How do you feel right now?
I ask you about your feelings in the first place. Please take a moment to acknowledge them.
To me, right now, it feels unstable and unpredictable. Finding my way as a freelance writer is exciting. It feels like nothing is for sure. It feels like learning how to walk – from scratch and on my own.
Feelings are more important than we usually dare to admit.
Think about it – the way you feel is the core of any experience you have. If your partner leaves and your life seems broke – the core of it likely consists of sadness, emptiness, regret. If you finally book a trip that you have been dreaming about, the feeling of excitement steps in and gives you the desired pleasure.
The holiday or the break-up are not what really matters. What is important is the feeling – either the one you enjoy, or the one you desperately want to get rid of. Feelings are the centre of your experience.
Two years ago, I started understanding how important my feelings are for me. For the first time I saw them as central, as the core, rather than just “side-effects” of what we do. I also learned that feelings are not intrinsically divided to “good” or “bad”. It is just us, humans, giving them labels such as “happiness”, “excitement”, “satisfaction”, “loneliness” or “loss”.
But there is another way to approach feelings.
It is about learning how to experience them without any need to name them or divide into categories.
What did the society teach me?
I used to see life like most of my peers and the people I was raised around did:
Some people are better than others, more hardworking, or just more lucky. Life consists of stuff that happens to us and there is nothing we can do about it. People may hurt us, so we always need to be prepared to defend ourselves. If someone doesn’t play fair or makes us feel upset, we say it is their fault and then we try to make ourselves feel better. We recover or fall into depression. If we feel “bad” for prolonged periods of time, we might need some medical treatment.
We need to plan ahead and secure our future, and it is completely normal that we don’t pay attention to what happens now while we make those plans. It is also normal to constantly think about past experiences and make today’s decisions according to what happened yesterday. Some people are reliable and some are not, and only after we spend enough time with them, can we distinguish who is who.
God – if exists – is an entity separate from us, and is constantly occupied with rewarding good people and punishing the bad. He either does it during our lifetime or after death. If we feel uncomfortable – this might be a way of punishing us. Think quick: didn’t you do something “wrong”? Probably, because otherwise, why would you feel this way? There are only a limited number of ways to live one’s life, and each of them should consist of hard work and doing things for other people, rather than yourself.
What the hell was I looking for?
Maybe I was just being fussy, but something in this approach didn’t appeal to me – I just couldn’t pinpoint what was it exactly. I wouldn’t be able to tell you what bothered me in particular, but I was looking for another explanation of things.
Something that would tell me: everything is alright. No matter how it may seem to you at the moment, you are, and will be, fine. There is nothing you are doing wrong and there is nothing you need to be afraid of. And – most of all – there is nothing, absolutely nothing wrong with you.
From a different angle, I was searching for a guide that would tell me at least were to look. But how would I even express this search? I was certainly lost, in a sense, but this kind of words would never come out of my mouth. Admitting to “be lost” would imply that I was a loser.
How relieving it was for me to come across a book called “The Presence Process” by Michael Brown. Not only did it make me understand that I don’t need an external guide. Not only did it tell me to look for answers inside, rather than outside.
It explicitly instructed me on what to do with this internal raw material. The point of focus was:
How do I feel in the present moment?
I feel anxious about what to say right now. I feel invisible and desperate. Trying to get noticed online is like screaming my truth out in a loud rock concert. I feel insecure about whether my freelance life will go according to the plan. Am I going to succeed? Are people going to like what I write?
These are my mental interpretations of the feeling. Physically, I perceive it as a ball of heat growing around my solar plexus. Just like it used to feel when I was about to recite a poem in front of the whole school, at the age of 7. It doesn’t matter that I am 26 now, and the circumstances are different, and I am so much more aware of what is going on. The feeling , at its core, is the same.
More than that – I know that many of the feelings I experience today are rooted in my childhood. They really are just memories, recorded by my body as felt-perceptions I felt back then – like the ball of heat I experienced on stage, at the age of seven.
And the memory keeps coming back, whenever something in the external world triggers is. Just how all memories work, right? They reappear unexpectedly, when we see, hear, or smell something particular yet familiar, that reminds us about a long-forgotten scene.
So I am being reminded about this memory of insecurity now. And I am reminded not to suffer from it – but to have a chance to integrate it. I have a chance to give this feeling some conscious attention and process it fully. Not react to it, based on how I reacted as a child, but instead – respond with a more mature approach.
Never before reading The Presence Process did I give my feelings any real attention. I mean, this kind of friendly and unbiased attention, that doesn’t indicate which feelings are preferred and which are not.
Integrating my feelings
If I was to react to this insecurity, basing on what my seven-year old self did – I would run away and hide behind my Dad. This was what I used to do, because this was my way of finding temporary relief from a feeling I didn’t like.
Forgetting about this uncomfortable resonance – until it reappeared next time – was my way of dealing with it when I was seven.
The Presence Process gently redirected me into a new approach – something more productive than what the seven-year old me had figured out. Instead of running away from my insecurity and not publishing this article today – because I am so scared that someone will laugh at me! – this new approach advises me to embrace the feeling, to the best of my ability. To fully acknowledge that it is happening and recognize it for what it really is – a deeply embedded memory. But I don’t have to act on it the same way I did when I was a child.
This seems to be the way to integration.
What does it mean, to integrate a feeling? To me it is about truly embracing it as a valid part of my experience, rather than a “disturbance”. It is happening and I don’t want to deny it. I will not try to feel different, because this is how I am feeling now – insecure and anxious. But, I also don’t want to stop doing what I am doing, just because of this feeling.
I can see now that it is possible to feel it fully, without hiding behind my Mom or Dad and without pretending that I am limitlessly confident.
This is what self-care is about for me. Inducing endless compassion, patience and acceptance for the way I feel and think. Not imposing the responsibility for it on the world or other people. Gradually taking charge of my own well-being.
This approach to self-care benefits not just me. In the end, it benefits my entire environment.
Because – in case you forgot – we are all parts of a bigger whole. Changing a part changes the whole.
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