“We celebrate our ability to create machines that move as man, yet we take for granted the miracle that is the human body.” David Alejandro Fearnhead
I was speaking with a friend this morning who told me about a new car she got to drive last weekend. She excitedly shared some of the features that modern vehicles have, like blindspot checkers, newfangled warning systems and, well – comfortable seats. I shared in her excitement and found myself thinking about how eagerly I track advancements in virtual technology, awaiting the day where it becomes possible (and affordable) to have virtual experiences that feel almost “like real life.”
Celebrating technological wonders like these is a beautiful thing. For me personally, it is a regular source of awe and inspiration in my life. As human ingenuity transforms the world every day through these advancements, I encourage you to transform along with it, through a simple practice: every time you find yourself impressed by a new device or discovery in the world, take that moment as an invitation to find wonder in yourself, as well. The next time you hear about a wild new step for artificial intelligence, pause to marvel at how automatically that same or even greater intelligence operates in you. When the next Boston Dynamics video shows backflipping and dancing robots, do a little shimmy for yourself and recognize the millions of years of evolution that brought those abilities to you, too.
If you’re having trouble coming up with an amazing human ability, I’d like to recommend one to celebrate: your system of emotions. Long before Ford, Toyota, or Subaru, it was Humanity™ that developed a powerful blindspot checker called emotion. But this system is often neglected and underutilized, much like an unused turn signal, which can lead to uncomfortable results.
For many of us, emotions are something we rigorously try to control, or something which suddenly overrides us. Often it is a piece of ourselves that can be difficult to understand or talk about. There is a lot of conditioning that can cause this – perhaps you’ve been told to “suck it up” or been accused of being overly sensitive. Or maybe you’ve seen displays of emotion that felt threatening or uncomfortable, and now you link those emotions with discomfort.
What often results from this is an unwillingness to engage with certain types of emotions; for me, anger was that emotion. For a long time, I would almost immediately repress anger as it arose. Growing up, I had not seen anger as an emotion that could be resolved calmly or compassionately, and thus decided (subconsciously) that it was not to be trifled with. But anger, as with all emotions, is a blindspot checker – one that arises when we think something should be different or that a boundary has been crossed. When we suppress the angry voice within us, we build up a growing resentment for the people and systems that seem unjust. This unreleased energy may bring tension to your neck and shoulders, making it more difficult to relax and reducing your ability to actively participate in the world. This can lead you to either withdraw or explode when the resentment is triggered.
This highlights an important aspect of emotions: they do not disappear when ignored. Much like the check engine light in your car, it is only by addressing the underlying issue that the warning light – our emotion – will turn off. So how do we address the underlying problem?
“When a problem is disturbing you, don’t ask, ‘What should I do about it?’ Ask, ‘What part of me is being disturbed by this?’” Michael A. Singer
The next time you notice a shift in your emotions, pay attention to the sensations that go along with it. You can even practice right now – think of a recent frustration you had, and try to really embody the moment where you got frustrated. Now think of a recent disappointment in the same way. Now try a joyful moment, or a grateful one. Pay attention to the subtle differences in how emotions are felt – this will help guide you to the deeper issue.
In fact, we have a tool for expanding your awareness of feelings and your ability to label them:
The feeling wheel is a tool that has been around for decades and provides powerful vocabulary for understanding our emotions. As you tune in to the sensations in your body, scan the wheel to find the words that identify your inner experience.
Despite the research and attention that some circles have given to the world of feelings, it has been reported that a majority of people use fewer than five feeling words to describe their internal experiences. In our view, the words “happy, sad, fine, good,” and “bad” don’t quite describe the depth or richness of the human experience. In addition, many people are not in tune with their bodies and the sensations that correlate with those feelings.
Let’s say I notice a tightness in my gut when I recognize a person out in public, and I identify my feeling on the wheel as apprehensive. What I’m experiencing is a low intensity version of fear, which is in the category of AFRAID. What am I apprehensive about? I’ve forgotten this person’s name! Why does that cause apprehension? Because I believe that I should remember peoples’ names after meeting them or that it’s disrespectful to not remember their name.
Notice what emerges as I label and explore my feelings. There is a thought about the way things should be; I should remember names. Multiple thoughts might arise together; “it’s rude of me to forget. They were so nice when I met them… what if they think poorly of me for forgetting?” All feelings will have thoughts linked to them, and this is excellent news: because we have much more control over our thoughts! Adding positive thoughts to the mix, like thinking “They’re probably nice enough to forgive me” or “being upfront and apologizing shows maturity and interest,” will bring pleasurable feelings.
Identifying the feeling, and then the thoughts attached to it, allows us to make a shift. By knowing what thoughts are hiding in our blindspots we can be more intentional about creating the experiences we want, using new thoughts that drive us towards empowered action. I might go up and share from a new perspective: “hey, I really enjoyed talking to you the other day but I was so caught up in what you said that I forgot your name.” Suddenly I find myself on the opposite side of the wheel, feeling respectful and accomplished for striking up a conversation and honoring my desire to remember their name.
We encourage you to honor all of your emotions for the opportunities they present; they might highlight a call to action, or room for growth. Recognizing and naming feelings allows us to better understand ourselves and gives us ways to communicate with those around us, creating closeness and deeper connection. Providing space for both pleasurable and unpleasurable feelings allows our hearts to be fully seen by those around us.
“Your heart is the light of this world. Don’t cover it with your mind.” Mooji
If you’re not yet convinced of how marvelous this feeling system is, give it a try! Over the next week, check in with the wheel whenever you feel emotion in your body. If it’s easier, start with the pleasurable emotions – learn what thoughts guide you to joy, love, and bravery. Then see which thoughts turn up as sadness, anger, or fear. For now, don’t worry about changing or using your emotions in any way – just get to know them and what they are trying to tell you. Oftentimes the insights you’ll find there will be enough to guide your next steps. But if you find you’re still stuck… let us know! The Feeling Wheel is only one of many tools we use to build emotional intelligence and channel the body’s natural strengths into growth and transformation, and we’re eager to share more of them with you. In fact, for a sneak peek into how feelings fit into the bigger picture of inner balance and resilience, we invite you to take a look at this brief lesson from our work and to reach out if it gives you any insights or questions.