Why do so many of us suffer?
How many times have you asked yourself, Why is the world in such distress? Why do people do hurtful things to one another? Why am I hurting?
These are simple questions humans have wrestled with for ages. We have tried to find answers everywhere — in religion, science, psychology, philosophy, or “common sense."
Generally, our answers to these questions are pretty bleak:
- People are fundamentally sinful.
- People are inherently animal.
- People's brains are easily broken.
- Many people have histories of trauma.
- Many people have mistaken beliefs and flawed thinking.
- People different from “us" are inferior.
- Life is like this. Deal with it.
- (Do you have another one to suggest?)
But is this really the way things are?
I challenge you: Is this really the nature of life, of being human? Or do you suspect, deep within yourself, that we have overlooked something essential? And is it possible that our blind spot renders us more vulnerable to suffering in all its many forms?
A clue: Feeling is the center of suffering, but we focus on the edge.
Feeling is where suffering lives. But engaging feeling directly seems to suck us more deeply into it. We often feel helpless in the face of the intensity within ourselves. So we attempt to relieve our suffering by focusing on what we can more easily control:
- We distract ourselves by doing something else.
- We shift our center by connecting with someone else.
- We pour the energy of what we feel into something we create.
- We redirect an intolerable feeling into another emotion we can handle.
- We examine and change our thoughts, beliefs, or behavior.
- We process our memories and rewrite our stories.
- We diagnose and intervene in our biology through medications.
- We adjust our bodies through food, other substances, or exercise.
- (What strategies do you use?)
Our shared story is that by strategically shifting our focus of control, we can change the way we feel and relieve our suffering. Our entire culture supports us in these efforts. Great swaths of our economy serve these efforts. This is what we all do when we feel bad.
This is like trying to fix a burned out light bulb by fiddling with the switch. Perhaps the bulb is too high for us to reach, but unless we face that challenge directly, we’re not going to get the light turned on. And in fact, if we get too zealous with our switch-fiddling, grabbing the screwdriver and pliers, we risk getting electrocuted.
A new discovery offers a series of breakthroughs.
Twenty-five years ago I discovered something new about feeling. My discovery enabled me to completely and permanently terminate my own life-wrecking bipolar disorder. Since then I have helped many hundreds of people and have continued to explore the new world I discovered.
My discovery was unprecedented, leading to a series of breakthroughs in my understanding of feeling, the mind, and human nature itself. It was such a giant leap forward (or sideways?) that I could find no place for it in the conventional world of research. So I have conducted my work in isolation, away from academic or other institutions, funded by my clients who found immense support and empowerment in this new approach to thriving.
Today it is time for me to share this work with you. Feelingmind.io is my vehicle for doing that. Over the coming months and years I will build out this website with all I have learned. Let me begin by giving you a peek at what my discovery does to our old story of suffering.
The first breakthrough: Precise observation of feeling itself.
I made my discovery by devising a new method enabling us to bring our attention to feeling directly, safely, with unprecedented clarity and precision. This method, which I call The Feelingwork Practice, is made of a few simple questions that focus our attention in new ways.
Feelingwork turns previously murky, nebulous, and potentially dangerous feeling states into tangible, vivid, and distinct objects in our awareness. These objects I call maps, because they enable us to locate and return to specific points in the inner landscape of feeling.
We gain the ability to observe our feeling states as if they were sitting on the table in front of us. We can observe their interactions with other feeling states and inquire into how they shape our thoughts, perceptions, and behaviors.
Below are examples of two interacting states illuminating a specific inner dynamic held by this person.
Like hard rubber, pushing down on head and shoulders; through back, gripping and crushing my heart. Neutral temp. Black.
I am being controlled by you. You are trying to make me be someone else. I am not good enough for you.
Resistance to Being Controlled
Blasting, exploding fire energy in my heart. Hot! Red, forcing outward, radiating powerfully.
I must fight this! NO! I refuse. You can’t make me!
This capacity for rigorous, detached observation is ground-breaking.
The most obvious impact of Feelingwork is for people wanting to understand themselves. What makes us tick? Why do we do or think or feel what we do or think or feel?
When you can shine a bright light into the murky mists of the feeling mind, the inner patterns and structures that drive us become clearly evident. In a matter of a few hours, it is possible to unpack deeper dynamics that drive our surface dysfunctions. This expanded self-knowledge supports healthier choices at all levels.
But perhaps even more important is the potential impact upon the science of mind. All of the psychological, brain, and consciousness sciences are handicapped by the inability to directly observe the subjective experience of feeling itself.
Science relies on observation, and strong science requires precise observation. The tools simply have not existed, and in their place,researchers have relied on kludgey workarounds. I believe that Feelingwork promises a massive upgrade in research efficacy.
The second breakthrough: Instant transformation of any feeling state.
At the same time I learned how to observe, I discovered that by using my feeling state maps, I could directly manipulate the actual experience of the feeling I was observing. It was as if the observation gave me a handle by which I could move the feeling around however I wanted.
Here is an example of what this looks like in practice. The process generally takes only a few minutes to execute, and its impact is significant.
Stop for a moment and consider what this means. Always we have assumed that feeling is a secondary phenomenon, fully dependent upon other primary actors in consciousness, whether cognitive, historical, biological, or sensory. It simply has not been considered possible to directly alter a feeling state in any way.
This breakthrough impacts personal lives in a big way.
In the personal realm, imagine being able to completely clear long-standing patterns of mood, thought, and behavior. You start with a thorough observation of the underlying patterns of feeling. Then, one by one, you shift each feeling state out of its habitual reactive expression into a more resourceful state. As you do, associated beliefs, perceptions, and behaviors change automatically. No analysis or effort needed.
Here is an example, expanded from the first two states shown above, following the transformation of a deep-set pattern of social anxiety:
Here are a few brief comments from people who have used Feelingwork to make big changes:
"A lightness has come over me."
I worked with Kelly over a period of about a week, perhaps four or five long sessions. Here's an image she drew of one of the states she felt trapped by:
Here is what she wrote about her experience a few months later:
“Since working with Joe, I have felt a profound shift in my being – physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. I feel like the weight of anxiety (big, dark, gray and black) has been lifted off of my shoulders. This weight that I have felt for a majority of my life has been replaced by a sense of lightness, vitality, and a deeper sense of compassion for myself and others. I feel a sense of calm, centeredness, joy, profound love, and positive energy."
Overcoming Panic Attacks
Feelingwork can help with critical issues like anxiety and panic as well. Paul was referred to me because he had recently gone into business for himself, and he needed to be able to do sales presentations in front of groups. Trouble was, his panic attacks before presentations were so bad he found himself paralyzed, and a few times felt he was in bad enough shape to call 911. And they were getting worse.
A week after we worked, Paul was able to make presentations easily. And two years later, I received the following note from him:
“Joe your work has truly changed my life. I now look at my life as before meeting with you and after. I am now more of the person I have always wanted to be because of our 2 day session. Thank you so much.”
"Each Area of My Life Has Changed"
Olivia and I worked over a period of several months. She describes her experience as being like "hitting the reset button" on her life. Here's what she has to say about the impact of the work:
“As the weeks pass I realize increasingly that many of the ways I used to feel or react are simply gone. Once I went through the whole process, I felt rather raw and unformed. Now, slowly I am beginning to recreate myself as I always knew I could be, confident, happy, focused and self-aware without being self-conscious. As I find more energy to take care of my emotional self, I have more energy for other people. I have more energy to take care of my physical body, my career, my finances and my surroundings. I feel like I have been freed from a heavy burden that I carried for years though I had only limited awareness of it. It’s not so much that I am a different person now, but rather I am the same person without all the issues.
“The rebuilding is an ongoing process. It is exciting and challenging. Life feels fresher, newer and the possibilities seem more possible and more numerous. I can see the threads of my life up to this point, and I see how I can shape my future at every step along the way."
This breakthrough also opens intriguing possibilities for science.
In the scientific realm, imagine being able to strategically test feeling state structure and dynamics. What can you learn by deliberately manipulating a specific feeling state to observe the impact of that manipulation? This kind of action is the foundation of all useful experimentation, and feelingwork makes it possible for the first time in the realm of feeling.
This is what I have been occupied in doing for over two decades, and I can tell you that the research reveals aspects of the feeling mind that go far beyond anything you might expect. In fact, as you will see in coming articles, these discoveries update our understanding of human nature itself.
This new realm, opened up through the observational and experimental power of feelingwork, is so unlike anything we have come to expect that I have given it a new name: feelingmind. It is not just “the mind that feels,” or “the feeling aspect of mind,” but a dimension unto itself.
Let me give you a sneak peek into the world this opens up by sharing one simple revelation.
Disciplined application of Feelingwork allows us to break free of a long-standing confusion in emotion and affect research. The actual experience of feeling is not somatic. In fact, an essential characteristic of feelingmind architecture is that it extends far beyond the boundaries of the physical body. Feelingmind inhabits a trans-somatic space.
You can look forward to plenty of illustrative examples to come.
With the discovery of feelingmind, everything changes.
Feelingmind exhibits properties none of us has ever anticipated. Yet these properties offer solutions to perennial problems. For example:
- A new vision of humanity, offering evidence for a clear, universal, and indisputable drive toward wholeness in every person, even in the cases of states and the behaviors driven by them which look destructive on the surface.
- An elegant architecture, far more complex than any previous model of the psyche, yet also very simple, based on a repeating, three-by-three fractal structure.
- Explanatory power offering the possibility to bring all forms of therapy and all models of the psyche into a single, overarching meta-framework.
Feelingmind theory and Feelingwork Practice open up a universe of possibility.
- Helps explain how we got where we are: Modern western culture’s demotion of feeling to second-class citizen is at the heart of what drives our relentless degradation of ourselves and the planet as a whole.
- Points out very clearly what we need to do to set things straight again: It becomes very clear that as a collective, we must place feeling at the center, starting from birth and supporting every child in maintaining their connection to the deeper wisdom of feeling.
- Places us face to face with our responsibility: No longer is it possible for us to offload our necessity for action by playing the blame card. The incontrovertible fact is, every human is inherently good, wants wholeness, and longs for connection and belonging and significance. Let us build a society that reflects and supports that.
The job ahead of us is gargantuan. It will require the efforts of us all, working together in earnest to build a new world. But at least we can begin with clarity and purpose.
Feeling is no longer something to deal with or manage. It is the center of who we are. It is time we start living that way.
I am Joe Shirley. This is my journey.
When I started down this path in 1994, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. It's been a wild ride.
Along the way I have been relentless in using myself as my primary laboratory, applying feelingwork to myself and testing my emerging theories about feelingmind. At the same time I have been fierce in testing my understanding in my work with others, constantly attempting to poke holes in my theories and find more effective methods to facilitate the work.
It's a hell of a thing when the research you're doing directly impacts the person doing the research. As I applied the work to myself, it changed me. Gradually at first, because my methods and theory were still quite clumsy. But over recent years, my skills and knowledge have improved to the point where, when I choose to take on a cycle of work with myself, I have to prepare for seismic shifts. Not only does my identity change and expand, not only do I shed layers of self which had seemed indelible, but the concepts I am able to entertain as I construct my understanding of the work itself expand as well.
I consider this tight loop of self-transforming inquiry essential to the development of a true science and technology of consciousness. One thing we learn in this work is that our concepts are mere froth upon the deep ocean of feelingmind. We might update the details through making new connections and exposing ourselves to new ideas, but the essential structure of our worldview will conform to the underlying shape of feelingmind within ourselves.
If we are to gain true understanding of the nature of this strange reality we inhabit, we must surrender to including ourselves in the actual stream of our inquiry.
One of the ways I intend to encourage this radical position in others is to share as explicitly as possible what my own journey has looked like at various times, and the impact of the work both on my direct experience of everyday life and on my ideas about the work and the world as a whole.
Would you like to be part of this?
I invite you to become part of a nascent community of people thinking about what this work means and how to apply it, even as they enjoy the benefits of applying it directly in their own lives.
At this early point, “community” means a hub-and-spoke wheel of relationships around me and this website. I will send out occasional newsletters to a small list, and invite you to one-on-one or small-group conversations to share more about the work and invite your input about what you would like to see in the next phase.
Please consider getting involved in this early phase by signing up below for my newsletter. Let me know if there is something more you would like to discuss personally, and I’ll respond to you directly.