Oh, yes, grasshopper – there is a difference and a big one at that. And I don’t think that as humans we often are selective enough about how we walk or sometimes run through the general category we call “feelings” we talk so much about. While it may be our perception that our Feelings are a general mass of swirling positives and negatives and that we get Emotional from time to time the genesis for both feelings and emotions actually come from the body itself and the connected physical response to stimulation. The plot thickens when those deep, intense Emotions are sustained over time and lead us to believe they’re actually Feelings when they’re not.
Generally speaking, the Emotions we feel are brief, intense and associated with an object or situation and are created by our physical body’s response to the object or situation. Fear, anger, lust, joy, excitement, compassion – all come from the nervous system’s interpretation of a situation or when faced with an object. For example – when faced with a wild animal, say a tiger in a jungle, the body will respond dramatically with a healthy dose of fear which then sets into motion all sorts of other physiological and mental responses – dry mouth, heart palpitations etc. When we see that same animal, a tiger, in a zoo, the fear around the object (tiger) is transmuted into a different emotion than the original fight/flight/freeze one. It is something much less than survival fear and becomes part of a long term, less intense, and easily-applied-to-other-situations sensation. The previous emotion is shifted rapidly then from fear to another emotion – say, enthusiasm and also becomes a “feeder” emotion for a feeling – which can then be stored in the body’s memory and brought out to be applied to other similar situations – other wild animals in zoos. Feelings become a way for us to determine how to thrive in a world that seems – and often is – chaotic to our nervous systems. Emotions start out establishing our long term view toward reality and tell us how to keep safe in the world.
With the intertwining of emotions and feelings like a lovely green vine that grows unchecked in the woods it’s no wonder that as humans we experience challenge at sifting through our internal world and at not letting our emotions or feelings get the best of us at times. Likewise, I also think it’s best that we match feelings with feelings and emotions with emotions which will support us in moving confidently from one category to the other and within categories. For example – to say that one can choose love over fear is mixing a feeling with an emotion – love being the feeling and fear being the emotion. What if instead of love we chose joy as part of that equation? So the statement changes to – choose joy over fear. Can you feel that resonance within your body of moving from one intense state to the other? There’s nothing wrong with love at all as a feeling – and it’s a compilation of other emotions such as the joy you feel when gazing upon a loved one’s face or hearing their laughter. And the compassion you feel when a friend cries on your shoulder at their challenges because they trust you and know you will support them. Both of these intense emotions associated with an object or event translate into the generalized feeling of love you have for loved ones, for the world and most importantly for yourself. Because all of these emotions start with you and what better place to begin than your feeling joy at the completion of a task and know what a huge accomplishment it was – such as earning a degree or even getting your house cleaned all at once and by yourself? Hey – it’s the little things, right? What about compassion for yourself when you make a mistake or know that an action brought unintended harm to another? Bring all of these emotions deeply into yourself and let them reverberate in your body and soul knowing that they will eventually land in the most sustaining reservoir of all – love. Photo by Gisela Giardino