Beyond Feeling Good or Bad: Keeping it Real
by Martha Lasley
When we label our emotions as good, bad, or terrible, we color our experience which changes it. Too often we put a positive valence on some feelings such as happiness or excitement, assign a negative valence to feelings like fear, sadness, or hurt, and avoid completely anything that implies shame, guilt, depression, or anger.
If we remove the ball and chain and sit patiently with our internal reactions, we find at the core of every emotion a pure wave of energy that is free of moralistic judgment. When we see how our body holds our emotions, we develop self-compassion and find that no emotion is more positive than another. Opening to the delicate mystery of emotions generates a sweet acceptance both within and outside ourselves.
Even when we have a thorough understanding of the beauty of each emotion, we can find ourselves struggling with a particular emotion. For instance, a low threshold for anger or timidity could actually be a gift if we recognize the profound messages these emotions have for our souls. Instead of closing ourselves off from our anger or admonishing our timidity or hiding our true feelings behind a hand of cards, if we can accept these emotions as gifts, we can embrace the fullest expression of ourselves. When we shun a part of ourselves, those emotions continue to torment us. Instead of seeing our emotions as an Achilles heel, we can open to their life force and honor their profound importance. When we face and embrace our emotions, they no longer have a vice-like grip on us and we can experience life more fully and freely.
The six core emotions that are evident across cultures are happiness, sadness, surprise, disgust, anger, and fear, according to researchers Ekman and Friesen. When we allow ourselves full expression of our emotions, without trying to nail them down with particular words, we find our unique energetic expression that comes through in the way we hold ourselves, move, and speak.
I often use the terms emotions and feelings interchangeably, but I appreciate the special usage ascribed to the word “feeling” by John Heron, in his book, Feeling and Personhood.
By the term ‘emotion’ I mean the intense, localized affect that arises from the fulfillment or the frustration of individual needs and interests. This is the domain of joy, love, surprise, satisfaction, zest, fear, grief, anger, and so on. Thus defined, emotion is an index of motivational states.
By ‘feeling’ I refer, with special usage, to the capacity of the psyche to participate in wider unities of being, to become at one with the differential content of a whole field of experience, to indwell what is present through attunement and resonance, and to know its own distinctness while unified with the differentiated other. This is the domain of empathy, indwelling, participation, presence, resonance, and such like.
One of the ways I enjoy becoming one with the whole field of experience is to get away from expressing my feelings in terms of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ which are evaluations of my experience. By settling in with myself, I get to experience the whole range of emotions and enjoy the smorgasbord.
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