This is a lightly-edited transcript of a single, self-contained demo session with Susan, a participant in a small training I conducted in early 2017. If you like, listen along with the recording above while you follow through the transcript. [NOTE: Susan (not her real name) gave me her full permission to share her session with the public. I am immensely grateful for her offer.]
We’re working remotely by video conferencing. My intention is to give her a complete experience of mapping and moving several feeling states and to demonstrate the basics of the feelingwork process. Throughout the transcript, I’ll interject comments (in italics like this) to give you more information about what’s happening in the session, using what shows up to illustrate the method and what it reveals about the territory of feeling.
As you read this, you might imagine yourself in either my role, Susan’s role, or both. You’ll see an example of how to facilitate feelingwork sessions as well as what it is like to undergo the feelingwork process.
Susan: I think something that's really up for me right now in general is receiving, allowing myself to receive. And specifically to receive love.
Joe: That sounds like a great place to work. So what do you experience in situations where you're not allowing yourself to receive love?
Susan: It's a noticing, like somewhere inside my physical body there's a barrier or boundary, like the love can’t come in. I can feel it around the outside of me. And I can even feel it on my skin, on the outside of my body, but as it approaches, and I would say maybe as it approaches my heart, there just seems to be a boundary. So that my heart... when I'm loving, when I'm sending love out, or opening my heart to someone else like in terms of connecting with them, I can feel my heart open. But when I think, “Oh, there's just this wave of love coming my way, and it would be so delicious to take it in,” it seems to stop. Like to not go fully in.
Susan: And it's almost like there's a fear, if I really took it all the way in, I might just explode with love or something. You know? It would be more than my system can handle.
S: I mean, I'm just seeing that right now, that behind that barrier is I think a fear that it would just be too much.
J: So do you have any experience of what “too much” can feel like for you?
S: It feels like a loss of control. Like it's more than I can control or contain. (These things are occurring to me as I'm speaking to you.) So it's...
J: So the feeling of loss of control...
J: Let's zoom in there. What would you call that feeling, the anticipation of what it feels like to lose control, to have more than you can contain or control?
S: Again it feels very scary. I mean, like there's some fear, like what's gonna happen?
J: So what would you like to call that fear?
S: <thinks to="" self.=""> Just, “no.” I mean, I notice when you asked me what I would like to call it, I wanted to do this. <gestures with="" arms="" blocking="" chest.=""></gestures></thinks>
J: OK. Would it make sense to give it the name, “No"?
J: OK. Does it need an exclamation point after it?
J: All right then.
In this first few minutes, my goal is to help Susan identify and name a single feeling state for us to map. She has identified something she is calling No! but there also seems to be an indication of something else that could be called “fear,” as if the “barrier” is the No! and as she says, “behind that barrier is I think a fear that it would just be too much.”
I want to call your attention to the way in which I’m encouraging her to call her feeling states by whatever name she finds most useful. We shall see that the standard vocabulary for feeling and emotion is far too limited to capture the immense diversity of actual feeling experience, and it’s important to honor the uniqueness of each person’s experience of every feeling state in this way.
At this early stage, we’re not sure whether the No! is the fear, or the fear is a separate state related to the No! I suspect they are two different states, but that’s OK. I don’t need to know right now. For now we’re ready to map the first feeling state, and we’ll discover more through the mapping.
J: Now I'm going to lead you through a series of questions to help you describe what No! actually feels like. Just be open to whatever comes up, whatever shows up for you as an answer to the question, and test out: does that seem like it's true for you in your experience. And don't get too hung up on whether it's a right answer or not. It's just feeling your way into something that captures your experience as best as we can. All right? <susan nods="" yes.=""></susan>
So when you put your attention on this fear, this feeling of No!, if you were to say that the actual, felt experience of this is located somewhere in or around your body, where would you say that seems to be?
S: Heart level, starting mid chest, just below my heart, up probably to my jaw. So through my throat.
J: OK. So mid-chest, just below your heart, up probably to your jaw. So all the way through your throat. Is it just the front part of your chest, or does it go all the way through to your shoulder blades?
S: No. Just on the front.
J: And in that region, if you were to say that the actual, felt experience of this has qualities of substance, would you say that it seems more like a solid, or a liquid, or a gas, or some kind of light or energy, or something else?
S: Solid. Definitely solid.
J: OK. And hard or soft?
J: Heavy or light?
J: OK. Anything else to notice about the substance quality? Does it resemble anything from the material world?
S: Well it feels like a steel plate.
J: What temperature would you say this steel plate seems to be?
S: Slightly cooler than body temperature. Like not freezing cold, but I experience it as cool compared to my body temperature.
J: OK. And if you were to say that this feeling, this felt experience, this substance, this steel plate has color, what color would you say it is?
S: It's silver, I mean like stainless steel color.
J: So the color of stainless steel. And would you say it's opaque then, like steel, you wouldn't be able to see through it at all?
S: Yes. It's definitely opaque.
J: OK. And is it shiny like stainless steel then?
J: OK. And is this stainless steel plate moving in any way?
J: So it’s perfectly still, no pulse or vibration?
J: Any force or pressure that you notice?
S: Yeah, a little. I mean, I'm sitting up, so it's not like it's weighing on me, keeping me from breathing. But it is as if it's pressed solidly against me.
S: So I'm very aware of but I'm not feeling crushed by it.
J: OK. And if you listen internally, do you notice any inner sound that arises with this feeling?
S: Kind of a hum, like mmmmmmmmmmm.
J: OK. What note is that? <laugh></laugh>
S: It is kind of a low tone.
J: A low tone, yeah.
S: And more a minor key than a major key.
J: All right. Is there anything else you want to notice about what this feels like?
S: Well it feels like it covers my chest up to my collar bone, so like from my collarbone to my jaw, my neck and throat, I feel like a little upward pressure. You know, like if someone were, like if I press on my chest, then there's kind of a pressure up in my body.
J: OK. Got it. So the actual steel plate doesn't come up to your jaw, but...
S: No. Just to my collar bone.
J: But then there's the experience of something pushing up.
In this portion of the session, we map the first feeling state. I introduce the mapping process by giving Susan full latitude to explore, letting her know there are no “right” answers to the questions I’ll be asking and putting the responsibility on her to find the best ways to capture her experience. My primary job is to guide her attention; her job is to report what she finds. Along the way I’m also taking detailed notes to support her reflection and integration of our work after the session.
Susan is a bodyworker, and has studied a couple of somatic therapy methods as well, so she finds it easy and natural to answer the feelingwork questions. She is able to place her attention on her inner, felt experience of No! and quickly report back about its qualities. Some people will have an easier time than others, and I’ll be sharing later in the book how to help support someone learning this skill for the first time. Check to confirm.
The questions themselves follow a standard form in this mapping. I’ve found that most often, things flow most smoothly when attention is led through the feeling experience in this order:
(In the example of substance, providing a list of options makes it easier for the explorer to say “no” to specific qualities and notice which one fits best. It’s a little harder when the question is left wide open. We’ll notice later, though, that Susan doesn’t need this careful guidance.)
At the end of this section, we see that the force of the steel plate pushing inward on her chest is eliciting a responding sensation of something behind the plate pushing upward. These kinds of interactions between feeling state forms are common, and in this example, I choose to explore that upward pressure in her chest.
J: What would you say that is, that's being pushed up? What's your experience of what's behind the plate?
S: It sounds weird but it feels like the metal plate is kind of pushing on the fear, like the fear is rising up in my throat.
S: So, like, “Oohhhhhh!” <laugh> Kind of a panicked, “Whoaaaaaaah,” like that.</laugh>
J: OK. So it's like the fear is actually behind the No!.
J: Ah hah. OK.
S: It's like the No! is to protect, almost, (that sounds weird too, but), to protect the fear.
J: Right. And what would you like to call the fear? Do you want to call it “fear” or something else?
S: Actually, it's like Fearful Fear.
S: <laughing> Which is kind of funny, but it seems to be what's true.</laughing>
J: OK. Great. You can call feelings anything you want. So Fearful Fear is a great name. I'm going to suggest that we go ahead and map Fearful Fear, because we will find that No! probably isn't going to want to move as long as that fear is there. Right?
S: Right, because it's the protector.
S: It's not going to go anywhere as long as there's something to protect.
Here we see clearly how the No! and the Fearful Fear coexist and interact. These are two distinct feeling states that are simultaneously present. Susan’s awareness of the actual, felt experience of this interaction provides insight into the meaning of the feelings.
J: So, the No! – come back to the steel plate. We'll map the Fearful Fear in a second. If you were to capture in words what seems true, or real, or important to that steel plate, what would you say?
S: Well it feels very responsible, like it's got a very important job to do, and it really needs to do it well. So a big feeling of responsibility.
J: Right. OK. Anything else that comes to mind that you want to notice about this No! feeling?
S: Well I notice it also has a feeling of competence, like it's up to the job.
J: Ah hah. Great. So it's a competent protector.
Here we are inviting this specific feeling state to express its perspective. By inviting this expression, we have an opportunity to learn more about the nature of this feeling state, what it is trying to accomplish, and what other feeling states might be interacting with it.
It’s important that we welcome whatever the expression is, honoring the No! exactly where it is. In doing so, this part of Susan is invited to lean into the process, to trust where we’re going. (In this case, the No! is expressing something that might be conventionally considered a positive sentiment or function. But as a facilitator I want to remain positive in receiving an expression even if it might seem to be “negative” in conventional terms.)
J: So let’s go back to the Fearful Fear. If you were to say that the actual, felt experience of this is located somewhere in or around your body, where would you say that seems to be?
S: It actually seems to be, like from my heart, maybe like the upper third of my chest. Like if the steel plate starts in the middle of my chest, this starts in the upper third. And it actually goes all the way up to my jaw. So some of it is protected by the steel plate, and some of it is not.
J: OK. And what's the depth of it? Behind the steel plate, how far back does this Fearful Fear go?
S: Well I'm assuming if my body were sliced vertically, probably about to the middle, wherever the back of my heart is physically located. It goes that deep, like heart deep.
J: Got it. And if you were to say the actual, felt experience of this has qualities of substance, does it seem more like a solid...
S: Like a fog.
J: Like a fog, OK. And this fog, does it seem thick or thin, heavy or light?
S: Thick... and hm... It's like it's patchy, so parts of it are heavy but parts of it seem very light. So kind of like overall it's light, but there are patches of heaviness.
J: OK. And what temperature would you say this fog seems to be?
S: Definitely cold. Not freezing. Maybe like 40s, 40 degrees, like when you walk outside and you say, “Oh! I should have worn a sweater.” But not shivery.
J: Uh huh.
S: But definitely noticeably cold.
J: And what color would you say it seems to be?
S: The heavy parts are dark gray, and the overall color is a light gray.
S: Like it's not white, but it's just kind of a dingy color.
J: OK, so sort of a grayish.
J: OK. And is this fog, does it seem to be moving in any way? Any kind of swirl or flow, or pulse or vibration?
S: Not swirling, and not pulse and vibration, but it is kind of moving, like maybe back and forth like this. <gestures side="" to=""></gestures>
J: So sort of a drifting back and forth?
S: Yeah, drifting, that's a great word.
J: OK, back and forth to the right and left, yeah?
J: And if you listen internally, do you notice any inner sound?
S: It's like a soft crying, not sobbing.
J: More like whimpering?
S: Not whimpering, not moaning. Gosh I don't seem to think of...
J: Well, “a soft, crying sound” is probably close enough.
J: OK. Anything else you want to notice about what this feels like?
S: Well, the whole time I've been talking about it, the word “shy” keeps coming up for me. Almost like it wants to hide or not be seen or not be noticed. And almost like a little feeling of shame.
J: Mmmmm. So from this place, what seems true, or real, or important?
S: It seems like it really would like to go.
J: “Go” meaning...?
J: Uh huh.
S: It doesn't really want to be here. It just is.
J: Ah huh. Any sense of why it's here?
S: It seems like it was just a really bad day, like a bad weather day, but just like a bad day and it just came up and then it didn't know how to leave.
J: Ah hah. OK.
S: Kind of like if smog came in and it got trapped in a valley, and short of there being a big wind storm or a really fierce rain or something that would dissipate it, it's just kind of stuck there.
J: All right.
Notice how precise Susan gets in describing her feeling state. She gives a specific temperature, quibbles about the color, is very clear about the patchy density of the fog, and describes with a gesture exactly how it moves. The gesture also indicates how integrated the experience of feeling is with our ever-present experience of embodiment. We experience ourselves, before anything else, as material bodies in a material world, and this pervasive materiality infuses our every moment.
Also notice how Susan mentions a hint of “almost like a little feeling of shame” as she summarizes her experience of the fog. As a facilitator, I am constantly alert for hints like this one which often point to further feeling states connected to the one in focus. Feeling exists as constellations of interrelated states, and feelingwork mapping activates a sensitivity to the nuances of our inner experience, supporting us in bringing the full network of distinct states into tangible awareness.
J: So you mentioned something like a little feeling of shame. I wonder if that word points to something else that's connected to this, or if the shame is an attribute of the fog itself.
S: The shame seems to be that it would leave if it knew how but it doesn't. Not a shame that it appeared, but that it was meant to be temporary, and it somehow got trapped. You know? It was really just like a bad weather day. Really, really it was meant that the next morning, you wake up and there's sunshine.
S: But somehow that didn't happen. And then it didn't happen and it didn't happen, and here it is.
J: Yeah. OK. So there's some shame about this existing here, about this being here. It's sort of a...
S: And that it never meant to stay. The shame is, it was like, yeah, it was a real feeling when it occurred, like the fear was real in the moment, maybe even appropriate, but then whatever triggered it, it was over.
S: But it's still here.
J: Right. OK. So does it make sense for us to add the feeling Shame to the list of states that are relevant here?
First I ask a clarifying question, inviting Susan to compare her felt experience of the label “shame” to the already mapped fog of Fearful Fear. Her reply expresses a relationship between the shame and the Fearful Fear in which the shame seems to be a reaction to the Fearful Fear’s failure to dissipate. If shame is a response to the Fearful Fear, it is different from it, and so I confirm the name and add it to the list of states we are exploring.
J: Let's start with the No! So the color of No! is going to be a silvery metallic. Right?
J: And the thickness of that steel plate is, half an inch, an inch...?
S: No more than a half an inch I would say.
J: Yeah. OK.
S: I mean it's stainless steel, after all. It doesn't take a lot of it.
J: Right, exactly. So I think I'll just use this... <drawing></drawing>
S: So it's actually out in front of the body.
S: So it's barely... yeah, there you go. Like that.
J: OK. Is that about the right size, and is it curved a little bit the way I've made it, or is it...
S: Ah, no, it's straight.
<adjusting the="" size.=""></adjusting>
S: Yeah, that's right.
J: All right. And then the front view is going to be...
S: So just start at the collar bone, so you can see where the collar bone is there.
J: Uh huh.
S: And then down to just... up slightly... yeah, right there. And if you were to color it in... yeah.
J: OK. <drawing> So, that is No!.</drawing>
For the drawing, I am sharing my screen with Susan and drawing on a tablet with the program ArtRage. I’m starting with a template outline of a human body, and adding the illustration of the feeling state according to Susan’s description and her in-the-moment guidance as we draw it together.
Drawing a feeling state is often a discovery process of its own. When the feelingwork explorer begins to visually see the explicit representation of the state, they will sometimes discover it feels different than what they originally described. If you are facilitating someone and taking notes for them, you’ll want to update your notes with the revised state description after the drawing is complete.
Now I want to call your attention to something unexpected here. Notice that the steel plate of No! lies completely outside Susan’s body. Our common assumptions about “emotion” include the understanding that emotions are strongly somatic, generated by the nervous system in response to threats and opportunities. Our common language about emotions, our science of emotions, our methods of therapy, all orient toward emotion as a phenomenon contained by the body, plus our cognitive engagement with that physiological response.
I don’t want to take you too far into this just yet, but it’s important that I introduce the idea that the feeling we are working with here is not emotion. This map of No! is clear evidence of that. Feelingwork maps of states extending beyond the body is actually quite common as we shall see.
J: And then the Fearful Fear... I think... I'll leave this here so that we can draw the Fear behind the plate. And we're looking at, this is not metallic, but this has got gray, darker and lighter.
<picking the="" right="" color.=""></picking>
S: And if you were to drop a line from my ear, down through my elbow, that's about how deep it goes. Like from there to the front.
J: Right. OK. But it starts a little higher?
S: Yes. Up, right underneath my chin.
J: And would you say it's a...
S: Yeah, like that. … And then just a little further toward my back, like one more row of color. Yeah.
J: All right. And then, should we add some darker ones?
J: Does that seem...?
S: Yep, that seems just right.
J: And how much of this dark color?
S: Just about what you're doing. You're on the right track. Yeah. That's enough.
J: All right. This is Fearful Fear. Excellent.
Because Susan has a well-developed sense of feeling, her drawings stay true to her original map descriptions. This drawing is simply about visually capturing what she has already discerned in the mapping process.
Drawing a feeling state provides a reinforcement of the detachment of one’s identity from the feeling. When you can see it in front of you, represented on an outline of (your) body, it becomes more difficult to experience yourself AS the feeling. You naturally find yourself inhabiting a perspective that the feeling is something you have, rather than something you are. This in itself is strongly therapeutic in many cases.
Let’s revisit the idea of feeling being different from emotion. In emotion, various external and internal perceptual signals stimulate the emotional systems of the brain and body to produce a physiological state that prepares the body for an appropriate response. The body has one emotional state, possibly generated by more than one emotional circuit but being forced to integrate as one state by the singular nature of the body as a whole.
In mapping No! and Fearful Fear, we see in contrast two distinct and different states. This is further evidence that in working with the actual, felt experience of feeling, we are engaging something very different from the body’s emotional circuitry. Keep that in mind as we proceed. What we currently understand about emotion does not map well to what we discover in our investigations of actual feeling states as we experience them.
S: Noticing the Shame, I don't think I knew that. I think that was a discovery that there was some Shame. And in particular that the Shame was that there was a good reason this all showed up, but then the reason was done with, and it could have gone away but it just didn't know how.
S: If I were to describe it, it feels like this little porcupine. But all curled up, where it's just all spikes, you know?
S: And that actually feels like it's the feeling that's at the heart of it. It's like, if I weren't ashamed, the Fear would go away, which means there wouldn't be the need for the steel plate. And the Shame is almost like, it's like I brought on myself this not being able to receive love. (I don't know, I'm not saying this very well.)
J: What it sounds like is that the Shame is what grounds the interpretation that it's not OK to receive love.
S: Yeah, yeah.
J: You haven't been able to figure out how to let this Fear go...
S: Yeah. And it's almost like I don't deserve to, like if I created all this nonsense, and I don't know how to get rid of it, well...! You know: of course I can't receive love, and why should I be able to, having done all this silly stuff. You know?
J: Yeah. OK.
I had originally been on track with Susan to move the two states No! and Fearful Fear. As this was a demonstration session, I hadn’t intended to go more deeply than these two. But Susan was surprised by her discovery of the Shame and wanted to explore it. As she poked around at it, it become clear that the Shame served to anchor the whole set of feelings in place. The Shame seemed to be holding the Fearful Fear in place, which in turn seemed to be holding the No! in place.
We often find these kinds of chains of control in feeling states. When I am conducting a limited session where my client’s intention is to get the maximum benefit in the shortest time, my goal is to quickly identify what I call the “pivot” state around which the entire pattern set revolves. Releasing the pivot often clears the way for a natural release of the full pattern. In this case, it’s clear that the best results will happen if we include the Shame in our list of states to complete.
J: All right, Susan, so, the Shame. If you were to say that the actual, felt experience of this Shame was located somewhere in or around your body, where would you say that seems to be?
S: Right in my solar plexus.
J: Ah hah.
S: And it's about the size of my fist.
J: OK. Great. And does it seem more like a solid, liquid, gas, light, energy...?
S: Well, just what I said, it seems like this little porcupine.
J: All right.
S: You know, so it's not solid like hard, but if you would think like a little porcupine body. It's soft, but there is substance to it.
J: Right. And with spikes.
S: Spikes, yes. It's totally, totally all the spikes.
J: In every direction.
S: Well, it's like if I were lying down, it's like it would be sitting on my solar plexus.
S: So, like its little feet and tummy would be next to my body, but everything, like if anybody was going to come close, they would only feel spikes.
J: Right. All right. And what temperature does little porcupine-y thing seem to be?
S: Just body temperature. It's like the same temperature as me.
J: Ah hah. And what color?
S: Gray. Whatever color porcupines are.
S: Kind of gray.
J: Kind of gray. A darker gray or lighter?
S: A little darker, like the dark gray spots in the fog...
J: Mm hm.
S: That color gray.
J: OK. And is it moving in any way?
J: Any force or pressure?
S: Nope. Just sitting there.
J: And if you listen internally, do you notice any inner sound?
S: Kind of whimpering. Almost like a little pain...
J: Almost like a...?
S: Like if it had a stomach ache or something. You know? Just little whimpers of pain.
J: OK. Anything else to notice about what this feels like?
S: Well, like if its little feet had claws or toenails, it's like I can feel little, almost like little pricks.
J: So almost like little pricks. Where do you feel that?
S: On my tummy, where it's sitting.
J: OK. And from this place, from that feeling, what seems true, or real, or important to this part of you?
S: Well, just like when you do the drawing, it's going to be right under the edge of the steel plate, it feels like it's the “what's underneath.” Even though it's on the outside of my body, it feels like it's what's underneath everything else that's going on.
J: Ah. What's its intention or perspective or attitude or belief, about you, about the world, about love?
S: It really doesn't want to be noticed or discovered. That's all the prickliness, the quills. It's like, “Don't come close to me, don't notice me."
J: Mm hm. OK. Anything else?
S: That seems to be the main thing.
I’m going to guess that you never expected “shame” would look like this. One of the things you learn pretty quickly doing this practice is to lay down your expectations. The words we use to point to our most private feeling experience are inadequate and clumsy. Feelingwork maps, in contrast, help to bring out the actual, felt experience lying beneath those clumsy words.
Whether you are facilitating someone else or exploring your own interior, I can’t emphasize too strongly the importance of holding the primacy of direct experience over any common (or therapeutic) language interface to that experience. The mapping process provides a more direct translation of the feeling state as it is experienced than any culturally-shaped language we have available. Trust the maps. Hold the labels loosely. Every single person, and every single feeling state within each person, is utterly unique. Support the explorer (and yourself) in maintaining an open, curious attitude to what they will discover, and hold them in a space in which they are free to generate their own unique interpretations and understandings of their experience as it emerges into more tangible awareness.
The shape of this feeling state, with its defensive spikes pointing out toward anyone who might draw close, suggests to me there is another state to be found. Every feeling state has one single function. More complex patterns come into being through the interaction of multiple states, each carrying out its individual task. Defense is one function. What is necessary to defend is a separate function. Each of these will be anchored in its own unique feeling state. I’ve noted this to myself, and will bring Susan back to it soon to discover what else might be there.
J: All right. So I'm going to leave it on the same color gray. Does that make sense?
J: All right. And I think I'll zoom in a little bit further. And let's just see where that No! comes to an end. So it's gotta be right there.
S: Yes, right there.
J: And I'm going to start with, just kind of draw the body a little bit. And then we'll put our spikes on it...
J: And let me draw this over here... So it's going to be... About like that?
J: OK. And then let's see if this make sense... <drawing> Does this look spiky enough?</drawing>
S: Yeah. <chuckle> Yeah.</chuckle>
J: I mean, I could do it a little bit differently, but this is probably OK, right?
J: Lots of them.
S: Yes. Lots and lots of these little spikes. It's like if you put your hand anywhere close to it, you're going to encounter pokes.
J: Yeah. OK. How does that look?
S: That looks just right.
J: All right.
When I facilitate feelingwork, I use two computers: a desktop computer to track the notes and the emerging structure of the feeling states, and a tablet for drawing. When I work with someone in person, I just hand them the tablet and they draw the image themselves. In those cases, we’re generally not talking while they are drawing. I’m including these little exchanges because it seems to bring the conversation more alive on the page.
J: So. Now I have one more question for you about the Shame.
J: If you bring your attention to the body part of it, and just scan through the center, do you notice anything? Is it the same kind of substance all the way through the center, or is there something else in there?
S: <chuckle> What immediately I saw when you said like scanning through its body, so it's like the part inside the quills, the spikes...</chuckle>
J: Mm hm.
S: I mean there was almost like this little red valentine heart in there, that, you know, it's the same substance or like it's soft like the rest of the body, so it's not like hard, but there was very much this little, I mean literally, almost like a valentine heart inside it.
J: Uh huh. OK. So what would you like to call that?
S: And I would just say love.
S: It's Love.
Aha! Just as I suspected. The hidden state being protected by all those spikes is a vulnerable little thing called Love.
Notice the chuckles here and while mapping the porcupine Shame. It’s quite extraordinary in this process that people are often able to engage with quite distressing feeling states and maintain enough of a safe and stable witness perspective as to have a sense of humor about it all.
I’ll just say, though, that this is not always the case. Sometimes feelingwork will lead to very heavy, dark places. While the mapping process does provide a measure of separation, facing and entering these places can be exhausting, especially when you’re working on your own without a facilitator. We’ll talk later in the book about strategies for managing your work in these more challenging territories. Check to confirm.
J: So I'm going to take you through mapping the Love. OK? What size would you say, the size of a quarter or something like that?
S: Yeah. So it fits easily inside the little porcupine that's the size of my fist.
J: Mm hm.
S: Maybe the size of a dime. No. Let's see. No, a nickel.
S: So half way between a quarter and a dime. A nickel.
J: All right. And if you were to say it has qualities of substance, what does that seem to be?
S: I don't know quite how to answer that, but it's definitely warm and pulsing.
J: Ah hah. So warm and pulsing.
S: So it is like a muscle. Like if the body is just like soft, you know? Like if you pet a kitty's tummy or something, how it feels very soft? This has a little more tone to it. But it is like a muscle because it's pulsing.
J: And what's the color of it?
S: Oh, you know, Valentine red. <chuckling></chuckling>
J: All right.
S: Or lipstick red, whatever that... red-red.
J: OK. And is it moving? It's pulsing...?
S: It's pulsing. It's really warm. Not like melting warm, but like if you put your hand near it you would feel the warmth. You wouldn't be burned. You know, it's not like scorching hot. But noticeably warm.
J: Right. And if you listen, do you notice any inner sound?
S: Um, a heartbeat sound. You know, kind of a “kathump, kathump, kathump.”
J: All right. So sound of a heartbeat.
J: Anything else to notice about what this feels like?
S: It wants to grow. I mean, it's very eager to expand.
J: OK. And what seems true, or real, or important to this part of you?
S: Just this compulsion, this compelling urge to expand, to get bigger and bigger. Like it's really important, and it feels trapped and it wants to break through.
J: OK. Let's draw it. So the red, we're talking serious red here.
S: Yeah, like the reddest red you've got.
J: How's that down in the corner here? That works?
S: That looks good.
J: OK. And let's zoom in a little bit. So on this side... I think we'll just do a dot, something about like so. Is that good?
S: It is. And I don't know if you have like symbols and you can actually make it be a heart shape, but the color and the position are absolutely right....
J: Like this?
S: Yes, yes. That's it... Um, I don't know if there's a way to show it in the drawing, but it's pulsing. That's a really important feature of it.
S: The other things are relatively static.
J: We could indicate that pretty easily. How about if we do this...
S: But this is really moving.
J: Yeah. Let's try this... If I do something like this... <drawing concentric="" parentheses="" around="" heart=""></drawing>
S: Yes, yes.
J: How's that?
J: OK. So any other thoughts?
S: Nope. I think that's totally it.
Susan’s mapping of Love reveals a bit more of the essential nature of feelingwork mapping. Notice how precise she gets about the size of this Love. It’s the size of a nickel, not a dime and not a quarter. That’s pretty darned precise.
How is this possible? Most of us have a common experience of feeling as vague and nebulous. But when we bring the new lens of virtual materiality to the task, we find ourselves bringing incredible precision to our discernment. (Some people like Susan do seem to have a higher resolution in their feeling perception than others.) In addition, we seem to be able to enter that virtual world and interact in order to gather even more detailed information, as when Susan describes the temperature, “If you put your hand near it you would feel the warmth. You wouldn’t be burned.” What’s going on here?
I believe this represents an opportunity for a more advanced cognitive neuroscience to investigate, maybe now, maybe a number of years in the future. For now, I like to think of it like this:
When we enter consciousness as an infant and even before we are born, our first awareness is drenched in and infused with materiality. At first we experience the liquid and solid environment of the uterus and our own bodies lying undifferentiated (to us) within it. Then birth, and the sharp boundaries that emerge between skin and air, skin and skin, milk and tongue, and all the myriad substances surrounding and encompassing us.
This direct apprehension of materiality is our first consciousness, and I believe remains the foundation for all our consciousness. Our brains have the capacity to perceive this surrounding materiality and to map our own bodies quite precisely in relation to it. Further, we have the capacity to extend our own body map to include a toy or hammer in our hands as if it were an extension of our embodied selves. We adjust our sense of inertia, momentum, center of gravity and other properties to incorporate a jug of milk, a hula hoop, a kid sister on our shoulders, and to move as if we were one with the extension.
I believe this capacity is employed in generating our feeling sense. A self-aware, conscious agent requires certain fundamental functions to be handled if it is to succeed in navigating the world. It must differentiate self from other, for example. It must manage the differences between the array of possible actions, the current state or motivation, a desired outcome, and ongoing guidance of specific actions chosen, with a responsive feedback about the results of those actions in the world.
In feelingwork, (and this is jumping quite far ahead in our journey, but so be it), we see these functions clearly represented in the qualities and behavior of specific feeling states. Or more specifically, we see patterns show up again and again in which feeling states anchor these functions. It is as if the virtually generated “things” of feeling states become anchors for these cognitive functions.
(Ah, there is so much to share with you here! Forgive me for jumping ahead.)
OK, so back to the dialog. At the end, Susan clearly indicates that the Love has a strong motivation to expand. My assessment is that the Love has a natural impulse to grow and expand, but is contained by the Shame. Apparently, for the Shame in its current state, an expanded Love would be intolerable. Perhaps at some point in the past, Susan’s loving led to something painful, and in order to avoid that pain it seems important to keep the Love confined. (We’ll learn more about this in Susan’s reflections a month after the session.) Most likely, then, we can consider the Shame to be the pivot for this cluster of four states. I suspect we’ll probably start the moving process there after we draw Love.
Before we move on, let's look at all four of these images overlaid upon one another so you can see the structural relationships. This kind of tight interconnection is what we can expect when mapping related feeling states.
J: So does it feel to you like it would be more of a relief to shift the Shame first or one of the others?
S: No. It's definitely from the inside out in this case.
J: Mm hm. And the Shame, that could shift and the Love would be OK with that.
S: Well, it's like the Love wants to...
J: Wants to expand, right...
S: ...yeah, it wants to... I mean, it's kind of like, sort of vaporize or... I think vaporize would be the right word. It's not like blow it up, but it's just like dissipate it, disappear it.
J: Yeah, yeah. All right, well let's see what happens with shifting the Shame.
Here I’m confirming with Susan my instinct to move Shame before the others. Notice how she’s already anticipating what might want to happen. In her mind, the best thing would be for the Shame to “dissipate” or “disappear.” She hasn’t yet had the experience of moving a state, so this is a natural impulse.
In feelingwork, however, we learn that feeling states don’t ever “disappear.” They change, yes, but they maintain an exquisite continuity of presence. This is an important principle in feelingwork. A state that seems to “disappear” can always be found, and when guided through the moving process will enable access to a strong, positive resource that would not otherwise be available. Loss of a negative is not a positive. Transforming a negative into a positive is our goal.
J: So before we shift this I want to just establish a couple of frames. One, I want to acknowledge this part of you, this Shame. It took this form at some point in your life when it seemed like this was the best way to serve you. So I want to thank it for doing that. And I want to reassure it that if it ever needs to serve you in this way again, it can do so. Yes, we are going to move this today, but it's safe to move because you can always put it back. We're adding to this part's repertoire of feeling, not taking anything away.
And so because of that, because it's safe to move, you might as well go for it. What could this part of you be in an absolutely perfect world, where all your needs are met, exactly the way you want them, fully and completely, and you know how to keep them that way?
Also, I want to acknowledge that, as you see, this Shame is connected to the No! and the Fearful Fear and the Love, and there are other parts it's connected to that we haven't identified. I want to invite all the other parts of you to participate in this process passively, as witnesses only, to experience for themselves what's possible for every part of you. But if there is some other part of you that is needing to contribute something crucial to the process, you'll notice another feeling coming to the foreground, and just let me know. All right?
This preamble to moving a state sets up three essential frames to make the moving process effective. Throughout all three of these, we begin referring to the feeling state as “this part of you.” This is an essential concept for understanding feelingwork. Every feeling state is a specific expression among a full repertoire of possible feeling expressions for a particular part of your being. That part is indelible, indivisible, unmergeable. In this moving process, it will transform its expression to a new feeling state.
First, feeling is naturally fully responsive to whatever is going on, and responds in ways that support your well-being. What has happened in most cases where you’re doing feelingwork is that this natural responsiveness has become compromised and the feeling has become locked into a specific state that no longer serves our highest good. How this happens is a (big) topic for later. What’s important here is that we acknowledge the inherent, positive motivation of this part of someone to serve the highest good of the whole person. We want to acknowledge that even though the state might seem to be a detriment from our current perspective, its response was originally entirely appropriate given the situation, the level of development, the lack of resources, etc.
Acknowledging this relieves a potential burden of guilt or shame for it having more recently been creating distress. It also affirms a fundamental trust in the part’s inherent nature, a trust which is essential for the success of the moving process. We want to support this part in finding its truest expression. Because of our culture’s incessant messages in conflict with that core trust, it will do that only if it feels welcome and appreciated for being what it naturally wants to be. When we explicitly acknowledge it in this way, we clear the path for it to find its essential expression.
The second frame invites a full transformation. This part of Susan which has become locked into the state of Shame actually has access to a wide repertoire of states. The feelingwork moving process reconnects the part to its full repertoire. The idea is not that the part will lock into a new, better feeling state. The idea is that by reminding it of its full repertoire, it will regain access to the full spectrum and regain its natural, fluid responsiveness to the ever-changing landscape of life. When we set the frame of “in a perfect world,” we explicitly invite this part to discover its ideal state. We identify the far boundary of its repertoire.
This perfect world frame, in combination with the acknowledgment of positive intent, creates a generous, supportive container for conducting the moving process. The relief and freedom most people feel simply in hearing these two frames is significant and important to the process.
The third frame acknowledges the interconnectedness of parts as experienced through their specific feeling state expressions. Inviting the other parts to “participate passively, as witnesses only,” creates the space for these other feeling states to be felt from time to time without disrupting the moving process for the part in focus. At the same time, it explicitly invites the explorer to give voice to any state that might be pushing into the foreground of their awareness and getting in the way of fully inhabiting the transformation underway.
Opening the door to receiving input from other parts makes it likely that any part that has an investment in this current part remaining in the originally mapped state will come to the foreground. For example, if we attempted to move Love before moving Shame, it is very likely that the Shame would come to the foreground as if to say, “That’s not OK. I don’t feel safe here.” When that happens, we organically shift attention to the state that’s asking for attention. It often happens that we will discover hidden states this way. We’ll be inviting a part to move, and it will dig its heels in, resisting the movement. Then we’ll ask what other feeling is present, and discover a new state which is dependent on the current state remaining in its place. We shift attention to that new one, map and move it, and return to shift the original state with no problem.
Let me add further perspective here. When we have the gift of this mapping process, a tool enabling such precision in our perception of actual feeling states, we discover all sorts of complexity we didn’t know existed. We humans are complex beyond our current understanding, and that complexity becomes beautifully evident in feelingwork. In other modalities, the interaction of parts often lies behind a veil of limited ability to surface the true complexity, and when people experience challenges in making desired changes in their lives it gets labeled pejoratively as “resistance.” In feelingwork, there is no such thing as resistance. Every state that arises is welcome and included in the process.
J: So in this moment, in the spirit of exploration of what's possible in a perfect world, if this part of you were free to become, oh let's say harder or softer, bigger or smaller, warmer or cooler...?
S: Definitely softer, no more porcupine quills. And it would change color. It would be yellow, kind of like a glowing light, like a sun.
S: But really, very soft.
J: Yes. OK. And so in becoming softer, and changing color, if this part of you were free to take on qualities of any substance at all, would it prefer to be more like some other kind of solid, or a liquid, or a gas, or some kind of pure light, or energy, or something else?
S: Pure light or energy I think.
J: And in becoming this pure light or energy, if it were free to take on any temperature?
S: Comfortably warm. Like maybe a hundred and two degrees, like a little warmer than body temperature, but you know, you could still have your hand on it for a while without being burned.
J: Mm hm.
S: Maybe only a hundred degrees. You know, just a little bit warmer.
J: OK. And in taking on this new quality of being pure light or energy at 100 degrees or so, to confirm the color, if it could be any color of the rainbow...?
S: Sunshine yellow, or maybe lemon yellow, or egg yolk yellow. Like the heart was the reddest red? This is like the yellowest yellow.
J: OK. Great. And would it want to have qualities of being transparent, or translucent, or opaque?
S: Translucent, maybe. Like transparent, it really likes being yellow, and it wants to be noticed.
J: Ah hah. And obviously it's luminous, this light? Any qualities of being sparkling or shimmering, iridescent, anything like that?
S: Shimmery or sparkly.
J: OK. And if this part were free now to located itself anywhere in or around, or in and around your body, and occupy any size and shape at all, where would it most want to be?
S: Well, the center of it would be right where the porcupine was, but then it would definitely go, like covering all the parts that were gray before. Almost like a circle except there's not sharp, defined edges. So it would even go up to my chin, probably an equidistance down which might be the top of my thighs, and maybe out to my arms...
J: How about forward/back, also? Would it be a sphere or more of a circle?
S: It's kind of a shape like this <gestures with="" hands="">, so however far back the gray fog went before, it's like that far back, and then however far the steel plate was, it's like just past the edges of that. So sort of encapsulating.</gestures>
J: Right. All right. And does this light want to be moving in any way? Is there any kind of a flow, a pulse, a radiation, vibration?
S: No. It's just glowing. But it's not... The fact that it's light means that there's activity.
S: Without any overt activity.
J: OK. And if you listen internally, does there want to be any kind of inner sound that arises with this feeling?
S: It's kind of tinkly bells or wind chimes. I don't know, celestial sounds, angelic sounds, music of the spheres sounds... I mean I can hear them in my mind because I have CDs that have music like that.
J: All right. So you know what that means.
J: And is there anything else you want to notice about what this wants to be?
S: No. I think that's it.
J: And so from this new place, this new feeling, what seems true, or real, or important now?
S: It seems very expansive.
J: And what's important to you about that?
S: That I'm very open, so it's like I am open to let the love in. It feels like it made that expansiveness.
J: Mm hm. Great. And what new name would you like to give this?
J: Mm. Great.
Here I am providing a rich container within which Susan is invited to explore new qualities for the expression of this part of her. In the mapping phase, Susan created a tangible image expressing Shame. Every feeling state image has the unique quality of being a bidirectional pointer. As Susan experiments to deliberately alter the image, the actual feeling state changes to reflect the adjustment. At each step I invite her to test out adjusting the image in two opposite directions to discover which one leads to a state that feels “better.” Once we establish the best direction, I invite her to test out the full spectrum of that property to identify its optimum value. As we make our way through the full set of properties, the feeling state transforms from its original distressing state to one that is full and resourceful.
Some people like Susan will have an easy time simply inviting the shift and following where the part wants to go. Others will need more step by step guidance. I’ll help you learn the step by step approach in the section on methods. Learning the basics will help you adapt to different people’s strengths and challenges.
J: We could draw Receiving right now. Or we can go ahead and move one of the other ones.
S: It almost feels like this did move everything else.
J: Yeah? Well let's just check in and see what happened, see where the other things went. Let's check in with the Love. Now that Shame has become Receiving, what does the Love get to be?
S: The Love just gets to be more and more and more. It stays Love, but it's free to be as big as the universe. It can be as big as it wants to be. There are no restraints on it.
J: So in a perfect world, with access to Receiving, if this part of you were free to be as big as it wants to be, how big would it want to be?
S: Truly as big as the universe, like out into the galaxy, beyond the Milky Way. Huge, it wouldn't have any boundaries at all.
J: OK. And in becoming beyond-galaxy, infinite universe size, if it were free to take on qualities of any substance at all, would it want to be more like a solid, liquid, gas, pure light, energy, or something else, what would it most want to be?
S: Pure light, I think.
J: And this pure light, what temperature would it want to be?
S: I don't think it has a temperature, really. I mean, definitely warm contrasted to cold, but it doesn't feel like light really has a temperature.
J: OK. And what color does it want to be, if it could be any color or colors at all?
S: Iridescent, like all colors.
J: Is there a certain pattern, or a way that these colors are distributed?
J: OK. And is it moving at all? Is this light flowing, radiating, pulsing, vibrating, circulating?
S: It feels like it's going out to infinity, however far that is, and then coming all the way back to me, like to my physical body. And then like all the way out, and then all the way back. Like bringing everything back and then putting it out, and each time it goes out it goes further, brings more back, sends more out, constantly expanding.
J: Great. OK. And what about sound: if you listen to this, what sound wants to be there as a way of more fully expressing its nature?
S: It's kind of back to the music of the spheres. I think the stars are supposed to sing or make some kind of a sound, so whatever that sound is.
J: All right. Anything else to notice about what this wants to be?
S: I don't think so.
J: All right. And so from this new place, what feels true, or real, or important?
S: Well in this space, Shame and Fear and No! are not even concepts. They don't even exist. It's like they don't even make sense. They're not even present. It's like if it's August and it's summertime, the concept of snow is completely irrelevant, you know? It's 100 degrees, there's not going to be snow. <chuckling></chuckling>
J: Right. So what's important to you about that?
S: Just the expansiveness and the freedom and the possibility.
J: Anything else to notice about what this wants to be?
S: I think that's it.
J: What name would you like to give it?
S: Infinite Love.
Susan experienced moving the Shame to Receiving as a complete transformation of the entire pattern. This lets me know we have done a good job identifying the pivot state for this cluster. Still, this kind of wholesale shift is unusual. To make sure we have done a complete job, I lead her through an explicit moving of each of the remaining three states. This will help cement her awareness of the new, ideal states, helping to fully release the old pattern, create more explicit connections among the new states, and integrate the new possibilities.
J: Let's check in with what happened with the Fear. So now that you have access to Infinite Love and Receiving...?
S: It's like, if it were fog, it's like when the sun shines really brightly the fog just disappears, or dissipates.
J: OK. So let's follow it. So this part of you has a gift for you. And let's say that the fog does dissipate, but it has the opportunity, from that dissipated place, wherever that is, to contemplate how does it want to come back into the space in and around your body in such a way as to offer you its greatest gift?
...And in doing so, if it were free to take on qualities of any substance at all, would it prefer to be more like a solid, or a liquid, or a gas, or some kind of pure light or energy, or something else?
S: It feels like a soft blanket. Very, like cashmere, very light weight. Not even a blanket; like a cashmere shawl that's literally, you notice it's on your skin but there's no weight to it. And it's very soft.
J: Ahh. So the temperature is like a neutral temperature, or warm? What temperature would you say it seems to be?
J: And if it were free to be any color at all, what color would it most want to be?
S: Kind of a cream color, an ivory.
J: Opaque, translucent, transparent?
J: And so the location is like a shawl, or if it could be free to locate itself anywhere, where would it most want to be?
S: It's maybe six inches away from my body. So it would be as if I could feel the presence of it, but I'm not at all wrapped up or bound in it.
J: Ah hah. Great. And around your whole body? Is it like a...?
S: No, just from my waist to my chin. Kind of like overall where everything else was before.
J: OK. And does it want to be moving in any way?
S: No. It seems to be still.
J: OK. And does it want to have any kind of inner sound to express its nature?
S: Like some kind of soft humming, almost like a lullaby sound or a soothing sound. It doesn't necessarily have a melody, but just some kind of comforting hum.
J: Anything else to notice about what this wants to be?
S: No. I don't think so.
J: And so from this new place, if this part of you were free to express in words what feels true, or real, or important, what would it say?
S: You're safe, and protected.
J: Mm hm. OK.
S: Before, in the very beginning when I was saying it felt like if I let the love in it would just be too much, or overwhelming, this is like, “No. It will never be too much. However much it is, you're safe, you're protected. You can let it all in and it won't be too much."
J: OK. And what new name would you like to give this?
In moving Fearful Fear, we come across a common response when Susan expresses the fog wanting to just dissipate. Again, parts persist. If the fog dissipates from her awareness, it does so by relocating somewhere outside her awareness and we can track it down or invite it back into awareness. To do a complete job of releasing the old and building the strongest new pattern, we will want to track each state to its new ideal.
J: All right. Should we check in with the steel plate, the No!?
J: All right then. So, you're getting the hang of this, I'm just going to open up the...
S: Well it feels like the steel plate has gone down under my feet, like it's this very solid foundation.
J: Mm hm.
S: So if we're doing the floating out in the universe thing, it's like the steel plate, now its job is to be the foundation. There's something to come back to. There's something solid.
S: So I don't just expand expand expand expand and never stop expanding. This is when the energy comes back, it comes back and it's got the home base, so to speak.
J: Got it. So let's explore, what does the substance want to be? Does it still want to be steel, or...?
S: Yup. It's the same as it always was.
S: It's just completely re-purposed.
J: So the same substance and color?
S: Yep, same everything.
J: How about temperature? Still cold?
S: Cool. Yeah, it's still a little cool. Everything else is warm, so it's like the cool is a contrast to be the homing beacon or something. It needs to be just slightly different than everything else so it can be easily located.
J: Mm hm. And what about the size and shape of it? Is it the same exact...?
S: Still the same. It literally is that same steel plate. It's just completely re-purposed.
J: But it's horizontal now.
S: Right. Now it's horizontal as if it's under my feet.
J: OK. And now, any inner sound that comes with this?
S: It's that same kind of low tone that it was before, and again, the purpose is like a homing beacon or like the signal.
J: And so from this new place, what does part of you bring? What does this part of you most want you to know?
S: That I'm safe, that there's a place to come home to.
S: No matter how much everything goes out, there's a big, solid place that it can come back. So it's really just an exquisite safety. I'm not going to be lost.
J: Great. And what new name would you like to give this?
S: I would say Exquisite Safety, just what it feels like.
In moving, No! has kept its properties except for location. In its new location it serves a function, Exquisite Safety, that is intimately connected to the Infinite Love. After moving a cluster of states we often see very close, functional relationships developing between the ideal states.
J: All right. How about we start with the Exquisite Safety?
J: And if I remember right, we had a gray somewhere around there, and metallic... and we could do this just as a flat, just like that...
S: Yeah, that's fine.
J: OK. Does that work?
J: We could add a little perspective there, but that just complicates things. As long as that captures it for you, that's good.
J: And we have Spaciousness. And this is the shawl, right?
J: So that's sort of a light cream color, right?
J: So... something like that. Is that a good color?
J: So it's kind of like this?
S: Uh, yes. And if you can draw it where it goes up to the edges of my neck so it has the notion that it's going all the way around behind me. Yeah.
J: And it's also front and back, right?
S: It's around the back of me.
J: But not around the front.
J: So it comes... something like that?
J: OK. And... It's like the body is transparent in the drawing.
J: OK. And then, the Infinite Love, now that one is going to take some imagination, eh?
S: Well if you just draw something that covers the entire sheet of paper.
J: OK. So we can start with... Oh, this is the iridescent one.
S: Yeah, it's the iridescent sparkly.
J: OK. The way I'm going to do this iridescent thing is...
S: It can have glitter, yeah. It can be glittery.
J: And so we're going to go with... <drawing> We're going to go with several different colors...</drawing>
S: So I'm imaging them like pastel colors, maybe.
J: Right. So here's the way we'll do that.
S: Yes, yes.
J: <drawing> What would you change?</drawing>
S: Can it somehow be sparkly?
J: Yes, let's figure out some sparkly. How about if we... Let's try this. We might need a little bit of a background on this. If I do this...
S: Yes. Yes, there they are.
J: All right. How's that?
J: And then we have Receiving. And that's the golden... so the yellow-yellow-yellow.
J: Is that a good yellow?
S: Yes. I'll know when I see it on the person.
J: And the thickness of it, sort of like that?
S: Yeah. Yes. A little brighter or lighter, maybe just a tiny bit?
J: You bet. <drawing></drawing>
S: Yes, that's it.
J: OK. How's that for the side view?
J: And then the front...
S: Yes. And even out to the edges of my arms. Yeah, there you go. So it completely is going to cover everything that was there before.
J: Right. How's that?
S: That's it.
J: OK, I'm going to make this one just a little bit bigger here. Perfect?
The drawings speak for themselves here. I’m just doing my best to capture Susan’s internal images. Here are all four together:
J: All right, so, any thoughts?
S: No, I mean, it does feel like there isn't any boundary or barrier any more to letting love in. I mean like, I'll find out the next time somebody hugs me or whatever.
S: But just checking in with my body right now, I don't feel any barrier.
J: Right. Well, this seems like it was a great little tour here, little excursion.
S: And what I noticed is, and I think you pointed to this before, but actually getting to what the heart of it is, getting down to it, as soon as I got there it started shifting without me even making any effort to shift it.
J: Right, right.
S: When I got to the Shame, which I didn't know was there, and I think the key point was when you asked me, “if you feel into the body of the Shame,” as soon as I located the heart, and it started pulsing, it was already done.
J: On the way.
S: There was the exploration, the doing of it, but it was like, “Oh!” The love that I thought was out there, that I needed to be cautious about receiving was already inside.
J: Yeah, yeah. And its natural state is, there's love everywhere.
S: Yes. <chuckle></chuckle>
J: No shortage.
S: Right. Yeah. And I think the sensation that I will carry with me is the expanding infinitely out and then flowing back, and then even further out, which means there's more to come back, which is there's more to give out... so, which is consistent or congruent with how I think love is anyway. The more you give, the more you can receive, and the more you receive, the more there is to give. That's just how it works. But actually experiencing the sensation of that.
S: So I would say it's moving it from an intellectual idea to a felt sensation.
Susan’s reflections capture a very significant shift in her inner experience of being able to let love in. We accomplished this without any discussion of Susan’s past, no analysis of her beliefs, no story. All we did here is to bring Susan’s awareness to the actual, felt experience of the barrier to love, and support her in following the natural impulse to shift and release.
Next, to help set things in motion, I’ll invite Susan to imagine herself into the future having access to the new, ideal states.
J: Projecting forward, imagining the next time somebody hugs you, or expresses...
S: Well I was thinking just going to the grocery story. I mean, that's the next task outside my home I have to do. And it's like, Oh, I could just be standing in the checkout line at the grocery store, or going up and down the aisles, or whatever.
S: It's just like, Oh! I could just be sending love out into whole grocery store, and receiving love back, and it doesn't even have to be love that's specifically meant to be for me. But just the love that's inside the hearts of the people in the grocery store. The Heart Math people have figured out that the electromagnetic field of the heart is somewhere on the average 20 to 40 feet.
S: So it's like, wow, the grocery store is full of these electromagnetic fields of 20 to 40 feet of all the people in the grocery store intersecting one another.
J: That's a nice image.
J: And now, without that barrier, that's available to you.
S: Yeah. So like moving through a field of love, an electromagnetic field, an energetic field of love.
J: Right, right.
S: Which feels really safe. So that's the Exquisite Safety. A very different emotional state or feeling state.
J: Mm hm. Would you anticipate it will affect your experience of circling?
S: Yeah, I would, actually, because, I mean like recalling that idea about the electromagnetic fields, it's like yes, we're all on the computer screen. Yesterday on a call we happened to have somebody in Norway and someone in Australia, a huge geographic distance, and then us in Texas, in the middle. But I mean it was a huge geographic distance. And yet, you know, we could feel that field amongst us. So I think it does give me an even deeper way to connect in this global community that has quite a great, a lot of geographic distance.
J: Yes, that's great.
S: And just remembering that our hearts are sending, I mean, this is not something we control. I don't say to my heart, “OK, only a 10-foot electromagnetic field now. OK, now you can have a 30-foot one.” It's just doing what it's doing. So it doesn't even have to be that I'm having loving thoughts. My heart is out there doing that, just like I'm breathing, and I don't have to think, “OK, <inhale> In. Out.” <chuckle></chuckle></inhale>
J: Right, right.
S: It's doing that. That's a very different world view.
J: What's cool is it sounds like, like you said, this has been an idea. You've known this.
S: The facts, yes.
J: But it hasn't been a felt experience.
J: And now you're actually already feeling the difference of actually having it be embodied.
J: That's great.
S: Yeah, I mean, there's seven point three billion people on the planet with hearts that all are having electromagnetic fields. And even the ones, I'm assuming even psychopaths or whatever, their heart does this too, not in their conscious control. You know? There's nothing that I've read about the electromagnetic fields of the heart that says, “OK, if you're a psychopath or if you're a really mean person, then you don't have an electromagnetic field on your heart.” I think you do anyway. Which expands my understanding of The Course of Miracles, which is my spiritual path, which is, there is only love. (And... it can seem like there's a lot of other stuff.)
S: You know, which is real enough in the physical plane. But in the meta view...
S: Yeah. So a lot to think about and be with.
J: So you're going to have these thoughts running...
J: ...through your whole body as you go to the grocery store, and go there...
S: Drive on the highway or whatever. <laughing></laughing>
Here I am supporting Susan in generating a rich foretaste of her coming experience. It’s clear she is now integrating her felt experience with deeply held values. You can watch her mind connect the dots with all sorts of perspectives she has learned in the past but been unable to embody as strongly as she is now. It’s important here that I do not need to enter her world with her. All I need to do is support her in making these connections for herself in whatever way makes the most sense to her. What I get to do is enjoy the sense of discovery and liberation she exudes as she does so.
Below is a mind map of the notes I took during the session. Click the image to open up a new tab and browse the map.
I had an opportunity to followup with Susan a month later, and we talked about the impact of her session. Here are some gems she shared with me.
Susan: So in the moments right as I saw my new drawing, and as I experienced my feeling state shift, there was a very palpable, distinct opening in my heart. I could really feel that steel plate moving, and I could feel an openness that I would really... It's like that barrier that I had always been aware of inside of me, that really was gone. It was just gone.
That in itself, of course, was a lovely thing. But the thing I really want to emphasize is I began to experiment. Like, “Oh, what does it really feel like?” So one thing I have done very differently -- I don't always remember to do it, but I mostly do -- is when I am hugging people, I deliberately relax my body even more. I really think, “OK, open and receive.” And while I'm hugging the other person, and they're hugging me, I really think, consciously, “Receive this hug. Receive this love.”
And I didn't realize until we had this session how, when I was hugging people and they were hugging me back, of course I was aware I was being hugged back; I couldn't miss that. But the distinction, the contrast that I saw was how I never really let the hug in. You know? I was so focused on hugging the person and sending love to them, and accepting them, and all that, that I just was oblivious, is the truth, to “Oh, my goodness; I'm also being hugged here. I could receive this.”
So it's been really interesting, and I would say the result of me doing that is I notice I have experienced a very consistent feeling of being loved, in a way that I hadn't in the past.
Susan: It was also that recognition – and this came like a couple of days later, and it was in the context of a circle, but I know that our work together opened the space for me to have that – is how much love there is in the world. And that really, I mean like my head of course has known forever that the world is full of love, but the contrast was a visceral experience of, “Wow, there is lots of love everywhere all the time if I open myself to it.” I mean, there is always the love of the divine. And again, my head of course has known that my entire life. But it feels like I have more of an awareness of it, rather than just, “Oh, of course God loves me, of course he does.” It's like, “Oh! God loves me!” I feel it. I can tune into that. It's like, without that steel plate, and with that radiance, that opening, it's like, “Oh. I can feel this any time. I can tune into this any time."
Susan: In circling, my experience has been that I am now aware that I create my circle. In the past, my idea – which is one of those 20:20 hindsight in retrospect how could I have been thinking that – up until we had our session, I had put the feeling of the circle kind of outside on the circle. Like this is something outside of me that's happening. And now when I go in a circle, it's like, it's here. The circle is here. The love is here. It looks however it looks. It may, depending on where people are in the circle, there may be somebody there who's upset, (not with me), but just who comes in with a fit, or who comes in kind of guarded, or with some protection or holding back, it's like, “OK. I know you are love. Whatever is happening on the surface right now is happening, but you, yourself, are love. And I can open and receive that.
Susan: And so another part of it is, I see, it's like love is. Contrasted to doing-ness. It's just, “Oh! It's always here. It's always available.” It's a matter of tuning into it, not creating it, not doing something, not making it happen. It just is. And knowing me, you can know how significant that feels for me.
Joe: A lot of what you're describing, it sounds like a big part of your experience is the state you called Infinite Love.
Susan: Yes. Yes.
J: And that it's always available, always present.
S: And kind of like breathing, it's not something I have to have conscious thought about. We're not saying, “In...[breath] out...[breath]” You know? We just breathe.
S: And I don't say, “OK heart, beat... beat.... It just does.” So it's in that category.
J: Yeah, yeah.
S: Which, as you can imagine, is a significant upgrade in my life experience.
J: That's exciting.
S: Yes. I agree! [chuckle]
Joe: Has anyone spoken of noticing anything different in you?
Susan: So pretty much everybody that's seen me has said, “Wow, you're really different.” And nobody said, “Wow, you're really different; you're so much more loving.” I mean, nobody has said what's really different, but pretty much to a person, it's been like, “There's... you're... clearly something's happening with you.” [chuckles]
And it's not surprising because I think people experience me as loving, so I wouldn't think people would say, “Oh, and you're so loving.” I mean, that's what they think I am anyway. That's their experience anyhow. So I think what they're feeling is how I feel different inside. Like it's so different for me inside that my energetic outside, it's like, “Something's different,” without there being a precise thing.
J: And I imagine, my sense is, that there's... when I feel that my love is being received, that feels different.
S: Yes. And again, no one has said, “Oh, you're really receiving me now, aren't you, and you never did before.” Or, “You're receiving me much more than you did before.” I think it would take a finely tuned perception for somebody to get that, or to notice that. Because I am quite tuned in about my hugging, I can feel when people are letting me in or not. But I don't think most people have an attentiveness to that or a discernment, a distinction about that.
And actually, the comments come before they're hugging me. It's like they walk in the room and say, “Wow. You're different.” [laughing] “You're different."
S: And I mean, I have been in many ways on a very accelerated path of transformation. So I don't think people need to think they can tell exactly what it is about me. You know? It's just like, “Oh, more!” [chuckle] “More of that."
Joe: I'm curious, it sounded like there was a specific memory you had about what happened that made the Fear show up. It was like, this was appropriate to show up, but then it stayed around for too long.
J: It should have been something that I let go of, but I hung on to it, and the Shame was about having hung on to it.
S: Yeah, it was like, why did I think that was a good idea. Give me a minute and it will come...
I'm pretty sure that this would have been put in place when my mother died, with that decision, which I clearly remember making. I didn't make the steel plate thing, that wasn't conscious. That was more like a consequence or result, because when my mother died, and I have a vivid memory of this, I consciously said -- I was 13, sudden, completely unexpected death -- I said to myself, in my intense grief, “I am never going to love anybody that much again, because it is just too devastating to lose them.” And I can remember consciously deciding that.
So that was when I was 13. When I was in my mid-30s, I was vividly reminded of that decision when I met an older gentleman at church who was grandfather age that I just happened to sit by in church one Sunday and we really clicked. When the service was over he said, “Well, you probably need to eat. Would you like to come to lunch with me?” And I said, “OK.”
During that lunch, he shared with me that he had a diagnosis of prostate cancer, and back then the very best prognosis you could have was to live about eight years after your diagnosis, even if you did all the treatments you could do and they worked as good as they could work, eight years. He was about at year four. So of course, as evidenced by my mother, anybody could die at any time, but this was a person who was absolutely going to die, and sooner than later. I remember thinking that decision I had made, and I thought, “Susan, you can do this however you want to, but there's such a loving, precious connection that's available to you here. Your own grandparents died when you were eight, so here's a lovely opportunity to have grandparent love and attention, and you can have this, and you can totally open your heart, and you can love this person with all your heart, or you can stick with your decision. And it's up to you.” And I thought, “You know what? That was not the best decision I ever made. Let me unmake that one."
Susan: What I didn't realize until around the time we were having this session... Oh, it was right before this session because that's how it impacted me so much. In a circle, I saw that was a corollary decision I had made at the same time, that I didn't realize I made, that I wasn't conscious of, which was, “And I am never allowing anybody to love me that much either, because it is too devastating to lose being loved.” When I saw that, it was like, “Wow. OK, didn't know that. Now that I do, let me be aware and rethink that one.” And that's the thing that, when we did our session, like I had always, any time I would feel it, I would feel that steel plate. You know? I could feel that it was there. I just hadn't paid much attention to it. It was just part of who I was. And I certainly hadn't examined the origins of it. But when I saw that, and then we did the feeling state work, and I felt the steel plate, it's like, that's what that is. That is the thing, that I, without any consciousness at age 13, 52 years ago, put into place to protect myself from the pain of losing.
And so when all that kind of came together, it was like, “Oh, and you know what? I don't have to do that any more.” You know, I can receive. I choose to receive. Even though, yes, when that person or that relationship ends, am I going to notice it? Will I feel grief? Will I feel the loss? Of course I will. And why not have all the love in the world I can have, I can experience, why not receive all of that every minute I do, and when it's not there, it's not there.
And there's also that Infinite Love that's always there. So while I might lose a specific relationship, and would certainly have the natural, normal grief about it, it wouldn't be the devastation that I had erected that to protect myself from, because now I know there's an infinite supply. Whereas when I put that up, it was like, that specifically came from my mother, and now I don't have my mother, and so, you know, 13-year-old mind, grief, shock, whatever that had me decide that, now I'm many, many years older, and I can make a different decision.
Joe: What's your sense of how the Shame found its way in there?
Susan: So the Shame is that I know how I feel it when I love someone and they don't accept it. And so the Shame is, “Oh my goodness, completely obliviously, unintentionally, but nonetheless truly, have I been not receiving people's love.” And not trusting it. Like there was the whole mistrust thing. And the impact I had been having all these years, these 50-plus years, on all the people who loved me. You know? And feeling the embarrassment, and the Shame, that I had pushed them away.
J: So it seems like the Shame, what you're describing is, that is pretty recent, it really showed up as you became aware that you had been doing that?
Joe: Seems like the Fearful Fear would leave if it knew how, but it doesn't know how.
J: So it's not a shame that Fearful Fear appeared, but that it was meant to be temporary and somehow it got trapped. That it never meant to stay.
S: Yeah. It's that, yeah, that's the Shame. That I didn't know, and the impact that has had. And it was like, I would like to think that I'm loving and that I allow myself to be loved. And I can look back, like for example in my marriage, where in the beginning at least, (and there's a story around that), where I was loved as much as my husband was capable of loving me. And I can remember pushing it away. Part of the pushing it away was, I had a sense which turned out to be correct, that he was loving an idealized version of me, contrasted to me. So I wasn't off on that one. But still, I was pushing it away.
Something that was true in my marriage was, both my husband and I were pretty exquisitely attuned to the energetics in our relationship, whether we were consciously aware of them or not, or whether we spoke of them or not, we were both really tuned in to that. And so I'm sure he felt my guardedness. And that cannot have felt good. It just cannot have felt good.
I'm not going to say that ruined our marriage, there's a million factors about what worked and didn't work in that. But my shame is that he loved me and I didn't let it in. And the impact that had on a tender heart that was very open and giving.
J: Do you think that shame was present then?
S: No, I don't think I knew it at all. I mean, the Shame came up out of the realization. I mean, was it present somewhere at some deep, completely unknown level? I think yeah, it would have had to have been. But there wasn't the consciousness of it.
That's why when we were doing it, and it showed up, it was almost kind of a surprise to me. That's my recollection, in the session it was like, “Oh! And then there's this, this unexpected thing, and what is it when I feel into it? It's Shame. And it's Shame that I would have been doing that, that I would have been pushing, or keeping, making a barrier to receiving love.
And until I processed and forgave myself for that, nothing could move.
A month after our followup call, (two months after the session), Susan and I were talking, and she shared the following story about the further unfolding of the work we did.
Susan: My ex-husband called after a mutual friend died. While we were talking about her I said, “You know, I really miss talking to you.” Because it's been his choice for us essentially not to communicate.
A little later he shared that a book he's always wanted to write about his family's history is finally about to be published. I was saying what great news that was, and really celebrating with him that this is coming to pass. And I said again, “I just want to be sure that you heard me. I really miss us being in communication like this. I really treasure us just being able to be friends and talk.” And he said, “I know. And I acknowledge it was my anger and my hurt and the way I was being that stopped this, but I think I've moved past that now, and I miss you too. And I'm willing to be in communication with you."
As far as I'm concerned, that's just a miracle. I have so longed for that, but it's not anything I could make happen. You know? It had to be his choosing to do that. And so he has sent me the final draft of the book for me to read over. A year or more ago I had said I'd be happy to read over a draft of the book, and it was like, “Nope.” So he's now sent it to me to read, and he said, “You always have great comments. Here are the things I want you to look for and comment on.”
So it just, it feels wonderful, to have that. It does really feel like a shift, and for me, what I've noticed is that, (and this sounds paradoxical), what it feels like is that I now feel like I'm free to pursue another relationship. It seems funny. I don't want to be anything except friends with my ex-husband. The marriage part of our relationship is done, and I'm not looking to rekindle that. But what I've noticed is that for me, the not-friendship was like an incompletion, and I was holding out for that. It's kind of like all the relationship space in my head was taken up with, can I just get him to be friends with me please. And now that I have that, it's like “OK, cool. That's complete. Now I can move on to the next thing."
I feel so satisfied when I have the opportunity to participate in someone’s growth like this. Now to be sure, Susan is a vibrant woman who is cultivating her ongoing growth in many ways. This single feelingwork session is not solely responsible for the changes she is experiencing. But she would agree that the session has been a catalyst for her journey moving forward more easily and gracefully than it might have.
These kinds of results are common. The underlying feelings shift, and the accompanying beliefs, perceptions, habits and behaviors shift almost spontaneously, often with very little effort.
It is important to note that Susan has been doing her self-work for a long time. She has a strong network of support, and many practices to support her integration of insights and shifts as they come. Shifts like this are not this easy for everyone.
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.
Finally, if you would like to receive resources to support your exploration of feelingwork, including audio files to lead you through the process, plus both manual and digital templates for drawing and taking notes, please let me know.
Posted: September 7, 2020
© Copyright 2020, Joe Shirley