Up until now, I have always trusted my emotions were there to help me navigate my way through life. I have ‘felt’ my way through situations, relationships and opportunities. If something made me feel happy, I would do more of it; If something made me feel sad or angry, I would avoid it like the plague and or question my decisions. Seems reasonable at first glance, however, what if my relentless pursuit of pleasure and happiness has actually caused me more pain in the long-term?
This is precisely the question I started asking myself a month or so ago and as they say, when the student is ready the teacher will appear.
It all started on New Year’s Day. I have always believed the way you start the year sets the tone for the 364 days to follow. Attending a yoga workshop, therefore, seemed like a wonderful idea. Despite being slightly sleep deprived of the night before, there I sat in the studio awaiting enlightened instruction from our handsome Brazilian teacher, Julio. Speaking in an accent only handsome Brazilian men seem to speak, Julio posed a question to the class “is there a difference between feelings and intuition?”
After we all sat in silence and contemplated what seemed like an extremely profound question to be asking first thing in the morning, several students gently called out their thoughts. Julio nodded and proposed “feelings come from the level of the mind, while intuition is from the level of the soul” he went on to say “we must follow our intuitive commitments rather than our feelings”.
I cannot speak for the rest of the class but for me it was a light bulb moment, it made so much sense.
Julio went on to give the example of practicing yoga. He explained there would be days we wouldn’t ‘feel’ like practicing, however, if we made a commitment, we should aim to honour this regardless of how we felt. I could immediately see how this was a valuable lesson for all areas of my life and I made a promise right there and then, to honour my new commitment to remain committed to my commitments.
As I walked out the studio and into the summer heat, I began to question where in my life I let my feelings override my commitments. I looked back on the career opportunities I did not pursue out of fear and the new skills I gave up on too early out of frustration and embarrassment. Had I not listened to my negative feelings by now I would be a harpist, fluent in Spanish who could dance the tango, have a black belt in Wing chun and have written more than one book!
Do our commitments change as we change? Absolutely. I am in no way suggesting we should keep doing something that is constantly making us miserable. I am however suggesting that questioning the feelings as they come up, may allow us to get to the heart of why we are feeling the way we are in the first place. Then we would be in a better position to make the distinction between fleeting negative emotions versus an actual pain coming from a deeper more intuitive level.
Fast-forward a few weeks and there I was lying in a beachside cabana listening to the sound of the ocean and taking in the turquoise paradise that surrounded me. I was in Fiji for our family holiday and had snuck away from the kids to enjoy a quiet hour of reading. My brother had given me his copy of ‘The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck’ by Mark Manson and my immediate thought was what better place to read it. We were on a tropical island with our only worry being to achieve maximum relaxation status. It was an oasis specifically designed for us not to give a f*ck about a thing!
I was hooked as soon as I started reading and I found every page to be filled with practical wisdom and funny relatable anecdotes. As I turned to page 34 one paragraph, in particular, seemed to jump off the page and dive right into my open mind-
“Just because something feels good doesn’t mean it is good. Just because something feels bad it doesn’t mean it is bad. Emotions are merely signposts, suggestions that our neurobiology gives us, not commandments. Therefore we shouldn’t always trust our own emotions. In fact, I believe we should make a habit of questioning them.”
I felt as if it was the same message packaged differently with no handsome Brazilian to deliver it this time around. I knew I was ready to explore this newfound wisdom. Rather than allowing my emotions to guide me, I decided it might serve me to observe, experience and question my emotions. To delve deeper into the thoughts that were stirring up the emotions and ultimately use my emotions to discover more about myself rather than allowing my emotions to use me.
The underlying premise of Mark Manson’s book is that there is no such thing as a life lived without pain, struggle and challenges. That no matter what path we choose, we will encounter some sort of problems. His suggestion- to choose a path that we enjoy solving the problems that will inevitably arise.
I felt the message was as refreshing as the crystal clear waters of Fiji and I knew there was no coincidence that I was reading it right there and then. There is no such thing as a coincidence.
Will I ever stop seeking pleasure and happiness? No way. Do I now understand that sometimes it is essential to trade in short-term pleasure for long-term fulfilment? Loud and clear. Most importantly my relationship to my emotions has begun to shift. I respect my emotions however I now understand they do not have the answers. The answers we seek are to be found on a much deeper level. A place within us illuminated by love and life that remains forever constant and unchanged by the passage of time. How do we access it? Go within and ask for yourself.
Love and magic