I realize that some people feel uneasy when I talk or write about allowing our feelings to guide and inform our thinking, words and actions. Surely this is dangerous, they say.
It is an understandable response. After all, is it really wise to allow my anger to guide my thoughts, words and actions? I could easily say or do something hurtful to someone and I may regret it for the rest of my life!
Or, should I let my fear stop me from going for the job I really want? Or my impatience to cause me to give up on someone who is learning a lot more slowly than I would like them to? Or my craving for sex to direct me to getting it anywhere and any way I can?
Surely, they ask, you are not encouraging us to trade wisdom for hedonism?
Well, let me tackle that last question first. No. I am certainly not campaigning for hedonism for the simple reason that hedonistic behavior is not informed by feelings but controlled by them. And therein, folks, lies the big difference.
Let your feelings inform, not control you. This applies to any feeling – good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant.
Let’s take the feeling of anger which is a feeling that almost all of us experience. To follow the feeling of anger means to allow ourselves to go where it takes us. Now contrary to what most of us believe, the feeling of anger firstly takes us to thoughts of angry responses, thoughts which we are often not aware of. So rehearsed and automatic are our anger-driven thoughts and behaviors that we aren’t even aware of them until it is too late i.e. after the damaging event!
But, consider for a moment, what might happen if we slowed the entire process down, something which you can do by using your powers of imagination when you are not feeling angry. During such time, you can play an entire scene in your mind wherein the feeling of anger is aroused.
As you allow yourself to imagine feeling angry in this slow-motion movie that playing in your mind, you will become aware of the thoughts that arise as a result of the feeling of anger. Thoughts such as:
I hate X. What a nerve he’s got. How dare he say that about me! What about that time when he did such and such. What a hypocrite! As if he knows better. I’m not going to put up with this. I’m going to b—–y tell him where to go…
Now, as you encounter these thoughts, you have the opportunity of questioning them. You have the opportunity to ask yourself questions such as these:
- Why do I hate X?
- If I feel that it’s wrong for him to have judged me and acted the way he did, does that justify my judging him and acting in the way I am thinking of acting?
- What benefit will my proposed action have for me in the short term? In the long term?
- Do I want a good relationship with X? Or do I want to get back at him?
- If I do want a good relationship with X, what are the ways I can make that happen?
And of course, you could continue in this vein of thinking. In fact, I would encourage you to continue until you come to a point where you are feeling good, rather than angry so that you can then allow your good feelings to guide and inform your words and actions.
In this way, you have allowed your feelings of anger, in the first instance, to guide and inform you about some of your beliefs; beliefs which, in this case, are working against you, rather than for you. You have further allowed your anger to show you, in a clear and objective way, what you truly desire, which is always to feel good.
Now, most people are likely to say: Well, did I really need to go through that process to come to that conclusion? I mean, don’t we all know that we want to feel good? Duh!!!
Well, if you really did know that, why then did you not let that knowledge guide you in the first place?
That brings me to a key point: Knowing something in your head i.e. intellectually is no different to knowing any other kind of information, for example, that the population of Brisbane is 5 million or that sushi is made with rice and raw fish or that the water in the ocean is really cold in winter.
That’s all it is – information. I don’t call that ‘knowing’. Knowing is experiencing. It is really feeling through something, sensing it on all levels of your being. It is not retrieving information that you have gathered from a secondary source. Rather, it is experience that you have personally had. And that kind of experience, of knowing, is irrefutable.
It is this knowing that is most powerful in its ability to guide and inform you in a way that has a deep and lasting impact on you. Nothing else has such power and influence. Why? Because it is not just head knowledge – information that is gathered from an external/secondary source. Rather it is information that comes from a primary source i.e. you. It is experienced on every level of your being, especially the level of feelings and sensations. That is when you truly ‘know’.
And when you make changes with respect to what you truly ‘know’ rather than what you believe to be true or have speculated on, you make meaningful and lasting change. Any other kind of change is superficial and unconvincing. Sooner or later, it will cease to be effective.
So, yes, you do need to go through the process of feeling and recognizing the thoughts associated with your feelings in order to make meaningful and lasting change. That it may lead you to the same conclusions that you might have intellectually preempted is not reason to avoid going through the process. On the contrary, it allows you to state with confidence and conviction that what you had previously only held as information/belief is something that you personally know to be true. This is what wisdom is – not belief, not speculation but the fruit of knowing!