Sunday, March 16, 2008

Good Feelings / Bad Feelings

I had a conversation with my older brother recently about an event he went to in San Francisco to listen to Eckhart Tolle. In summarizing the teachings Tolle presented, my brother related that Tolle said there are only three feeling states we should give place for in our emotional pallet: love, enthusiasm and acceptance. EVERYTHING else is getting caught up in our ego mind and the drama of our personal story which takes us away from being fully present in the now.

HMMMM. I'm not sure I buy it.

I agree that it is not useful to get stuck in worry or longing or negative judgement. But I've always believed that having a wide range of emotions that I could fully experience and express was part of what gave life its juice.

However, as I thought about it more and more, I began to recognize something. When I sort out in my head what it is I really believe about different emotional states we all experience at one time or another, I've clearly adopted an inner sense that it is "GOOD" to feel and express some things and "BAD" to feel or express others.

I'm not talking here about which emotional states are pleasurable or painful, but rather recognizing that somewhere along the line I learned a fairly elaborate set of rules dictating that certain ways of feeling were just plain WRONG. As years went by one by one emotional states would get labelled according to whether they were considered appropriate to have or not.

It might be uncomfortable to feel sad, lonely, rejected or disappointed.

But part of my brain believes that I am being bad / "sinning" any time I allow myself to feel jealousy, contempt, rage, or ingratitude. If I went by the teachings of Tolle, I would not shame myself for any of these emotions, because that in itself would be getting caught up in unnecessary personal drama. But I would learn to let go of them as not useful, viewing them as distractions that impede my connection to the greater universe.

I can't remember the original source of the quote, but I've heard it said something along the lines of "Thoughts are like birds...they are going to fly over your head. You decide if they will be allowed to make a nest in your hat."

So just what is it I believe about the pattern of thoughts / feelings / interpretations that clamour around inside my head?

At certain times in the past I have believed that it was self serving psychobabble to say there were no good feelings or bad feelings. I have believed that WHO I WAS at my core came from the culmination of all my thoughts and emotions, far more so than my behavior or outward social roles. When I have defined identity in those terms it has felt excruciatingly important to me to nurture and give place for the "good" thoughts and feelings and to painstakingly root out the "bad."

In other phases of my mental moon I have come to believe that emotions were merely chemical storms in my brain and they did not define me any more than my body temperature. Both were events that occured and influenced my experience, but my ESSENCE, my SPIRIT, my SOUL was something real that existed apart from either one. The thoughts and emotions that I experienced were neither righteous nor evil, but all were important opportunities for learning/growing/becoming if I played my cards just right in how I responded to whatever internal tableau I might find.

At still other times I have believed that what I may think and feel is irrelevant, so long as I am careful in choosing what I actually DO.

And then there are at least three or four other versions beyond that.

For the most part as I vacillate between this muddled mess of perceptions, I really do believe that INTENT and DESIRE matter.

I do put value judgements on the emotions I let percolate through my brain. I believe it is BETTER to feel grateful than to feel entitled. I believe it is BETTER to feel joy for others than to be jealous. I believe it goes way beyond just being more comfortable, but that it is is more healthy, more helpful, more right to feel peace inside than to be all a jumble with turmoil and conflict.

Yet I recognize that many times I WILL be caught up in the storm of that inner conflict. So what then? What is the best, most appropriate response to that? I serve no one well by painting myself as "getting it wrong". So I try to just notice it, put down the punitive bat of punishment, yet at the same time use clear thinking to guide myself to deliberately move in a different, more healthful way.

I think it is important to make distinctions, to be able to recognize some feelings as being desirable and others not so that I can choose how best to respond. However, I do recognize that I have a lot of mixed up, misguided "feeling rules" clamouring around the inside of my brain that sound something like the voice of Stephen King bringing up way too much dread and doom for my tastes.

So even though I am no where close to following the injunction of Eckhart Tolle, I think I could do well to let go of some of my attachments to feeling certain ways or judgement about naming emotions as right or wrong. Easy to say. Not an easy thing to change.


Jen said...

"I agree that it is not useful to get stuck in worry or longing or negative judgment. But I've always believed that having a wide range of emotions that I could fully experience and express was part of what gave life its juice."

This is exactly why I've opted out of antidepressants. I like Richard Carlson's theory of emotions. Our feelings indicate our thoughts. If we are experiencing an emotion that isn't useful, we can change our thoughts and the emotion will change too.

Tristi Pinkston said...

I've often heard the feeling that we're responsible for our own feelings. If someone comes up to me, slaps my face and calls me a vile name, I think I'm perfectly entitled to my natural instinctive feeling of surprise and hurt. However, I then choose if I retaliate. There's nothing wrong with me feeling hurt. If I bring it up every five minutes and if I let it drag me down, then it becomes a problem. But there are things in life that are going to make us feel hurt, and that's just how it is. Our accountability comes into play when we decide what to do with that hurt.

And aren't we taught that we need opposites in order to help us learn the good from the bad? If we never allow ourselves to feel a range of emotion, how would we learn from them the things we need to learn?

Tristi Pinkston said...

Sorry - I mean, I've often heard the statement that we're responsible . . . I typed faster than I thunk.

Rozel said...

I believe that all emotions are ok. We just need to be careful not to sin in the midst of our emotions. Worry is the emotion I struggle with. "Calm my Anxious Heart" by Linda Dillow really put this in perspective for me.

Ruth D~ said...

If thoughts just occur . . . then it is what we do with them that matters I guess. Like do we wallow in lust or put it out of our minds? Um . . .

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