Emotions: Where do you feel them?

Serious question. Where do you feel your feelings? 

Are they in your heart, your chest, your feet, or, perhaps, just hanging around in your head with the shopping lists and conversations you haven’t had yet?

I hadn’t given it much thought until lately. 

Of course the really big emotions – grief, shock, in-loveness – are physical, very physical. And when you’re in the grip of them, the sensation is all you can think of. 
But what about the lesser stuff? 

I’m in the middle of a Mindfulness course which is proving to be a fascinating and potentially wonderful thing. I haven’t written about it before because I’m finding it a bit tricky to grasp. Just when I think I get it completely, the understanding wriggles out of reach. 

However, our teacher, the lovely Jeannie said something that made me stop and reconsider something fairly fundamental. 

An emotion is a thought that shows up as a sensation in your body. 

That’s it. So every emotion, is an actual feeling if you pause to work out what and where. How interesting. 

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been testing it out. Trying to find a quiet moment in the noise to see what I can feel and where. 
And sure enough, Jeannie was right. All day there are twinges and tingles, prickles and heat as my body and brain go through their daily motions of considering and processing my world. 

Obviously, this isn’t a total surprise. When you consider the language of emotions, it’s all there. Things stick in the throat, people are sick to their stomach, they have heartache, butterflies and shivers down their spine.

It’s just I hadn’t thought of it for even the inconsequential. The tiny panic when traffic causes a delay, the minor sadness as a cup gets smashed, a fleeting shame of broken promises years ago or the infinitesimal joy at the perfection of buttered toast. 

I haven’t a clue what good will come of knowing this, but I’m pretty sure good will come…

Meantime, here’s a poem that Jeannie introduced me to. It’s by Jelaluddin Rumi a 13th century Persian Muslim poet. 

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness, 
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor. 
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows, 
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture, 
still, treat each guest honourably. 
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight. 
The dark thought, the shame, the malice
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes, 
because it has been sent 
as a guide from beyond. 

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  1. says

    Aha! This is a journey I've been on for the past couple of years. I saw a therapist when I was in the US, and she helped me get much more in touch with my body and physical responses to things. It's so obvious, when you stop to think about it, but we live in such a rationalist culture, that most of us have bodily awareness drummed out of us long before adulthood.

    The thought that made sense to me was when my therapist said “emotions are physical things… people think they're 'out there' somewhere, [waving her hands around] but they're just physical responses to what is going on”. So obvious, but it was such a revelation to me.

    I think there's a real tide flowing here. There's so much around about mindfulness, being aware of the moment, bodily awareness, etc. It's like our post-Enlightenment culture is waking up, and saying “Gosh, yes, OF COURSE we are more than our minds. How could we ever have thought that thinking and logic and reason would be more than just one part of the jigsaw?”

    I can't bear it when people quote their therapists, but here I am, doing just that in your comments box. Sorry.

  2. says

    I'd be interested to learn more about your mindfulness course. Could you email me a link, or leave it in my comments box? Thanks.

    I love your description of the joy of buttered toast. Yes.

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