If I was to ask you the question “Have you felt an emotion today?” What would your answer be? I’m guessing you will have had one, probably a few different ones. Even as I write this article I’ve gone through feelings of calm, fear, panic & relief (not necessarily in that order).
They are a part of life and generally, most people spend their days either chasing feelings or trying to shake them off.
I don’t want to get bogged down in the difference between emotions, feelings and moods in this article. For the purpose of what I’m talking about it doesn’t really matter.
Having a basic understanding of how they are created does though. It could change your life.
So to start with we gather information from the outside world through our senses. They provide the raw data for the world we live in. We have the 5 senses that everyone is aware of & then we have a load of other not so famous ones that help us along with our experience e.g. sense of balance, sense of our body, sense of time
So we take in information through our senses and the brain then acts on that information, both at a conscious level & an unconscious one, to keep us functioning. Most of the stuff happens at an unconscious level through our autonomic nervous system. Stuff like digesting our food, the rate we breathe at or how our eyes focus is generally done & adjusted without us having to think about it.
But where do our feelings come from? As mentioned we take in the raw information through our senses and the brain does something called simulation. In microseconds it has created a mind made interpretation of what the raw data means. We aren’t experiencing directly what’s going on in our circumstances but a mind made version.
As our experience is mind made the body will produce the chemical reaction to go with that thought whether its happening or not. So our emotions are a physical response to a mind made reality. It all sounds a bit ‘Matrix’ but by starting to understand how our experience works it helps us have more control of our lives.
We are constantly living in the feeling of our thinking, we aren’t directly experiencing the thing we are thinking about.
For me, this was such an important life lesson. Generally I was like most other people who blamed my circumstances for the feelings I felt at the time e.g. The feeling of anxiety I was having about a talk I had to deliver to my bosses, the feeling of sadness if felt when I didn’t have a partner, the feeling of happiness when I received a pay rise or the feeling of calm when I practiced meditation.
The thing is I didn’t always feel anxious about doing the talk. There were times where I was almost excited about it. I went through a decent length of time without a partner but for lots of the time I was pretty happy, only when I thought I needed someone to be happy did that sad feeling turn up. Sometimes when I got a pay rise it was no big deal or as soon as I got one I was thinking about the next one. Sometimes when I meditate my minds in flux and my body feels tense.
Why am I saying this? Well if my feelings were created by the external things (talks, money, partners, meditation) then I’d feel the same whenever I was engaged with these. But I don’t, feelings come and go and change my experience depending on the thinking in the moment. When our thinking changes our experience changes.
Nothing outside your body can create an emotion inside your body. Knowing that can help stop the blame game of lives circumstances for the feelings we have.
As everything is created internally then the brain cant differentiate between imagination and reality. For example I could sit and think about eating a lemon, squeezing it cutting it, imagining the juice pouring all over my tongue. If I thought about it long enough eventually my mouth would water (it is now!). I don’t have a lemon but the brain still creates saliva to help swallow the food, get rid of bacteria and stuff like that.
This is exactly the same when we think scary or stressful thoughts about the past or the future. The brain will produce the stress chemicals to go with that thought which make it seem really real. It's not real though it’s mind made.
Feelings are a bit like a barometer that give us a signal of how ‘busy’ our thinking is. When we feel, calm, happy, loving generally are minds are pretty peaceful places. When we feel sadness, frustration, lacking, anger or fear our minds are probably buzzing!
Buzzing because we have probably noticed the feeling, then given it a name, then given ourselves a reason why we feel this way. The mind then kicks into action working our what we need to do in order to feel better. What needs to be avoided, fixed changed or improved. We are making stories up about the feeling, adding thought to them nothing more nothing less.
Our emotions are neutral things, the only thing that makes them good or bad are the thoughts we apply to them.
Take fear for example, say we go to do a bungee jump, watch a scary movie or ride a roller coaster enjoying the feeling of fear. Other times when we get a ense of fear it can be the worse thing ever. Same feeling but just a different set of thinking applied to it.
If you feel an emotion thats holding you back something you arent enjoying. Take a step back and see your experience for what it is ‘thought created emotion’ and be OK with that. With no problem to fix the mind will calm pretty quickly and the feeling will move on. Just like all the other feelings you have experienced today.
No more than a feeling.