All of us are born with a remarkable guiding system which is capable of extremely complex evaluations of most of the life situations we will encounter. In simple terms, feelings are information responses to situations. When I truly resolve a conflict, external or internal, old or new, I feel happiness. When something or someone blocks my will or desire, I feel anger, which equips me with energy and means to overcome obstacles (without it we would have very poor survival skills). These feelings should be very simple messages. However, children who have had their will manipulated, blocked, and tampered with and at the same time were punished for feeling the concomitant anger, learn to be afraid of even acknowledging that feeling. They conclude that feeling anger is bad, repress the feeling, and the information contained in the feeling is lost to them, sometimes forever after.
Likewise, we may have been forced to always express love for parents (as in the Christian fourth commandment) even if we were abused and the truth was that we felt hate at times. If we don't get the information contained in feelings straight when we are young, we run the risk of avoiding or even killing the messenger for the rest of our lives (instead of learning to welcome the feeling as information).
This article contains a partial dictionary that connects my common feelings to basic source situations as I have come to know them. For some feelings there is an almost mechanical connection between situation and feeling. In coming to see and understand our capability to feel—even in very complex situations—we can learn to own the feeling simply as information without tying shame and false morality about having it. Indeed, if it weren't for almost all hierarchical cultures’ perverse ways of "teaching" children to misinterpret their feelings, this dictionary would be a list of truisms.
A final note: we do not have to hit every time we feel anger (having a feeling is not the same as having to act mechanically in accordance with it). On the contrary, being interested in receiving and sorting out all the information gives us more options to act well. "Counting to ten" is not just delaying the action; it is a chance to evaluate the wisdom in the action itself. Also, different individuals may have a range of different feelings about the same situation depending on their experiences and abilities to cope with it, but there will very likely be common denominators.
One day I watched a TV talk-show in Boston, the late morning variety in which the network's assumptions about who the viewers will be are revealed by commercials pushing laundry detergents and lipstick; men were not assumed to be watching. The show dealt with a highly universal issue that we all wonder about: how to be happy. This program seemed to have geared up to "inform" women about how they should get happy. That caught my interest. Women in the audience, mostly middle aged, related how they had endured what they had believed to be “a good life,” but then they admitted to having been not happy but lonely and anxious, tense, and sometimes outright angry, and they said that they could not offer any plausible explanation for these feelings.
The show had a panel consisting of a rabbi and an author (both males), who offered advice to the predominantly female audience about how to find this elusive happiness. One instance lingers in my mind, in which a thoughtful and tense-looking woman had given a detailed description of how she had spent her life caring for a husband, several children, a sick elderly parent, and how she thought back on the role of being a caregiver with a feeling of loneliness and emptiness. (Note, she didn't say that she went from feeling predominantly happy to feeling unhappy or from happy to anxious when she stopped giving care.)
The "religious" stand towards her observation was that she ought to get involved in some helping church group. Essentially, to do more of what she had just given a pristine description of as being the very source of her problem—her unresolved conflict of beliefs: namely, that if she sacrificed her self for other needy people this would of itself result in well-being. I felt anger on her behalf when I realized how all of what she had just told the group and the panel was simply ignored as irrelevant information. I was also puzzled that she didn't react with anger to the insult that had just been given her by the panel. I wondered how these "experts" could give a recommendation which she had, in simple clear terms, just refuted: Sacrifice of self does not by itself bring about happiness, joy, or well-being.
More women in the audience testified on the same theme, relaying a nagging feeling of having been used, taken for granted, and not having gained the recognition or found the joy that they expected their pitching-in would have resulted in. Actually, most of the women in the audience gave a picture of "love" as being a sacrifice that they needed relief from.
My thoughts returned often to this program and I asked myself: from what they had described, why were all these people unhappy? More to the point, why would they be happy? What is happiness? When do we feel happiness? I took out my Webster's dictionary:
happy (hap'e) adj. -pi.er, -pi.est [ HAP] 1. lucky; fortunate 2. having, showing, or causing great pleasure or joy 3. suitable and clever; apt -hap'pily adv. -hap'piness n.
This did not make any sense to me. I cannot see how it can be helpful to anyone who wants to know what happiness is and when they are likely to feel it. Happy is different from lucky or fortunate, and it is also sufficiently different from "showing pleasure," which might be a symptom of happiness but is not the same as happiness. And how the word came to have anything to do with suitable and clever I cannot see at all, other than as a commonly careless use of the word.
I found this avoidance of definition very interesting, and so I looked up other feelings that I knew. My investigations yielded the same vagueness and it struck me: there are no useful definitions of feelings given here. Not for me, that is. I now had an interesting task in front of me: to list feelings that I had names for and to give them meaningful definitions without consulting other sources of "knowledge."
It was already clear to me that all feelings were triggered by something; they don't come from thin air or without a reason. They come about as reactions or responses to situations. We feel a lot of the internal state of our own body: sleepiness, pain, hunger, strength, sickness, exhaustion, and so on, but we also have input devices (seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, smelling, and maybe others) that can pick up clues and extraordinarily complex pieces of information about what goes on outside the body, either as solo instruments or in concert, each adding to the picture. These messages prompt the brain to form a situation analysis that is integrated with short-term and long-term memories and we, the owners of this amazing equipment, get a “state of body and mind report,” which is updated hundreds of times per second!
If you are not impressed with your own body, watch a tennis pro—how he or she is able to respond to a little yellow ball that comes at them doing 45 meters per second. We have the same basic equipment. Any top athlete will tell you this: if they start to think about what to do they are lost. They have developed a trust in the accuracy of their total information system. They learn to read clues (i.e., their opponents’ movements) that provide extraordinarily accurate predictions. How do they do it—how do we do it? How do we get complex information and know exactly what to do without thinking about it? What we feel, and how we can describe it, is all in our biological nature and our DNA. We have response-sensations which we share with other (reasonably healthy) humans, and we know this is so because we have a common vocabulary describing them: fear, confidence, anxiety, happiness, joy, anger, love, hate, and so on. We can even reach rather large sweeping agreements about what feels good and what feels bad, that is, what attracts us (such as humor, beauty, justice, and kindness) and what repulses us (such as cruelty, abuse, deadness, confusing complexity) ... not just as individuals but as humans.
Developmentally, these sensations have been and are crucial guides when it comes to making survival choices—but we can use them in much more interesting ways than just for survival. They can guide us towards a good life or towards a bad one, meaning a life where we have chosen situations (to the greatest extent that we have choices) that feel good or feel bad. For example, I define the good feeling-sensation we call happiness as the response (reward) for having truly resolved conflict (inner, outer, old, new). It is usually a short-lived sensation, but for those who get good at it, it is recurring. As conflicts threaten us as individuals and as a collective, nature provides a pleasure sensation that normally would make us prefer conflict resolution instead of keeping the conflict going (unhappiness) or trying to deny or disregard the conflict (anxiety).
Darwin would probably say that those who give preference to resolution of conflict have greater survival skills than those who aggravate conflict and provoke attack. However we term it, we possess human genetic coding for what we give preferences to—what attracts us—and likewise for what repulses us. Abraham Maslow called those positive and negative being-values and came to the conclusion that positive being-values (truth, fairness, kindness, liveliness, beauty, etc.) could only be defined in terms that included all the other positive being-values (honesty containing cruelty is not felt as a positive being-value). I agree with this, and I also feel that the thing that confuses moral debate the most is precisely the attempt to isolate, compare, or maximize any particular being-value as better or worse than another.
Any sustained coupling between good and bad being-values is a perversity (beauty with injustice, or intelligence with cruelty). Often, such perversions are linked in ways that produce a quick positive impression which turns sour (like drug use, for example: reality-alien euphoria followed by pain and let-down). Winning a victory over someone who is left hurt and humiliated leaves us with guilt and loneliness.
My thoughts often returned to the woman in that talk show, and I became curious about why the information contained in feelings seemed uncomfortable to many people. I spent many a night pondering what my feelings were in the light of my new discovery that feelings were not well defined anywhere. As always when we try to break up complex tasks, it struck me that the challenge was one of finding the most accurate general description of the feeling and its source situation. The cause and effect needs to be simple; oversimplified, it becomes silly. To paraphrase Albert Einstein, we need to make things as simple as possible, but not one bit simpler.
Here are some of my definitions:
Feeling based on conflict
|The feeling of||is my response to||it manifests as|
|Happiness||the moment of truly resolving a conflict (conflict of any sort - inner, older or new). It is a fairly short lived feeling||release of tension, laughter or relieved expression enthusiasm to go forward|
|Unhappiness||an anresolved contlict of importance. It is my expression of a search for resolutions.||unhappiness is part of every healthy persons feelings as it incicates that the problems are resolvable whereas anxiety indicates dis-ease since there is no sense of possible resolution.|
|Peace||a state of no significant outer or inner conflicts and no need to be aware af any||Quitetude, relaxtion, no urgent need to DO...content|
|Anxiety||a seemingly an-resolvable and pressing conflict resulting in an inner , blacked-out secret often foundedon some untrue conditional belief||an almost chronic tension of hopelessness, Example: ifI reveal my true feelings then my whole world will collapse, I must not tell the truth. "Unresolvable" conflicts are always denied--the moment they are acknowledged they become "resolvable"|
Strikingly many people have become aware of their confusion between love and hate when they are asked to define it. Then, not being able to describe what they mean from their own experience, they may come to recognize that they don't even know what to expect. Not knowing "what love is" from experience has prompted many to declare that it doesn't exist! Or if it has been mandated as the description of a relationship that was not positive, they may have to take a cynical approach to the subject. Love also stirs up confusion since there are religious "commands" prescribing that one is supposed to feel love for certain persons or situations—as opposed to recognizing the feeling when it is there. How can we explain love to a child who is abused by one or both of its parents and then asked to "love your father and your mother"? All such a child can say is that it is repulsive or dangerous or both, and actually to associate "love" with hate or even horror.
The other confusion is that we will feel what the situation presents at the time it is felt: we can feel love often enough and still feel hate sometime later; a usually safe and attractive person can become unsafe or untrustworthy under new or trying circumstances. And then change again. That's some of what makes commands about feelings so ridiculous—you cannot love a person regardless of what that person does or is. There is no such a thing as unconditional feelings. I know, as a parent, that the conditions for loving a child can be met even if the conditions are far outside the delineation of what is viewed as safe or unsafe with other people ... and there is a strong genetic attraction between child and parent. I can love my child even if he or she has done things I don't like. That's not unconditional. It is simply that the conditions for feeling love are wide enough to still be met.
Feelings based on will and desire
The next cluster of feelings deal with situations that impact on my will and desire. These feelings are and have been profoundly influenced by culture and ideology and have made more people misinformed about themselves and situations that they are part of than any other cluster of feelings. Will and desire that is emerging from the bottom of the pyramid is threatening to any power hierarchy, even to a democratically elected power elite. The first distinction to be made is between EGO and SELF
The next cluster of feelings deals with situations that impact on my will and desire. These feelings are and have been profoundly influenced by culture and ideology and have made more people misinformed about themselves and situations they are part of than any other cluster of feelings. Will and desire that emerge from the bottom of the pyramid are threatening to any power hierarchy, even to a democratically elected power elite. The first distinction to be made is between EGO and SELF
EGO Ego is the part of us that has learned to play a role in life through outside demands—learning through the cortex, "being up in the head," book learning, cultural input, obedience to rule and law, etc. It is often the social oil that reduces friction.
SELF Self is the biological wisdom that stems from our unique biological set-up—our natural inclinations, unique talents, temperaments, our feelings and felt learning—seat of the soul.
Ego is not all negative. It can be the vehicle, or the roads and bridges, the tool that gets the self where it wants to go. If ego is the vehicle, self is ideally the driver. It is true, though, that the two function in a packet of interaction. If we have lost our basic trust in and sense of ourselves, it is like being in a vehicle driven by a preprogrammed autopilot. However, the self flourishes through having a competent ego through which to express itself.
Most of us learn rather early on to play roles to adjust to the world around us. Some of us (not many) had the good fortune of learning what the surrounding world was like from benevolent relating on the part of parents, nannies, siblings, and/or playmates, who took the time to guide us around our culture without attempting to remove what was uniquely our selves. Most of us (depending to a large degree on where and when we grew up) experienced that we were not "good enough" unless we became significantly different from what we naturally felt (this is the reason this dictionary needed to be written).
Those who had the good fortune of being able to observe the world from a reasonably safe perspective and of keeping a strong sense of self during the learning process may not have experienced a very great difference between the ego and the self; they were aware of the existence of both and learned to see the appropriateness of some social skills without losing track of the self and its uniqueness. For the rest of us, the voice of the self became a quiet whisper that most of the time couldn't be heard through the dictates of laws and decrees pronounced by judges, prosecutors, and manipulators who get their way by pointing to an exterior rule that serves their purpose and prevents the other person from achieving theirs ... my definition of manipulation.
Stated in an oversimplified way: soul has desires and ego has will.
Will, in extreme power hierarchies, is reserved for the top of the pyramid—for the ruler(s). It is assumed to trickle down in one direction only, to spread, sanctioned by the ruler, for as long as it serves the ruling decree and the interest of the ruler. In all power hierarchies the ability to hold large empires together is restricted to how the enforcement of the decrees is made possible.
The oldest hierarchies were loose bands or tribes, where power was restricted by movement and communication. Eventually, forms of feudal systems made it possible to set up satellite hierarchies, where the different bands promised loyalty to some ruler whose henchmen could move messages and armies by horse and thus control larger territories than "opposing wills" were able to. The feudal systems worked as long as the local power-holders enjoyed enough freedom to rule their territory and as long as the affiliation with a higher power provided a security blanket in case of threat to the local power situation. These systems seem to work in similar ways regardless of what they are called:
church (where God is the fictive power and a shadow ruler within the hierarchy enjoys the real power, being the interpreter of “God’s will");
corporation (where the president occupies a similar position as God and where the real power-holder is hidden from public view—sometimes the chairman of the board, but always the one who can ultimately remove or place people in different executive positions in the hierarchy ... the owner); nation (where the king or premier is God and somebody else is the real operator of the strings; armies, political parties, schools, etc. often work on the same basis).
Real dictatorships have fallen somewhat out of fashion and are more risky for the power-holder than puppet regimes. But they are still around and are frequently reappearing in countries with less established power diversity, such as many postcolonial African states
Power in a democracy is supposed to work the other way around: the will of the majority is meant to decide who is to be the enforcer of will in accordance with the rule of the many. Unfortunately, none of the attempts to establish rule of the many have been very successful, mostly because will has so easily been manipulated by misinformation and intimidation, and the basis of democracy has therefore too often been successfully perverted.
Impact on our will is nevertheless the source of a lot of feeling information. Cultural attitudes towards those feelings are very different depending on what social environment you are in, hence the introduction above. Anger towards power-holders is frequently not allowed or is associated with grave danger. At the same time, biologically, feeling anger is what starts the energy boost that is crucial for overcoming obstacles and is crucial for survival. Anger, in my experience, is the feeling response to having our will/desire obstructed and is the source of overcoming resistance in our life. Without it we would give up as soon as something threatened us or got in our way, and we would not have much chance of survival.
Nature, as with happiness, has a reward for experiencing a strong positive will, which is called joy (joie de vivre in French) [ livsglädje in Swedish]. Joy is the feeling we get from experiencing our creative mind and being aware of its workings. It is the active participation in the unfolding of our creative character, our essence, our soul. Joy and anger are opposites in the dimension of how our will is flowing or being obstructed: there is joy in experiencing a "green light" wave in life and anger associated with metaphorical as well as real "stop lights."
The concept of will always seems to bring up the notion that strong will has to run parallel to power over opponents, that the predominant obstructions in life come from other people and that they have to be fought successfully if will is to have a chance. This notion usually comes from a wounded place where we had our will undermined with devastating effects when we were small or young.
I believe that all threats are measured against our ability to respond or cope and that "afraid" or "not afraid" is a function of where on the scale of ability we operate. When I was little I was beaten up by bigger kids or kids who were more apt to fight. Then it was very important to be able to judge where I was on that scale. Later, I spent five years training in Tai Kwon Do (a martial art) and found a surprising rise in my general level of confidence—not because I could cope with any situation but because my panic response did not spring on me. I knew how to respond with a sufficient degree of auto-response to a "street attack," and this had a remarkable impact on my ease in socially as well as physically demanding situations.
Feelings based on emotional threats and abilities to respond.
The feeling of:
[more definitions in progress -- please contribute]
If good feelings and bad feelings are the criteria for choosing between attractive and repulsive situations, then how come some of us keep making the choices that consistently make us miserable? The reasons are connected mostly to how we predict the outcome of our actions.
Beliefs are the foundation upon which we make predictions. The belief is conditional and says: If this, then that is likely to happen. For example: If I drop a stone, then it is likely to fall down; if I believe in a God, then he/she will not punish me; or if I vote for a politician then he/she will create a better society. Most beliefs are inaccurate or irrelevant, and many beliefs promoted by various interest groups are outright false.
Next suggestion: Our beliefs can consistently lead us towards certain bad feelings representing the discrepancy between our expectations and reality. Most lingering, consistently bad feelings stem from or are connected to bad beliefs. This is not to say that all bad feelings comes from our beliefs—of course we can be in a bad situation beyond our own control; it is to say that we can have beliefs that lock us into situations that are bad for us (and feel bad). When we experience these consistent "downs," one of the first things to explore is why we repeatedly stay in situations that have that effect. Most of us are prone to shrugging our shoulders and blaming the general order of things or our workplace or the government instead of investigating our beliefs (especially those that Ego has imposed on us). It might be fruitful to ask a number of "what if" questions, then take a deep breath and let our "self" be the judge for a change. There are many beliefs (that never entered through the cortex—our thinking process) that we can give to our soul's investigation. When “self” is the guide, we act intuitively, on the basis of our very own experiences as opposed to the culturally established beliefs that are very likely to reflect someone else's interest.
"Why do we have to analyze everything? Can't we just have our feelings and enjoy them or trust them as they are?" is a question I sometimes meet. Another common reflection is, "You can't define feelings because they are different for different people." Why then is it important for me to think about and define feelings? I think it is because so many of us are dominated and trapped by learned, unconscious re-actions to old, significant situations, and therefore we feel in ways that don't make sense to us. If we feel out of control, victimized, helpless, and anxious, we need to uncover what those feelings are reactions to, and use this information to understand why we feel the way we do.
We need to investigate what kind of beliefs we are "controlled" and "sabotaged" by. The connection between feeling and believing is a "chicken and egg" problem: the relevant question is not which came first, but in which direction the cause-and-likely-effect process is going. A cause leads to an effect, and this effect can become the cause of a new effect, and so on. All effects are in this sense new even if they are similar to others—all chickens are in this sense new chickens, and all eggs are new eggs. It is not a circular process.
The same applies to feelings, and in this lies the hope for change of who we are and how we feel. To discover the false part of a belief will profoundly influence how we perceive reality (for one thing, if we feel safe, we will have a good laugh) and therefore change our feelings, that is, our response to the perceived reality.
The movie "Groundhog Day" is a beautiful illustration of how someone who gets the chance to interact with one and the same basic scenario, over and over again, can learn to understand his false beliefs. A weather man (played by Bill Murray) re-lives the same day (Groundhog Day) over and over again and gets to learn that he can feel dramatically different about himself depending on his own output, interaction, and responses to an outside reality. Our weather reporter starts out being profoundly cynical: he is bored, self-destructive, careless, arrogant, and insensitive to just about everyone and everything in his environment. He is consumed by neurotic pain and seeks neurotic pleasures. So he takes all his cynical beliefs to extremes and finds himself experiencing ever worse disasters—which predictably make him feel worse and worse. After all of his perverse experiments, his curiosity compels him to try out some opposites, and he learns that feeling good is rewarding and can be learned by trial and error. Not by accident, strokes of luck, or manipulation but rather from an improved understanding of what he has always had a talent for but never developed. He learns that developing his own talents, supporting that which truly attracts him, and finding true pleasures, is what finally breaks the spell and lets his life get off the repeat-track. The moral: When you get closer to your true self, your beliefs become more true, and your feelings start to make sense to you.
Trapped by Ego
True beliefs have to ring true to us. Ego-beliefs are the ones we carry around to please expectations or pressures put on us to appear acceptable to the culture we are in. When TV evangelist Jimmy Swaggart performed his act, he threatened, he promised, and he screamed out what he thought people should believe. Still, people would not truly believe that they could fly if Jimmy said so and if they read the Bible, because there isn't enough evidence from their own experience—it simply does not ring true enough.
How then can we understand the relative power of religious "belief mongers"? How could the charisma of people like Ronald Reagan and Yung Sung Moon be relatively so successful (seeming, among their followers, absolutely successful)? I think they make skillful use of what I call "Reaganisms": the promotion of the marriage between essentially true statements and an essentially false belief. For example, they remind miserable people that their lives are mysteriously repulsive to them (true) and then they give reasons (that are predominantly false) for why they are stuck in misery and pain. At the same time, the evangelists (religious or political) claim to have a solution to this misery. For a hopeless person, any hope is better than none, and since good therapy takes time, participating in mass meetings that seem to provide hope is powerful.
Healing childhood wounds and getting out of misery takes time, too. No one, at any given time, can feel different than they do, as little as a chicken can become an egg; you cannot turn causality around by manipulations of "should." From conception to the ages of three to five years, we learn from experiences that are later not remembered, and the unfortunate thing is that there are widespread beliefs that children in that age group are different from humans and “feel” differently than “people” do. It is especially common to believe that young children could be taught to feel the way parents, teachers (... the culture) want them to feel: "Don't be afraid," "Stop crying," and so on. So they are told to express, or not express, feelings without having their own reasons for doing so, forced to honor beliefs that their parents have learned through their parents, and so on.
If our memories are stocked with predominantly false or at least useless cultural, political, religious beliefs (which are often contradicted by observations of reality), I think we will end up feeling numb and immobilized. With such beliefs, the prospect of living a joyous life would be a source of fear, because many of our predictions would turn out to be false, with unexpected, sometimes disastrous (to those beliefs), consequences. On the positive side, changing our own outlook from being predominantly pessimistic and cynical (believing that the ultimate truth will be unbearable and therefore must be avoided, denied, or altered) to being predominantly optimistic and curious (believing that the truth will serve us in our search for good feelings even if/when the truth contains painful recognition) will have profound consequences on us as individuals and on people around us.
It is not strange that we avoid true feelings, true beliefs, and true reactions if we have a pessimistic outlook, since they seem to promise death and disaster, and the natural defense against this is denial or at least avoidance of their existence. Chats about the weather or involvement in shallow, unimportant subjects, or even topics of plausible importance such as most topics on TV network news, serve the purpose of avoiding truths of personal relevance very well. Good therapy—investigating what is true in an optimistic, safe atmosphere of confidence and excitement—breeds more interest in truth even when it contains pain. Healing emotional wounds is then synonymous to coming to feel love for ourselves—that is, coming to feel safe and attracted to our own being and its desires. When we do, it seems to generate more of that stuff of which attraction and love are made. This is crucial, as it appears that most truly joyous, optimistic, and happy human beings are also generous, caring, and loving.
If you look closely, I think you will find that most aggression, violence, and pain is rooted in anxiety, anger, and neurotic pain. As love, freedom and pursuit of happiness become real essential quests, not only for our own well-being but also for the well-being of all around us, our understood feelings may well turn out to be the best guides we can have in that quest. And if the quest is to become more universally successful, there may increasingly be situations where children can feel true love towards their parents without a fourth commandment (Love your parents [even if they abuse you]) and—could we hope—even towards their political leaders?
The feeling of:
is my response to:
it manifests as:
the awareness, understanding and acceptance of loss, wrong-doing or damage to myself or someone I love.
the pain of coming to understand and accept a loss or a tragedy.
is my reaction to going against my own will and my own best judgment or "betting against my own feelings" without full understanding or awareness of the process.
is my reaction to the inward directed presumption of wrong-doing or wrong-being (and therefore worthy of punishment) based on some external judgment, without understanding or awareness of what is involved.
The feeling of:
is my response to:
it manifests as:
is my reaction to the temporary relief of pain attained by some manipulation of the body or the mind but without removing the cause of pain.
I can sometimes seduce my intuition and "get in a good mood" and feel pleasure until the truth reveals itself and results in pain (a perversion).
is my reaction to old conflicts that are no longer actually present other than in a lingering but powerful perception of past situations translated into a misperception of the present.
Intuition based on old useless beliefs can equally seduce my rational understanding of things and put me in a bad mood that has nothing to do with the reality at hand.