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Feeling: The Experience of Living
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | February 2016
Living is an emotional experience. We experience an array of emotions, charging and depressing the soul. We shouldn’t demand only pleasure, the movement of feeling is the richness of experience.
Living is an emotional experience. We feel. The experience of living isn’t what happens to us but how we feel about what happens to us. No matter how healthy our choices, life delivers both pleasure and pain. By trusting others, we open the possibility of betrayal. With hopes, we encounter disappointments. With burst of excitement, we notice the boringness of normality. The goal isn’t to gleefully frolic in endless joys. If that were the goal, we could hook up to artfully place electrodes activating pleasure regions of the brain or live in squalor while shooting heroin into our collapsing veins. Life is much more than this. The experience of living is rich in ups and downs; joys and sorrows; gains and losses; excitement and dullness. Through movement of feeling, we become whole, working through struggles, and open to the momentary joys.
We could choose (and some teach) to avoid pleasures to avert future pains, avoiding the sense of loss; but is a lifetime of uneventful grays satisfying? Perhaps for some, the excruciating pain of loss overwhelms. A flourishing life full of emotions, for me, is more attractive. The trade-offs we choose for the excitement is occasional suffering from comparative dullness and loss.
I have met several people with emotional learnings so embedded in their personality that any attachment brings unbearable pain to life. Fear of disloyalty can overwhelm. Painful and chaotic attachments in the past motivate insecurity and avoidance in the present. This is a normal reaction to experience that conflict with normal connection. We don’t want to needlessly suffer; but in extremes the drive is complete escape from any possibility of disappointment. Oddly with too much caution, the entirety of life disappoints. We must consciously approach life, evaluating probabilities, avoiding inevitable disappointments, but also chasing dreams and enjoying a few pleasures. I believe this is what Aristotle referred to as the eudaimonic life—flourishing life.
Evaluated against the backdrop of our past, we can refine choices in the present, intervening with better action than misaligned impulses direct. If patterns have routinely damaged our souls, we must bring them to the surface, acknowledge the disruptions and find relief. With a little scrutiny, we may wisely avoid dangerous relationships—even though we are attracted; noting the person boasts of past broken relationships, addictions and riotous living. By examining their poor treatment of others, we can reasonable predict how we will be treated once the newness fades. Yet other opportunities, we must courageously proceed forward denying our fears pressuring for escape.
Wisdom doesn’t clearly define the best path to follow. Our evaluations, tainted with bias, push for action in line with current trajectories. The addict finds answer in the shot, the anxiety ridden romantic finds the answer in flight or clinging. We miss the repeating pattern because they have become our normal. Nothing can be resolved until brought into the open and made available for examination. Careful inspection, probing into clashes with reality, may help; we scrutinize impulses before making important decisions. When lives have crumbled, or symptoms overpower, we may need support during these transitions from the past. A clear vision only emerges from openly discussing choices with a professional or close friend. Untethered, self-deceit permeates these choices, keeping us prisoners to predetermined programming, repeating stupidity, and suffering the tiresome consequences.
Life includes a delicious mix of feelings—both sweet and bitter. If we desire connection (with all the delightful blessings), we must also accept an occasional hurt. We welcome life on its own terms; not some idealistic portrayal of the mind. Rich experience includes joys and sorrows. We can enjoy the present without dreading the inevitable future cessation of that joy. Conversely, we better endure darkness knowing the passing nature of difficulties. Pleasant and sorrowful feelings will continually travel in and out of our lives, blessing some days and cursing others.
Healthy living doesn’t demand gratitude towards hurt. Perhaps, the pain brings wisdom—or not. We graciously work through the sting, say, “ouch,” and wait for it to subside, accepting the burning lessons as we move forward. We have permission to hurt—even express bitterness in unfairness. We’re not required to relish in the pain. As the pain moves on, we then can appreciate our release. Pain reminds of humanity; the reality of our existence. But this understanding doesn’t extinguish the pain—nor should it. Mind tricks to avoid suffering help but shouldn’t eradicate; Our bodies are sending a message; there is something wrong to be addressed—either in the environment or in our emotional past. Simply burying emotions through distraction, escape or numbing nullifies and essential connection to the self. Without the consciousness of discomfort, we continue to act in the unhealthy ways that propel our lives to the displeasing patterns, limiting experience and damning us to the emotional bondage of the past.
We create more suffering by fighting these messengers from nature. When ashamed of emotions, we hide them. Don’t listen to the ideological teachers touting we choose emotions. We can work with emotions, program new responses but not choose to be happy when life is sad; this is an unauthentic life, disconnected from biological reactions and emotional learning. Don’t be seduced into chasing a paradise where experience is shunted, and emotions shamed. These hopes create a gnawing dissatisfaction with the realities of life. Life is miserable when normalcy disappoints.
We strive for richness through flourishing, experiencing a whole range of feelings, fascinated by the feeling of living. We accept the gift of existence for what it is—instead of hating it for what it is not.