What the hell are all these feelings? By Aaron Smith

What are these things in our chest, derived from somewhere deep in our psyche? We call them happiness, anger, sadness, joy. We feel these things as the days go by, but what are they exactly? Are they just arbitrary spasms of brain chemistry? Are they something more ethereal, touching some divine purpose?

The practice of mindfulness is the practice of awareness. Being aware and present of what is happening in the moment keeps us grounded, but it also keeps us in touch with ourselves, our inner workings, our bodies and their reactions to the world around us. The reality of practicing mindfulness is that you become very aware of your feelings. As they come and go, you end up acknowledging them, feeling them, letting them pass over you. You’re not supposed to avoid your feelings, you’re supposed to accept them.

How do you accept these things we feel without simply resigning yourself to being battered around by their capricious whims?

Maybe we feel things for a reason. Maybe instead of coming from somewhere “out there”, they are our bodies, minds, and hearts telling us things. Important things. Maybe feelings are messages about ourselves to ourselves.

See, our bodies are always experiencing the world around us. Through touch, sight, hearing, taste, and smell we take in the environment we are in. All this information does something in us. It makes us react. Serotonin fires. Dopamine floods our systems. The fight or flight response is activated. All of these things happen because of the input we receive through our senses.

Feelings help us navigate the world around us by telling us about our inner life, about what is happening inside us as we go through these days. Sadness, anger, happiness, worry, and the whole host of other emotions we have are messages our bodies are sending us. The feelings are trying to tell us things, things about what’s happening in and to us, things about how we are reacting, things about how our state of health.

These messages are always coming and going. Most of the time we don’t notice them until they get overwhelming. This is where mindfulness comes into play. As we let the feelings be felt our bodies and let the thoughts that accompany them flow through our mind, we get sort of a barometer to our wellbeing. Are we angry, full of harsh thoughts? Something is causing that anger and it’s worth it to explore the cause of these emotions. Same with sadness, we are reacting to something happening to us (even if it’s just a chemical imbalance in the brain) and it’s worth it to get to know ourselves enough to realize what causes these negative emotions.

Positive emotions work the same way. There is a reason we feel happy, joyous, content. Finding the root cause of these emotions can even help us begin to put effort into things in life that make us feel good instead of just reacting against negative emotions.

When I was taught this by my therapist, It was kind of like someone turned the light on in my brain. Basically, she was telling me that feelings are there for a reason. They aren’t just capricious things that come and go. There are reasons we feel what we do, and it’s worth looking into the reasons so we can understand our feelings and ourselves.

These days, whenever I am aware of my emotions (which doesn’t happen all the time) I try and listen to what they are telling me, what insight they have into my situation and myself. For example, I have been dealing with severe panic attacks and super high anxiety this week. I’m trying to discover the reason for this rather than just trying to make them stop. I’ve been feeling the full force of the anxiety (and it is fucking exhausting) and trying to listen to what my body is telling me. What am I anxious about? Maybe it’s nothing and these panic attacks are just my brain misfiring. But, chances are there is something triggering these feelings, just like happiness, sadness, or anger. So I am exploring myself.

It’s a little scary to do at first because you do have to feel your feelings. But that is so much better than avoiding them. And we can learn so much from our feelings and the messages they are trying to send us.

Mindfulness is an entry point to discovering that our bodies contain wisdom about ourselves and the world around us if we will just stop and listen.

This is the second installment in a series about mindfulness by Aaron J. Smith. Read the first post in the series here

My name is Aaron J. Smith (aka CulturalSavage). I am in my thirties, a father, a writer, a dreamer, and kind of a mess.

When I was 28, I was diagnosed Bipolar 2.  I write about what a life with a mental illness looks like. I’m an advocate for removing the stigma of mental health. I’ve been featured on HuffPost live to talk about living with a mental illness and spoke in 2014 and 2015 at the Shattering Stigma conference.

I’ve been blogging for 10 years or so and am in the never-ending process of writing. I currently am featured in Father FactorThe Stigma Fighters Anthology Volume 1 and was a staff writer for Bedlam Magazine. I am also a contributor to The Mighty and The Good Men Project.

My family and I live in Portland, OR.

Thanks for reading. If you like my words and my work, would you consider helping me support CulturalSavage?

Feel free to follow me on Twitter and Facebook.