It never ceases to amaze me when people tell me they did X because they felt Y. And when asked why they felt Y they seem to have no idea. As if a feeling alone is enough to justify their actions and there is no need to look more deeply into it. But there is always a reason behind the feeling. Understanding the reasons for the feelings which lead to our actions is what makes us sentient, it is what makes us different from other animals.
So what dictates the feeling we get in response to a certain event? The reason for feeling could be a combination of the following, with one dominant in any particular case:
1) Conscious Thought
This is when we act based our meaning structure, beliefs and principles. We are consciously aware of why we feel and the consciousness can actually take control of the feeling and either amplify or dampen it.
- Loving someone because you have a clear understanding of why you value them can amplify feelings immensely.
- Feeling sad because someone has died and you know you will never see them again.
- Feeling pleasure from achieving something.
These will mostly stem from childhood. These feelings started from some kind of concious thoughts (either rational or otherwise). But after some time the thoughts may have been forgotten leaving behind the automatic responses which they created (Much like Pavlov’s dog). This habitual response can be either good or bad. These are the dangerous ones that really hold people back in life. We can mitigate these to varying extents through mindfulness.
- A fear of getting to close to others because of an abusive childhood.
- A fear of dogs because you were once bitten.
- An obsession with cleaning things to extreme levels because your mother made you overly afraid of germs.
3) Basic Instinct
These are basic human reactions usually hard-wired reactions. Things like hunger, tiredness, basic fears. Aside from being feelings in themselves they can also stimulate a range of other emotions. We can mitigate these to varying extents through mindfulness.
- Getting unexpectedly hit in the nose triggering an automatic anger response.
- Love at first sight for a stranger we haven’t even spoken to but just like the look of.
- Fear of heights.
Why does it matter?
Problems often occur when we act upon the feeling without going deeper and finding out what the feeling represents. We need to ask “Why do I feel this way? What are the underlying thoughts? Is this an automatic response?”
Every second in our life we are feeling something. This is an endless and constant process of transition from one feeling to the next. Every thought in our mind, every stimulus we sense, every event in our life will trigger a feeling.
I don’t trust people that do only what they feel. Because feelings are usually selfish in nature and are not based on any ethical principles. This can make such people hurtful if given trust because they may break your trust just to fulfill some feeling they have. Mindfulness is required to empathise and understand who you are. If you can’t even connect to yourself then how can you expect to connect to other people or understand them on a more deep, fundamental level.
Being conscious of our thoughts is what separates us from animals which predominately behave based on pure instinct.
What can we do about it?
Ensure feelings are based initially on thoughts and a set of principles. Then can condition ourself positively based on these rational thoughts so that the process is automatic. We can hijack our own conditioning and train ourselves. This can take a while depending on what you are trying to achieve. Results can be months for some things and years for others. There will then be less mental energy required because behaving optimally will be automatic.
Some good tools to help achieve this could be: writing, meditating, reading and exercise for example.
Ultimately all our actions are because of feelings. The important thing is to understand what is behind the feeling and if it is leading us to a “right” action – one that minimises suffering to self and others.
The thought manifests as the word;
The word manifests as the deed;
The deed develops into habit;
And habit hardens into character;
So watch the thought and its ways with care,
And let it spring from love
Born out of concern for all beings…
As the shadow follows the body,
As we think, so we become.