Fishing for feelings.

Mankind are governed more by their feelings than by reason. ~ Samuel Adams

What if I told you that your feelings don't mean anything?

The other day, I was coaching a client around finances and we were taking a look at where the money was going. What my client distinguished was that the money wasn't being spent on things that were needed, but rather as a salve to smooth over feelings of frustration, sadness and disappointment.

In an email exchange, I asked my client to think about the vision of getting on top and in control of finances. Why care about repaying debt and creating savings? What for?

I asked her this question:

"What do you see for your life from being financially responsible and not buying your feelings presents?

(hint: your feelings don’t need stuff. They need acceptance and then for you to let them go. Feelings are a catch and release program.)"

And then I laughed out loud, decided I was brilliant and asked if I could post this on the Evergrowth blog. The more I thought about it, the clearer the puzzle became.

catch and release
catch and release

Apart from the witty genius with which I sometimes surprise myself, I found myself thinking about this more and more. Here's what I've got: People are really weird about feelings. We make some feelings really meaningful and others meaningless. We hang onto some feelings and chase after others. I think that generally speaking, people would agree that they seek happiness or contentment, or something along the positive end of the feeling spectrum, but tend to hang out on the opposite side, instead.

If our intention is where we put our attention, then something's out of whack, out of integrity. If an alien from outer space zipped down and met me for a coffee (hey, why not?), and asked me which feelings I most desired, I would reply, "happiness". Of course. Maybe its cousins, Joy, Contentment and Peace, too. I'm pretty sure, though, that if I asked the alien what it looked like I was committed to creating, or holding onto, it would look more like disappointment, frustration, self-loathing and sadness.

That's weird, right? I think it's weird.

I took a mindfulness seminar we were piloting at my former job (health promotion program manager in the provincial government) and the nerdy fact-finding fan in me was thrilled to gain a ton of information about our brains and our body chemistry and how they work to create our states of being, most notably:

  • Chemically speaking, feelings have a lifespan of about 30 seconds. No matter which feeling it is. Thirty seconds is how long it takes a feeling to be transmitted in terms of the chemical reaction that crosses synapses to be picked up by our neurons.

How much longer than half a minute do you let your feelings rule you? I know that I have some feelings that have stuck around for hours, days, years...

More than that, it's the way we cling onto our feelings for dear life that I think causes us a lot of grief, at least in my own personal experience. I say I want the good feelings, but while I chase them blindly, I drag around all the crappy feelings I say I don't want in a giant sack of negativity. The negative feelings, with their equally teeny-tiny life spans, are struggling to get away, like a cat from a bath. I complain that it's hurting me, but I'm the one with a death-hold on its tail, not letting go.

On top of that, we allow some feelings and not others — ever try to convince yourself you aren't angry, envious, petty or spiteful? I sure have, and let me tell you, it doesn't work. It's like trying to paint a turd with glitter; it might look prettier, but it still smells like shit. What we resist, persists (if you haven't read Debbie Ford's The Dark Side of the Light Chasers, get on it). We can waste a lot of energy trying to ignore what's really going on for us. And, the thing we're ignoring is only going to get louder, in an attempt to get our attention.

You can paint a turd with glitter, but it still smells like shit.

So look: You're a human (this is as much a reminder for me as for you). You have feelings. Lots of 'em. Good, bad and ugly; they have a thirty-second existence, unless you attach a bunch of meaning to them. Either way, there's going to be a new feeling in less than a minute. So maybe practicing not being so attached to our feelings is an opportunity for some of that peace and contentment?

Jump to 2:00 to see exactly what I mean, or watch the whole three and a half minutes if you, like me, just really love The Notebook and can't get enough. Noah pretty much nails it:

Your feelings will have as much meaning as you attach to them. For example, sometimes I feel hungry. I don't make that mean much, apart from maybe I need a snack, or it's lunch time. Interestingly, we seem to be more willing to let the crappy feelings dictate who we are in this world. I mean, when I'm happy, I'm not really likely to pronounce that I'm super awesome and amazing and inspiring and a gift (all the things that are in fact true for me and for you, and every other miracle of a human on this planet). I might briefly FEEL awesome, but I don't make it mean I AM awesome.

On the other hand, if I'm feeling sad, disappointed or frustrated, I make that mean ALL KINDS OF CRAPPY THINGS that become The Indisputable Truth. Suddenly, I'm not good enough (my personal favourite). I don't just feel those things, I become them. What I feel negatively becomes how I define myself. It becomes WHO I am. Sound familiar?

If you're like me, or my client (or A LOT OF PEOPLE), you might feel the need to paint the yucky stuff over with glitter. So off we go to buy our feelings presents and the cycle begins again (or whatever your vice is).

And so we're back to this: Your feelings don't need you to buy them presents. They need to be felt. They need acceptance, regardless of which feeling shows up. Only when you've accepted a feeling can you let go, and your feelings need to be let go.

Your feelings are a catch and release program. I guarantee you, they'll come back, again and again. Good, bad, happy, sad — you'll see them all again. And that's okay. Actually, it's perfect.

Can you relate to this post? Let me know!