How Can I Change My Feelings?

“Members of my family have done some things that have made me angry, and I want to change how I feel.  The inward struggle is awful.”

It’s hard to accept that our feelings can’t be “changed.”  It is possible to change the mental conditions that cause emotions, but once feelings come into being they hang around until we fully feel them.  When we try to suppress them, they build up strength for when they can get our attention.

The way to deal with difficult feelings is to feel them.  They are what we call them: feelings.  They’re a somatic experience, something the body registers.  Anger is often a surface feeling, covering other emotions like hurt or sadness.  When we bring an accepting and loving attention to feelings, they finally get to play themselves out.  This way, we heal ourselves.

We can pay this kind of attention to feelings only by shifting attention away from thoughts about why we feel this way, or “the story.”  Buddha said that when we mentally obsess about something upsetting, it’s like standing beside a fire out of control, throwing logs into the flames.

So the formula is: “More feeling, less thinking.”  Concentrating on the body’s experience takes attention away from thoughts that would otherwise keep feeding the feelings.  It allows those we already have to be processed and fade naturally.  It may take several sessions, but shortcuts are illusions.

Having “gone through” feelings, we can be watchful of the kind of thinking that gave birth to them.  Then, perhaps sooner next time, we turn attention away from such thoughts, while letting the feelings play themselves out.

It gets easier to channel attention this way when we’ve clearly seen the damage caused by thoughts that have exaggerated feelings.  We then understand that ego-driven thoughts of fear, anger, etc. give rise to real, physical suffering in the form of unpleasant feelings.  That helps motivate us to turn away from those lines of thinking.

So grab some tissues, sit down and pay healing attention to the sensations of your emotions.  And stay out of the story.  It’s simple, really.  And it is the path to liberation.

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