We are not given a guidebook or instruction manual for human interaction. Most of our understanding of social contexts arrives through learned behavior and the development of our intuition. We don’t learn how to deal with social interactions in school, nor do most of us receive any formal training in this field. Yet, social interactions are some of the most complex dynamics we will ever deal with. The ability to feel and sense “the field” gives us a moment to moment guide in how to navigate the challenges of each social interaction. In quantum physics, we conceive the universe as made up of particles and waves. The particles are the matter and the waves are the energy. In a social dynamic, each person is a particle, while the dynamic fluid movement of energy between the people interacting is the wave. This wave function is what we call the field. The field is the energy that moves through us and between us. Through opening our hearts, sensing, and feeling the energetic field of an interaction, we have vital information for how to navigate this world. Our feelings can help us sense and unlock the hidden potential in any interaction. In this article, we will outline the basics of how to sense the field by getting in touch with and relating to our feelings, the truth, our bodies, and human dynamics.
The Power of Feeling
Feelings are not widely understood in our society. Philosopher David Hume said, “reason is and ought only to be the slave of passion.” He was speaking to the way in which our thought processes and decisions are driven and ruled by what we feel underneath. Our feelings include both feelings we’re aware and conscious of, along with those we are unaware and unconscious of. With so many layers of feeling that we aren’t fully aware of, there is immense power in understanding what drives our unconscious. Humans have been aware of the gap between the conscious and unconscious for eons. Shamen, oracles, and medicine men and women, as well as psychologists and therapists help us navigate our realms of knowing and knit together our vast identity. They have always used the realm of feeling to help with this.
We are not as rational as we like to think we are. For example, economists build their models on the assumption that human beings are not ‘rational actors’ and factor that in to govern how the economy works. Rational actors would simply weigh out events and consequences and act accordingly to what was logically best. Instead, human beings make decisions based on our feelings and intuitions about things. Social scientists have come to understand this principle as well, when predicting behavior of individuals in various settings. The advertising industry uses these principles to manipulate us into consuming what they want us to consume. Humans don’t follow logical systems. We generally go with what intuitively feels right to discern how we move through life.
The power of feeling can be used to help align us and move us toward health. Our feelings and intuition always want what is best for us. They guide us to the truth of the heart and help us be more honest with ourselves so we can move through life in a more integrated way.
The notion that we are not rational actors is in fact a fallacy. We have the choice to enter into a new paradigm of freedom and integration between our minds and our hearts where we recognize that decisions are made by the heart and the intuition for our best good, and that living our lives from this place is actually the most rational thing we could do.
The Body Knows the Truth
The human body is the great truth teller. The body cannot lie. Your mind can say, “my shoulders feel relaxed.” But if there’s tension in your shoulders, the body will show it. The mind may say, “I feel okay with this break up I’m having,” while the body continues to express and hold onto all of the sensations that the mind is refusing to acknowledge. In the book The Body Keeps the Score, author Bessel van der Kolk writes, “The greatest sources of our suffering are the lies we tell ourselves.” These lies cause suffering because the body only knows the truth. All of the lies we tell ourselves are stored somewhere in the body.
Author and physician Gabor Mate’s book, When the Body Says No: The Hidden Cost of Stress, presents case after case of people carrying symptoms in their body, even when their mind has no idea what is occurring. Whatever the body feels will come up as a symptom, even if the mind denies its importance. The way we know the body is through sensations. Sensations are it’s great messenger. When we are honest with ourselves, our body feels more at ease, and we can have a better path to navigating our truth in this world. Honesty is simply good for our overall health.
Feeling Sensations in our Body
We live in a culture that prioritizes the mind and emotions over the pure sensation of feeling. We often talk about what we’re feeling with emotional stories attached, such as “I feel sadness about breaking up with my partner,” or “I’m angry and anxious about losing my job.” Many of us have lost touch with the actual sensations these emotions are based on. Feelings are sensations we feel right now in the body. Anxiety is not a feeling, it’s a summary label of an emotion to describe the associated sensations. When we say, “I feel a fast moving sensation in the pit of my stomach when I think about not having a job,” we are describing a sensation. For some, the distinction between sensations and emotions is a completely new way to think about the complexities and nuances within feeling. The benefit of understanding this distinction is that it reconnects us to our actual experience of life, and not just our mind-made interpretations.
Thought Verses Feeling Experiment
It’s important to do this exercise with your full attention, to understand the difference between thinking and feeling. Reading this exercise without experiencing it may not allow you to understand this essential difference.
- Focus on a rock, crystal, or small object near you. Do not touch the object.
- Look at the object and get to know it by thinking about it. Here are some questions you may want to ask yourself:
- How was it made or formed?
- What color is it?
- What is its shape?
- Is it shiny or dull?
- Does it look smooth or rough?
- What do you think it will feel like in your hands?
- Let your mind about the object in any and all ways possible.
- Now enter the realm of feeling. Pick the object up in your hands and feel it.
- Close your eyes and feel the texture of it as you run your hand or fingers along its surface. Feel and explore every inch of the object.
- Take your time to get to know this object through your sense of touch by feeling it rather than seeing it. If you find yourself thinking about it, that’s okay. Simply acknowledge your thoughts and return to your focus to feeling the sensations of the object.
- Open your eyes now as you put down the object. Take a few moments to reflect on the difference between thinking about the object and feeling it.
- What were your experiences like? What were the differences between thinking about and feeling the object?
Did you notice that when you are thinking, you are perceiving the world primarily through your mind, while when you are feeling you are sensing the object directly through your body? Feeling is a kinesthetic sense, while thinking comes in words and images from the auditory and visual centers of the body. I’m curious if you were able to drop out of your traditional way of thinking as you felt the object. For most of us, our thinking is so strong that even when we focus on sensation it can sometimes be hard to actually feel the sensations.
- Sensations in the moment.
- Present right now.
- New – It can’t be something you knew from before, something that is not happening in the present moment, or something you’re not feeling. If it is something you think you already know, you’re actually just remembering it and thinking about feeling rather than directly feeling.
- Impossible to conceptualize. You can try, but they will always elude the concept.
- Hard to express in words. Poetry and music are the best ways to express feelings.
- An extremely powerful way of knowing and experiencing life.
Note: In our mind dominated society, feelings are rarely fully experienced. Unless you are giving birth, present with someone dying, making love, or having some other peak experience with awareness, you may not be feeling. Oftentimes we think we are feeling because we are having emotions. But most of our emotions are simply a reaction to our thoughts. We are rarely experiencing the direct visceral bodily sensations of feeling.
Exercise: Take Emotion, Find Feelings
- Think of an emotion you’ve recently experienced. It could be anything: happiness, anger, grief, joy, or fear. Find where you feel the roots of this emotion in your body. A good place to look for it is anywhere between your neck and your buttocks.
- What does it feel like? Is it tight or loose? Moving or still? Warm or cool? Sharp or dull? Heavy or light? What are the sensations you experience? How does it really feel?
- Notice as you feel the sensations, you are now in touch with the direct felt sense of your experience.
- Accept all the sensations you are experiencing right now.
- Return to the original emotion you started with. What do you notice now?
- What is different? What is the same?
- Give yourself acceptance for all that you are experiencing right now. The emotions and sensations all get to be loved equally.
The Perceptual Positions Practice comes out of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), and is the most effective way I’ve experienced to cultivate our empathy skills. In the Process Coaching work I was a part of for 18 years, we used this tool as a foundation for developing empathy and rapport.
There are four basic perceptual positions, which line up with the first four parts of speech:
- First position is the “I” or self position. In first position, you are looking out through your body and experiencing life largely as you typically experience it.
- The second position is the “you” or other position. In second position, we are empathetically feeling the other person’s experience.
- Third position, “he/she/they,” is the observer position. In third position we are the observer. We are like a fly on the wall watching the whole interaction. In observer position, we are not in our own body, but we can see our own body as well as all the others in the dynamic from a neutral third person position.
- Fourth position is the “we” position or field position. In field position, we are feeling the whole dynamic and no longer neutral as we are in the third position. We are looking out for the interests of everyone involved.
Each position has its advantages and disadvantages. Field position is the most wonder-filled position of them all. To truly be in field position, we have to have the ability to shift to all the other positions as needed at any moment. So rather than staying in field position, which is an ever changing kaleidoscope of experience, we can flexibly move wherever we are called to move and feel more penetratingly into every facet of life in and around us.
Sensing the Field
We all sense the field. When you walk in a room and feel the vibe of the room, you are sensing the field. Through the conscious use of field position, we can become even better at this. The better we get at feeling sensations in our own body, the better we can feel and sense into other people’s feelings as well as whole dynamics. This is best taught in person or online and is difficult to write about. If you’re interested in learning this, reach out to us. We offer individual coaching, and have a variety of online and in person courses which can teach you how to sense the field and read other’s feelings.
When someone speaks, you can feel in your own body whether or not their speech resonates as true. If you listen closely, you will either get a yes when it resonates or a no when it doesn’t resonate. Similarly, you can feel into a group and sense how harmonious and connected or how disconnected it is. When a group is very connected, there’s a feeling of warmth in the heart. When the group is disconnected, there’s often an unsettling feeling in the solar plexus. The exact sensations in your body will vary depending on what is happening.
The ability to sense the field is the most powerful leadership skill one can develop. When we can read people and dynamics accurately, and lovingly tend to them, we have nearly everything we need to be a good leader. This ability can serve as a compass to guide our decisions in every interaction. The more perceptive we are of human dynamics, the better we are able to navigate the complex social structures of our human world. I’m so grateful for the heart’s ability to feel and sense what is happening in the moment. With this guiding light, I find it much easier to find my way through even the most challenging situations.
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Adam Bulbulia is the author of three books on the topics of unconditional love, nurture being, and authenticity – all of which are available on Amazon. His upcoming book, Parenting from the Heart: A Guide to Create a Family Culture that Works for Everyone, is expected to be published next year.
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