Sentio Ergo Sum
Ever since the French philosopher Descartes declared ‘I think therefore I am’, humans have emphasised the primacy of thought. We suppose our rational minds to be what separate us from the beasts, whom Descartes, in another flawed leap of logic, considered mere automatons. Of course, modern zoology has shown what a hopelessly inadequate conception this is of animals’ complex emotional lives, despite the way we continue to treat them. Nevertheless, the idea we are thinking creatures who happen to feel has largely persisted.
It’s understandable. When we analyse it, we do so with our minds. Rational thought has allowed us to build up our mighty civilisation. We wear clothes, shop for our food, spend more time in virtual environments than physical. Seemingly everything we do further distances us from our intrinsic animality. Our emotional core. While our thoughts are clearly important, it is our emotions that give our lives their value. We, like the beasts, are feeling creatures. It just so happens that we also think.
Plenty of Nothing
I got plenty of nothing, and nothing’s plenty for me, sings Porgy, in what is essentially a loved-up hymn to perspective. It’s a remarkably simple idea, but one that can very easily be lost in all the noise and fury. You can have all the material possessions in the world and feel bad – about yourself, about life – and suddenly all that wealth is worthless. Equally, like Porgy, you can have very little and feel good about yourself, and your life is a positive experience. Ultimately, all our lovers, friends, family, possessions, the things we think and the experiences we have are subordinate to how we feel in our own skins. In my post about resilience, I wrote about values. Making the effort to understand your values goes a long way towards recognising what truly makes you feel good. And if we look after our feelings, the thoughts will take care of themselves.
Butterflies & Broken Hearts
Try and recall a feeling. It doesn’t matter whether it’s positive or negative, simply that you can experience it, or at least a version of it, right now. And now notice where that feeling is located in your body. I’m willing to bet that it wasn’t it your head. There’s a reason we talk about broken hearts, gut feelings and butterflies in the stomach. It’s remarkable how often I’ll ask a client how something made them feel, and they’ll respond with ‘it made me feel like I don’t want to go to work tomorrow’, or ‘that I should try and do something differently’. These are thoughts. They are interpretations of feelings. They have been processed. Feelings are the ore we pull directly from the earth – experience in its pure, uncut form.
A lot of the work I do is helping people turn dry, intellectual truths into powerful emotional beliefs. For example, the smoker thinks he wants to give up the habit, but feels like he can’t. My job is to make him feel like he can. Hypnosis is a great way of experiencing what it’s like to hold these new beliefs in a very powerful way. And once you’ve felt that way in the therapy room, it becomes much easier to take this new belief out into the world and try it out for real. And that’s where fun really starts.