulated anger to burn inside of us, acting as fuel. We begin to expel the fuel by becoming chronically angry even when a situation doesn't call for it, or we begin to have anger ailments, anything from acid reflux to chronic headaches. When if instead, in the moment we feel cast aside, unheard, or misunderstood we spoke up and let the anger have a voice then released it, we would be done with the anger. Hence, no anger build-up! It is just an emotion that came along to remind us to speak our truth.

Sometimes we don't even have to speak it, especially if we are in an unsafe place to do so, but we do have to acknowledge it, and then release it.

Fear comes from feeling too overwhelmed. When there is too large a task in front of us, or too complicated a task, or even too many tasks, we can get overwhelmed and become fearful that we cannot accomplish this trial before us, that it is insurmountable, we are incapable. This could be in the form of parenting, schoolwork, traveling, illness, letting go, trying something new, or change. But burying the fear and pretending it doesn't exist doesn't really help. That’s when inertia can set in. We can begin to become avoidant. The best way to deal with fear is to acknowledge it, give it a voice, a voice that can ask for help if it needs some, and then take action. Sort the fear into parts, take steps. Once a step is taken fear will begin to dissipate.


Sadness is tricky, we can sometimes feel shame if we have a lot of it, and this can cause us to pretend we aren't sad. As we get older we are discouraged to show the natural sadness that comes up. The only time sadness seems acceptable is when we are grieving a death, and even then we aren't given a huge amount of time to be sad--family, friends, coworkers, become frustrated if we stay there too long and try to cheer us up. But sometimes we just have to feel the sadness.

Sadness can feel like a burden if we are discouraged from expressing it, we shamefully bury it, but if we consciously choose to let our sadness in, let it be felt, it will not need to overcome us or feel burdensome. It is just another emotion in our spectrum of emotions and one that I think makes us feel most human. With sadness comes vulnerability and opening up.

Each of our feelings need to be honestly felt and honored. Feelings are honored when we take an action around something we need to do to express the feeling. Expression can be very individual and can come in many ways. Once a feeling is truly felt it can be released.

I have a dear friend who has experienced a huge loss and she is grieving. Part of the way she is honoring her sadness is to build sadness time into her days. She takes herself in her pajamas to movies where she knows she will feel sadness. She takes herself to dinner and sits alone and reads. She is one of the healthiest, most well-balanced people I have ever met.  I believe this is because she allows herself to be honest about, and feel, all of her feelings.

Joy is not the absence of anger, fear and sadness, it is the acceptance of them. We are truly joyful when we are whole and we are whole when we allow all of our feelings to be expressed truthfully and freely. When we can do this, no heavy feeling needs to dominate or become chronic, each are simply free to show up in the moment and be released.