I was raised in an environment where feelings were minimized, denied, brushed aside. In some circumstances, acknowledging feelings could even be risky. As a result, I adopted a mostly unconscious perspective on feelings which didn’t serve me very well. Recently, however, I’ve become more aware of my feelings, and I’ve been surprised and pleased to learn what they have to teach me—and to rediscover thoughts, which I now also see in a new light.
I’ll spare you the long-winded story of how I got to where I am now. The short version is mindfulness meditation and therapy.
This is all work in progress. I know my point of view is going to change further, because it’s changing as I write this, but here’s how I see things at the moment.
Feelings are real. When I was a child I thought feelings were illegitimate—untrustworthy, invalid. I thought they were an artifact, a hallucination. I didn’t think they were real.
Now I know they actually exist, and they’re real. But I also know feelings aren’t facts. They’re a response to stimuli: they are real, but they’re not truth. Knowing this, I can be a spectator to my feelings, instead of being involved in them and captive to them. I can know, “I feel disrespected” and at the same time know so-and-so doesn’t actually disrespect me or mean any disrespect. It is both true that I feel disrespected, and true that I’m not disrespected.
Feelings aren’t meaningless EXACTLY, but your body/mind generate feelings every second of every day, there’s never a moment where some feeling isn’t being manufactured, they aren’t all meaningful.
Thoughts, too, are real. When I was a kid I didn’t question my thoughts. I thought they were more valid than feelings, more important than feelings, more true.
But thoughts also aren’t facts. Thoughts arise from the mind. The mind’s job is to think, and thoughts are the result. Through meditation, I can be a spectator to my thoughts, aware of them but not involved in them. I know now that they’re just as real, and just as illusory, as feelings.
In meditation, I become aware of thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and other mental formations. Each is real. None is truth. Knowing this, I can look deeply into the true nature of these thoughts and feelings, be with them, accept them, release them, and move one.
I can also use them skillfully. Sometimes anger arises, and I can use it for energy to help me do things I need to do, but don’t want to do. Sometimes thoughts arise, and I can note them and release them, or literally note them down on paper or in a file and save them in case they could be useful. Not all thoughts are useful. Not all feelings are productive and helpful. But many are, and by establishing the realness and value of each, putting them into the right place, knowing that they are opinions but not truth, I am better off.