how to feel a feeling

I want to feel everything, to meet all my feelings head on.

I suspect it’s impossible, because there are so many valid feelings and only so much time.

But to live in the world at this highly interconnected moment and be a part of a growing global self-consciousness seems to mean that we must increase our capacities for feeling our feelings.

I have had the opportunity this summer of being given more things to feel than ever before. And by that I don’t mean this is the hardest summer of my life, but rather the most emotionally diverse, and the fastest paced. It feels like each day grief dawns over me in multiple shades, and by nightfall the need for celebration is steady as the moon. Anger flows over me like rain into a cloud, joy breaks through often in solid beams of light. No day feels fair per se, and every day feels weighted, destined.

And then in every situation I find so much complexity. I have to be in much more regular communication with my confidantes in order to have real conversations because of the complexity of it all.

Recently I have found myself trying to compress my feelings. By ‘found myself’, I mean the emotional equivalent of walking in on my heart in an overlooked closet, attempting to meditate atop a burlap bag writhing with undeniable life.

When I pulled my heart back into my chest, the bag opened and out stepped a gorgeous demonic creature, million-headed, glistening raw and ranging from meadow-calm colors to a garish rainbow, singing to me in a sweet and clashing chorus of need.

And here is what I learned and am learning about feeling a feeling:

1. There is no wrong way to feel a feeling.

2. It helps to have a reflective practice that allows me to look at all my life and the places where I could be feeling things, to be in touch with myself around where the most intense feelings might be. Sometimes I go so far as to ask myself, ‘Self, how do you feel about this intense thing today? What do you need?’

3. Notice my patterns for feeling. I like to swallow my feelings, and I can consume anything. For grief and pain I like cold and sweet things, for loneliness or emptiness I like cheese and bread, for joy or surprises I love whiskey and foods at the meeting place of sweet and salty, for ease I love sour pickled things. Learning this through years of observation, I begin to be in relationship with my feelings by looking at my cravings. I get quieter inside, convinced no one can hear feelings (in spite of all evidence to the contrary), and start to feed the feeling, perhaps to keep its silence. Small things begin to overwhelm me. The other day I was moved to tears trying to put a screen on my phone. Hints…a feeling or few is afoot.

4. Clear my schedule. If possible, once a feeling has gotten my attention, I give it some time and space. My stronger feelings require something like a sick day. My feelings appreciate being processed thoroughly with others, thrive in an honest environment, demand I don’t sleep until they are named and love a hot bath after I release them into the world.

5. Listen to my body. My feelings know so many languages. They tingle up my spine, tighten my gut, sparkle or lock in my jaw and chest, fill my eyes with tears, create an overall numbness, drop like a weight through my feet, seize up in my left hip, crave and crave. If I notice anything that is clearly not normal in my body and approach it with curiosity, I learn so much about what I’m feeling.

6. Articulate it. This is actually the hardest part for me. I can speak eloquently of many things, other’s feelings for instance…but my mouth freezes up and tears overwhelm my own deepest feelings. There are good reasons for this, I’ve been studying. And it’s always time to grow. Learning to speak my feelings out loud is currently one of my liberation practices.

7. Love the feeling. However messy and compressed and intense it is, however weak it makes me feel, ultimately I find a peace in myself when I love the feeling, embracing it as part of my life and my journey, a sign that I am still alive and, with awareness, empowered to act on the feeling.

8. Be grateful to this magical world which makes me feel so much, and to the people who make me feel and love me through my feelings. Right now in this summer of immense living, which I’ve been in all sorts of work around, I’m grateful to Lynnee, my family, the babies, Sofia and Jodie and Dani and Janine and Morgan and Walidah and Ife and Cindy and so many others who have shown up to feel with me.

9. Keep breathing. If I am feeling I am alive and need all the oxygen I can get. If I know what I’m feeling, then I can figure out the next step. If I can take the next step, I’ll be rewarded with more feelings.

That’s what I know about how to feel a feeling. Would you add anything?