Today our topic is feeling: What it means to feel, how we meet our feelings in helpful and unhelpful ways, and how it is just plain difficult for so many of us to even know what it is we are feeling.
The question, “what do you feel right now,” presents problems for many of us.
Some people will tell you what they think.
Some people will search within and come up with a version of what they feel that is modeled on what they were told they should feel, whether by parents, friends, or TV.
Others of us simply have no clue how to answer because, well, we just have no clue. The heart-head-mouth pipeline is moribund.
The unwillingness or inability to feel is at the heart of so many of our problems.
We have a fear of facing ourselves. That is the obstacle. Experiencing the innermost core of our existence is very embarrassing to a lot of people. A lot of people turn to something that they hope will liberate them without their having to face themselves. That is impossible. We can’t do that. We have to be honest with ourselves, said Tibetan meditation master Chogyam Trungpa.
When we sit down to meditate, in some very simple but precise way, we are facing ourselves. While the great majority of the time it is, let’s face it, pretty boring, at other times you catch glimpses of yourself. Sometimes what you see is awesome. Sometime, not so much. But we have to look.
But it is scary to do this and so we have to find a way to ride whatever we encounter. Sometimes we might cry and then we need a way to ride sorrow. Sometimes we may find something terribly funny and then we need a way to ride delight. The same goes for fear, anger, and love. When you know that you can ride whatever emotion may arise, you become quite fearless.
So how do you do this whole feeling thing?
Does it mean trying to feel something in all situations, i.e. amping up your emotionality? It does not.
Does it mean saying whatever you feel as you feel it? It does not.
We are going to demonstrate what is meant by feeling by listening to a piece of music together.
The greatest analogy I know of for feeling is listening. When you truly listen, you turn towards the sound (with your attention) and give up any notion of how it “should” go to simply take it in. When Chogyam Trungpa says we have to face ourselves, in my experience, this is what he means. We turn toward what we feel and take it in without preconceived notions.
So let’s try it together.
The piece of music I’ve chosen is a 5-minute jazz standard called “My One and Only Love” and the title or lyrics have nothing to do with why I chose it. In fact, if you could totally ignore the lyrics, that would be great. Instead, we’re going to attune to sound. One reason I chose this piece (aside from the fact that I totally love it) is that it is very, very beautifully, impossibly simple. The first half is all instrumental and the vocal doesn’t come in until the midway point—and it is absolutely gorgeous. But, again, we’re not listening for meaning, we’re listening simply to connect with sound and follow it with our ears.
To listen, you may stay as you are or lie down. Make yourself comfortable. You can keep your eyes open or closed. For the first half of the piece, just listen to John Coltrane’s saxophone. Hold your mind to the sax as you would hold your mind to your breath in meditation. Stay with it. If you wander off, come back. In the second half, train your ear on vocalist Johnny Hartman’s voice. Just track it with your attention. Stay with it. If you wander off, come back.
So let’s listen and then we’ll see just what all this has to do with feeling.
This is all that feeling is: training your attention on what is coursing through you and staying with it until it dissipates or until you simply don’t want to do so anymore. Feeling here is not about what you feel or concocting a narrative from what you feel (this feeling means my relationship won’t work out, that feeling means I should quit my job) and simply feeling.
Listening to music is as close as I can come to explaining what is meant by Pema Chodron’s advice to “Feel the feelings. Drop the story.”