Sitting on the plane leaving Bejing, after a month of living and working in China, as I was looking out the window, suddenly a wave of sadness hit me, engulfing me. As well as sad, I also was astonished: this sadness didn’t make any sense to me, as I was not particularly sad to leave. I had enjoyed my time in that strange and wonderful country, felt a little sad to leave it and yet now felt ready to go home. That level of sadness I suddenly felt just did not seem to belong to me and to my own reality – yet I felt it. On looking around, I noticed a colleague starting to weep profusely a few seats away. I came to believe that it was her sadness that had ‘swapped across‘ to me like a wave and I had picked it up and felt it. Thinking that, the sadness stopped as quickly as it had started.
For me this experience was an important marker, because it seemed such a clear and clean example of the ‘resonance of feelings‘, of empathy: of our ability, and reality, of tuning in and sensing and feeling what another being is feeling and sensing. Usually this empathy is a more subtle process, and it is harder for me to be sure where a feeling originates from. Also rarely do I perceive such a strong feeling so suddenly and unexpectedly without tuning into another.
Mostly, when I have strong feelings, they seem to arise quite clearly out of my own experience in the here and now, sometimes even more strongly linked to the emergence of ‘old feelings‘, long stored, sometimes nursed for a while ... (like Robbie Burns‘ poem says ... ‘nursing her wrath to keep it warm‘...). Like old friends, I’m kind of glad to welcome them, taking them as an indication of my own aliveness and of my being in the world.
Sometimes, however, feelings seem to be too strong for my comfort and my immediate ability to hold them and contain them. I remember staring at a picture – senselessly – in Hawaii, during my Shamanic training, feeling completely overwhelmed by my feelings. And I still hear Ho’okai’s words in my ears ‘They are your feelings! They are smaller than you! Put them in a place in your body!‘ And like a drugged or drunken man or woman I regained enough sense for a moment to ‘put them in my toe‘ – and lo and behold, I was back in charge of my body, my life, my feelings – and I kept a wary eye on that toe just to make sure they didn’t escape... a bit like the genie in the bottle...
So, sometimes, I pick up other people’s feelings, sometimes I allow my own feelings space, sometimes I allow my own feelings too much space – and sometimes ‘I have no feelings at all‘.... or so it seems. Until a little while later I realize that I do have feelings, often very strong ones, but it was easier to hide them from myself... And sometimes I have ‘the wrong feelings‘ – like when I don’t feel nice and kind and generous but just upset or angry or inadequate, or some such feeling I was brought up not to feel and acknowledge – but they sneak up on me and want to be felt anyway...
And again and again I come to the place where I remember that feeling – or emotion – is what the body produces as naturally as movements and thoughts and sweat and gastric juices – e-motion is what allows us motion: it is the body’s system of ensuring the direction of our motion, towards or away from something or somebody. And the more e-q (emotional quotient, as opposed to i-q or intelligence quotient) we have, ie. the more ability for making decisions based on emotional intelligence and emotional maturity (ability to handle, recognize and use intelligently our emotional information), the better we seem to be at performing all kinds of tasks, including managing our life, or a large corporation. Quite unlike the old-fashioned view which derided feeling and emotion as rather feminine and by definition second best.
So, confusing though they are at times, let’s celebrate feelings - and learn to live with them ‘happily ever after‘ ...
This article was published in the Open Centre brochure in 2001