What The Feelings Say


We don't always eagerly look forward to a sit-down conversation with you, feelings… one in which we earnestly ask you what exactly you're trying to tell us.

It's not that we willfully seek to ignore you, feelings. You make that pretty impossible by washing over us, body to soul, seizing our gut, tinting our lenses, staining our aura with the seasonal colors.

But, feelings, it is one thing to recognize your tonal quality, to adeptly describe the sensations you create in us like we would list the physical characteristics of a suspect-in-question… capturing your identifying features so we might pick you out from a lineup, but saying nothing about the motives investing your deeds.

It's entirely another, more potentially life-destabilizing matter when we actually probe into the whys lurking behind you, feelings. Sometimes, your story is more complicated and difficult-to-hear than we'd imagined—though, once we listen, we may realize your truth has been looming, in broad daylight, right in front of our face for so long. Maybe we didn't want to look because then we'd be on the hook to do something about it.

You make it easy on us when your message is an affirming one: You turn us giddy, aglow with satisfaction and wonder, and we know you are reporting to us, yes, this is an experience to repeat whenever possible. Though we must remain conscious of the subtle distinctions within your range of 'happy' expressions—for there surely is a substantive difference between your purer form, which allows us a non-attached appreciation for the happy perfection of a given moment as it is, and that less-pristine version invested with its tinge of anxious desperation about how we may feel after this moment passes, and what we might do to indefinitely forestall such a passing (which is an altogether impossible aim)—we usually manage not to misinterpret happiness too heinously.

Yet, when we feel 'bad'—or, even less specifically, 'not quite right'—it's tougher to assume we neatly understand what you're saying to us. Is there a behavioral adjustment we need to make, feelings, in order to minimize your visits to us in that unpleasant manner? Is there a person we ought to stay away from… or are we projecting the contents of an unkind internal script onto this outside figure, when it's our own inner voice causing you to flare up? Upon superficial notice, all we may know is that we don't like it when you manifest quite like this, feelings. What should we do to keep you from showing up this way?

We must admit, feelings, your unhappier forms aren't always a dictate to remedy our behavior. You materialize as grief, for instance, when we must say goodbye to a person or experience we have dearly loved… and that obviously doesn't mean we should, or even can, refrain from this parting-of-ways. Nature teaches us that everything is impermanent; therefore, your sadder variants are some of the most natural responses you stir in us, as we contend with this eternal truth. If anything, this type of sadness you impose upon us provides more affirmation, albeit from a different angle: The pain of loss reminds us just how happy that which we have lost did, at an earlier point, make us. Its sorrow does not come accompanied by regret, for there is nothing we should've handled differently in hopes of avoiding what has happened, since loss is an inevitable facet of any life-cycle. Instead, alongside this sorrow resides appreciation for our having had the lucky chance to experience this unique beauty-and-love in the first place (since not everybody does)… and hopefully, once the sorrow subsides, a recommitment to taking advantage of future lucky-chances, to make the most out of life even with the awareness that doing so periodically brings pain.

We are already squirming in our seat, though, as we inch ever closer to those occasions when you are suggesting we have a change to make. We don't necessarily want to stay in this hot seat, feelings, listening to everything you've got to say. After only the first few moments, we can already recognize, for instance, the anger… and from there, why not just leap right into ranting and raving at the apparent culprit because, damn, we then get to experience that immediate pleasurable relief of letting 'em have it!?! Once our self-righteous high comes down, alas, we may realize we have not expunged your angriness from our system, feelings. Were we, in fact, angry about something else? And isn't anger, almost all of the time, merely a cover for deeper hurt? Maybe we should've heard you out, in patient quiet, to find out what's really hurting us.

And, damn, that guilt you sometimes rouse in us, too, feelings, an echoing emotional aftereffect whose job is to inform us when our latest action is somehow not okay… a momentary dissolution of self-pride, a desire to hide from the judging eyes (which are ours more than anyone's), a futile wish for a quick trip backwards through time to undo the deed, a glaring awareness of where our integrity levee has been breached. Guilt is one of your shiftier manifestations, feelings, hard to grip our hands reliably around. We aren't always instantly sure of whether we have honestly transgressed a sincere ethic we hold dear—or if you've guiltily shown up by habit, an inherited response to someone else's belief-system which may not fit our current incarnation, and which may be punitively infringing upon our right to self-determination. To rid ourselves of your creepy hold, do we need to change our lived behavior… or do we need to update the ethics by which you've been assessing us?

Jealousy is another of your wilier aspects, since it has us so compulsively concerned with what another person is doing… though we quietly know that trying to monitor what they're up to is a waste of energy, and trying to control it, a losing proposition. You're obviously telling us, feelings, we are somehow dissatisfied with what we have. If it really is that other person whose inconsiderate choices threaten our sense of safety within the relationship, then perhaps you're telling us not to stick around with somebody we cannot trust? But if it's just that this other person's content self-possession triggers you, feelings, to flood us with delusional visions of our own stinging inadequacy, aren't you really directing us to improve our individual standing so we may become similarly contentedly self-possessed?

Then there's fear, an outbreak of yours we are especially attuned to. Perhaps none other of your guises is so commonly an inhibiting influence on us, feelings, and it can be so tough to discern whether your warning against approaching danger is indeed legitimate. After all, right before we make any major move into uncharted territory, we notice you rising up as our natural anticipatory reaction to newness. You fill our tummy with nervous butterflies. You stimulate our mind into panicky hypothetical rundowns, as if we could foresee all potential problems and smartly head them off at the pass. All the while, you still expect us to follow through with that which has stirred your fearfulness. You are here to announce the transformational significance of what we're about to do, and you help us recognize our own courage.

But when, unrelated to any imminent leap-of-daring or positive developmental risk, we detect your swell in certain settings and/or in the presence of certain individuals—a shiver to the bone, a cold-sweaty dread—we must admit we've gotten ourselves into a perilous spot. This type of fear is a warning. We are in danger… if not facing a real menace to our physical safety, then certainly a threat to our confidence and self-worth. A job or living-situation should not engender such inner terror. A loved one should not leave us quaking in our boots, scared to speak from our hearts (or even, maybe, just to innocently return home too late one night), lest we expose ourselves to one more round of their bullying retaliations.

This fear, you are telling us, is not a sensation we need to continue living with, day in and day out. Nor should we. Unless we change, this fear will cast its unpleasant shadows over everything else, leaving us jumpy and suspicious.

We can sit our asses down, then, and decide to thoroughly listen to your messages of self-preservation, feelings… and, with the information in hand, carry out what you have indicated is essential to effect an improvement in our emotional state.

Head bowed in humility, we must thank you for bothering to intrude, feelings. Even in your darkest garb, you are our friend.