For this book, my intention is to describe some of the key skills for feelingwork success without getting into too much detail. This is the sort of thing best learned in person, through demonstrations, practice, and coaching — not from a book. At least for the moment, my ability to fully articulate just how I do this work feels like a bit of a stretch. I would at least need to scour my feelingwork notes, dig through session transcripts, and work hard to find verbal examples of each skill to present.
Ultimately I would like to make that happen. For now, we’re going to go bare bones, and I will describe the skills as best I can. Let’s get started.
First let us start with an overview of what exactly we are working with in most cases of feelingwork. Let us take a look at what exactly is the nature of being stuck, struggling, or suffering in a patterned, recurring way in one’s life. This, after all, is what we are interested in excavating, so it will be good to take a quick, first look right now at how we’ll know when we’ve found what we are looking for.
First let me make this clear. The most appropriate application for the feelingwork I present here is to reveal the underlying structures holding in place recurring dysfunctional patterns in our lives, and to release those structures, allowing us to return to a place of wholeness in that context. What I am offering is an approach for unlocking inner resources bound up in reactions from the past.
What I do not suggest is that we apply feelingwork to the living, appropriate responses to life in the moment. Our human lives are often painful and distressing. There are good reasons to feel grief, anger, pain, and fear, and we are not interested in attempting to minimize those essential experiences. (Honestly, I don’t think feelingwork would be terribly effective at this kind of masking of authentic experience anyway. But I thought I should make this clear.)
So what are these structures to which I refer, and what is their role in the dysfunctional patterns in our lives?
The natural state of every part of us is one of fluid responsiveness to the subtle, ever-changing conditions of life. Maintaining that natural functioning requires active attention to those states which are signaling us that a need is not being met. When our active attention and responsiveness to these feeling signals are blocked or interrupted, or when our world resists our attempts to address the unmet need, we find ways to temporarily compensate and our attention is drawn to other regions of our inner world which offer us greater agency in meeting other needs.
The simple fact of human existence is that we never have all our needs met. We are in a constant state of finding balance between this need and that one, never fully secure, never fully satiated, never fully free. So it is natural for a need to go unmet for a time. In the healthy functioning of feelingmind, though, our attention is eventually brought back to the needs that have gone unmet, so we can try again, working out new responses, finding new strategies, until eventually we break through and achieve a satisfying resolution to our sadness, our distress, our longing or anxiety or frustration.
This natural functioning gets overridden at times. There are two significant factors which contribute to this. First, there are times of great stress in the life of a person, a family, a community, a civilization, where survival and other more foundational needs take precedence over other needs of the soul. In these times, we learn that certain needs are unmeetable, and the constellation of parts holding the functioning which addresses that need locks into a configuration focused on optimal compensation rather than actually meeting the need.
Second, there are contexts in which our practices of parenting, education, management, and governance have developed strong principles and rules by which those in our culture navigate. These principles and rules serve needs of the collective, but often override certain needs of the individual. They dismiss the natural feeling signals and impose thought-based protocols for how to navigate without regard to the underlying need. In these cases too, we learn that the need is essentially unmeetable, and the constellation locks into compensation mode.
Life is complex, and there are threats and opportunities coming from all directions all of the time. Much of our energy must go into simplifying our lives simply so we can manage. If you were aware of the entire, full-bandwidth stream of sensory information coming into the receiver of your body at this moment, you would be overwhelmed and unable to continue reading. So the selectivity of your attention chooses which portions of the incoming stream are relevant to you now, and screens out the large majority of the rest.
In the same way, our inner lives are immensely complex. If we had to actively navigate all of our inner levels, all of our inner dimensions, if we had to consciously manage all of the hundreds of parts of our psyche, we would collapse. There is no way. So when we run up against unmeetable needs and we find a strategy for compensation that is “good enough,” we lock it in place so it functions autonomously, without the need for our conscious attention.
A long time ago, human lives changed at a slower pace than they do today. A constellation got locked into compensation mode to address factors and forces that would likely last for the person’s entire life. Today, however, our global society is in constant flux, and each person’s life changes drastically, often many times in the course of their lifetime. So compensations locked in place at one time in our lives often lose their effectiveness at later times.
In addition, our civilization has overdone the application of principles, rules, and rationality to the problems of human life, and too often the signals of feeling are overridden. In even the simplest things, children often learn not to trust their own sensitive feeling signals, and are taught instead to navigate by the network of thought structures laid down by everyone around them. This bias toward rationality and against the wisdom of feeling contributes a great deal to each of us accumulating an overabundance of inner compensations for needs assumed to be unmeetable. Many of us are virtually crippled by these excessive compensatory containers for our natural navigation system. Our profligate mental health diagnostic categories are symptoms of this unbalanced stance.
We’ll come back to these larger societal issues later. For now, what we want to focus on is this: What does a reactive, compensatory configuration look like in our lives? How do we identify prime locations upon which to apply our attention in doing feelingwork? How can we find those spaces within us which will yield the greatest breakthroughs toward wholeness when we enter those spaces with the assistance of feelingwork?
So what are we looking for in considering where to turn our attention for a round of feelingwork? Here are a few characteristic markers. This is not a comprehensive list by any means, but should give you a good idea of the kind of places that are ripe for powerful feelingwork transformation.
Although I’ve described reactive configurations as being organized around a need considered unmeetable, I want to reassure you that in feelingwork it is not necessary to identify the underlying needs. It is enough to notice where things are not working in your life, to bring your attention to those places, and to trust that in carrying through the mapping and moving, the underlying needs will find their way to the surface and creatively find new ways to get themselves met well. You’ll be better able to say what the needs were after they start being met, rather than trying to identify them ahead of time or even in the midst of the process. In all of this work, trust feeling to be your prime source of wise guidance and transformative action, and let your mind make sense of things afterwards.
When something happens which objectively seems small, but your reaction is extreme, this is a prime signal of a reactive configuration underlying the response. You are reacting not to the situation as it is in the moment, but to its echo in the past.
These situations might take the form of getting involved with the same challenging character, getting caught in the same challenging situation, or getting stuck in the same dead-end job with the same incompetent boss despite all your efforts to change the routine. Almost certainly these take shape guided by locked-in thought patterns and their perceptual filters of an underlying reactive configuration of feeling states. You might notice parallels between the recurring circumstances and certain dynamics present in your early life.
It’s not our natural state to be chronically depressed, irritable, or anxious. Poke around beneath the surface feeling states or begin to unpack the driving patterns of thought and belief, and you will uncover plenty to work with.
Our natural state is to be open to life, engaged with the unknown, feeling our way through the twists and turns of our unique terrain. When we notice we are locked into some particular way of doing things that strongly bars alternatives, or when we find ourselves holding a zealous certainty about the way things are, these are prime clues to an underlying pattern of compensation. What is the risk, what are the potential downsides, if you were to let go of your way or your truth? Look there for the juicy start to your work.
Here we are looking at those places in which you invest a disproportionate amount of your life energy in a particular activity. Sometimes this looks clearly unhealthy, as for example when you are spending days on end immersed in a video game environment and neglecting your health. But this can also look like it fits cultural standards of excellence if our chosen obsession is one that is well rewarded. Pursuit of wealth or status of any kind can fall into this category and be driven by deeply buried configurations compensating for unmet primal needs.
When you tell yourself one thing is important to you, yet your behavior does not back that up. When you are confronted with feedback about behavior of your own that is anathema to you when you see it in others. Or perhaps you are on the verge of success and find yourself behaving in such a way as to sabotage your efforts. These are examples in which your unconscious actions are driven by a hidden reactive configuration while your consciously espoused values play a complementary role in that same configuration.
It could be a seemingly insignificant moment in which someone speaks or makes a gesture and you go blank. Or it could be something bigger, for example, being around a family member and finding yourself absolutely unable to speak up for your own opinion or needs, feeling essentially paralyzed in their presence. These also are cases signaling a reactive configuration in which the compensation included a kind of dissociation as a way to handle significant distress.
When your world takes the shape of me versus you, or us versus them, you can be sure that underlying that framing of reality is a compensatory structure. You need to split the world in order to maintain compensatory control over an energy or behavior that in your past you had no defenses against.
The key question here is, in a world in which your body were healed of the actual addiction, what would your experience be without the substance? It’s almost always about avoiding intolerable feeling states. In these places you will almost always find deeply unmet needs held in place by reactive configurations.
Unfortunately, substance dependencies create their own additional layer of challenge through changes in physiology. The vehicle enabling us to travel through feelingmind is our body, and when the body is compromised it can make it difficult to do feelingwork effectively. Almost always it is best to find other approaches to break the pattern of abuse before beginning to work on the underlying compensation structures.
This is another area in which long-standing patterns of feeling, thought, and behavior have impacted the body in negative ways, and the capacity of the body to be a free and open vessel for feelingmind is compromised. Nevertheless, you can often do a great deal to assist in healing the body by working with the underlying structures of feeling.
Reading through this list you may have the thought that it is a bit excessive, that according to this list everyone needs to do feelingwork. And actually, I would affirm that thought. The bias of our civilization against feeling has caused great harm to us all, and none of us has escaped the impact. In many ways, most of us are crippled by distortions of feelingmind which make it impossible for us to truly thrive. This is a condition of our times. And it is likely that the scope of your own inner compensations is deeper and broader than you can imagine at the moment.
Most of us cannot identify our own most crippling patterns. Because a compensatory constellation assumes the need can never be met, it locks into place as a fixture in the landscape, an immutable fact of life. When this constellation is shaped very early in our lives, when it takes form before we are able to bring our full awareness and agency to choosing how we build it, it becomes part of the unconscious foundation of our personality. How we inhabit that place becomes part of the indelible fabric of our identity. Not only can we not imagine ourselves being different, but we cannot even imagine the possibility of such a thing. It is not on our map.
We are supported in maintaining our oblivion to these underlying compensations because our civilization has turned them into norms. Everybody eats too much. Everybody obsessively watches Netflix or the sports channel. Everybody spirals between caustic fights and cold truces with their spouse. Whatever your particular compensatory pattern, it has most likely been normalized. (One driver for this is economic. People’s pain has been massively monetized. There are fortunes to be made in feeding people’s compensations for falsely capped needs. And making those fortunes is itself one of the compensation norms our society regularly rewards.)
That’s OK. Those reactive patterns you can readily identify, (there will be plenty), will get the ball rolling. Dissolve those, and others eventually will come to the foreground. Do your work at a steady pace that works for you, and the time will come that even those deepest patterns around which you have built your entire life will come into view. You will be able to extract yourself from the matrix.
At the same time, keep in mind that we are always in flux. Always there are some constellations within us which are stably holding a compensation of some kind. In any normal human life it would be virtually impossible to completely free all parts of oneself for absolute presence and sensitive responsiveness to life. It might perhaps be possible to experience a simulation of such freedom and aliveness by drastically constraining the shape of the life we inhabit, for example by going to live in a monastery on a mountain. But even in artificially constrained conditions, it is unlikely we will not experience bumping up against one or more of our compensatory constellations from time to time. We will always be reminded of our limited humanity.
So I want to advise a kind of restraint on how you apply feelingwork. Reserve it for those conditions which truly disrupt your well being. If instead you become sensitized to the compensations within you, and you dedicate yourself to mapping and moving them as you identify them, it is almost certain that you will find yourself engaged in endless self work and the world will be deprived of your best contributions.
If you are someone (like myself) who took on innumerable compensatory configurations at a very early age, and you find yourself unable to function well, and if you are committed to recovering a level of functioning strong enough to thrive, just know it is likely to be a long road. Give yourself a few years of periodic deep dives. Give yourself plenty of restoration time between your dives. And take your time. Every step along the way is worth taking.
We can’t do mapping until we’ve identified one or more feeling states to work with. Much of our excavation of states will happen at the outset of exploring a particular set or constellation. But probably just as many or more states will be revealed in the mapping and moving process itself. We’ll cover both aspects of excavation here.
At the outset of a feelingwork excursion, we take a walk around the territory to be explored. In some cases this involves no more than a cursory glance, when we have two or three dominant feeling states screaming for immediate mapping. In these cases we just jump in and start mapping, trusting that more information about the rest of the set will reveal itself in due time.
When you have more of an open space at the beginning, take your time with the excavation. Identifying half a dozen states is a good start, even more is better. In some situations, with some issues, you may come up with as many as a dozen and a half related states. That’s OK. Soon enough you will find them settling into their nine-part patterns.
At either end of the spectrum or anywhere in between, let yourself be comfortable with however it is unfolding. It is easy to compensate for too few feeling states identified by digging a little deeper into the story, and it is easy to handle too many feeling states identified by just diving into mapping. It will all settle out.
You will want to be intentional about what it is you are choosing to excavate. Your inner life is rich and complex, and you want to select a particular zone of interest. You might think of it as choosing what issue to work on. You might instead see it as a pattern of thought, mood, or behavior. You might draw a circle around a particular relationship in which you experience difficulty. Or you might be drawn to a particular mode of being in which you struggle, for example “working on a project,” “getting to sleep at night,” or “doing chores around the house.”
Don’t worry about being too specific. It’s better to go small at first. Trust that you will be able to follow the trail of feeling to excavate the entire set. If you start with too large a focus, you may wind up casting too large a net and have difficulty wrangling things into manageable order.
What is most important in choosing your focus is that there is a congruent felt sense you are able to inhabit which fills the space of your issue or pattern. Think of it as a particular “way of being” or sub-personality which takes over in that context. When you’re in it, you’re in it. When you are in a different context, your inner experience is also clearly different.
Give that way of being, sub-personality, or context a name that will be your headline for the work on this set.
Once you have chosen your focus, it is time to tell the story of your experience in this context, inhabiting this way of being or sub-personality. What is it like to be you, having this experience? What are your predominant streams of thought, salient emotions, and predictable behaviors? What stands out to you in your world? Who are the other characters in your story, both human and non-human? What are the other significant forces which exert their influence upon you?
Write your story as if you were telling it to another person. Capture the nuance of your inner experience in particular. Again, what is it like to be you, having this experience? The more complete your notes are, the easier it will be to identify the patterns and name your states. If you are facilitating someone else in their journey, do them the favor of capturing as best you can their exact words for key phrases and passages.
It’s OK if you have to slow them down or even interrupt them at times to repeat a portion of the story so you can capture it in detail. When they stop talking, it gives them an opportunity to feel more deeply into the flow of things, and when you capture their words accurately, you will be able to share those back to them when you review to go deeper into identifying the states. They will appreciate it, and it will make it easier for them to do the work.
In capturing the story, you want to go deep into any given moment, and you also want to go broad across the timeline of a typical cycle through the story. Most issues people want to map involve recurring themes and episodes where the same sort of thing happens, again and again. Zoom into one cycle of the story. Use the climax or conflict as your easy entry point, but expand out from there. What happens before the blow-up? When do you know this is coming, and what is your experience then? What happens after the big event? How do you feel afterwards, what do you do, what are you thinking?
Different people will have different levels of access to the rich under-territory of any pattern. With some people, the story will gush forth with copious detail and color. Other people will benefit from patient, probing questions.
At any point in the telling of your story you can choose to pause to identify and name feeling states. I tend to do this as go, pushing pause after a passage or burst in the story to lean in and notice what underlying feeling states hold the story experience together. In this activity I am zooming in first on the low-hanging fruit of common words of emotion, mood, interpretation, perception, and attitude. I am also listening into the characters, forces, and entities in the story world. Finally, I am paying close attention to nonverbal cues of physical gestures, reports of somatic and non-somatic sensations, posture, and vocal inflections.
A key concept here: All experience is anchored in feeling, and all language is tied to those underlying anchors. Absolutely any language telling the story of experience can be unpacked to identify the feeling states driving the story. Give yourself permission to probe, to experiment, to inquire, to invite attention inward to identify those specific places inside which hold the unique states driving your story.
As I’ve described elsewhere, thoughts and belief statements of the sort that come up in the telling of our stories are linguistic connections between thought fields, and often connect fields of one part with those of another. Consequently, these statements during the initial excavation, while mapping, and sometimes even those which show up after moving, will often point to states and their parts which have not yet been identified. Use all of the tactics above to assess and harvest these clues. In addition, here is another powerful method for expanding the network of beliefs to further excavate feeling states at any point in the process.
Now you have an expanded network of belief statements to consider. Review them for clues suggesting previously hidden feeling states.
As we discussed in earlier chapters, language traces the lines of thought connections between the thought images generated by multiple feeling states. One of the types of connection we find gives names to the actual feeling experience. These names tend to be those we find in the consensus lexicon for feeling, mood, and emotion. Harvest these names as likely pointers to actual, inner felt experience, but avoid buying into what you believe the name refers to. Simply use words like sad, mad, afraid, annoyed, and all the other common names as pointers to your own (or your explorer’s) inner experience, and consider that inner experience to be a mystery at this point.
Beyond these easy pointers, sift through the language of the story for words indicating assessments, judgments, attitudes, and perceptual filters of various kinds. A word like “nasty” suggests a judgment against a particular kind of behavior or personality. A word like “aggravating” comes across as a judgment pointing to an inner experience of feeling aggravated. A phrase like “I can’t believe she did that” invites an inquiry into the nature of “can’t believe,” seeking clarity about expectations of what she should have done instead, and what is at stake in the case when she goes against that expectation. “There’s no way I would do that” suggests an attitude about what is the right way to behave in the situation, and that attitude can be unpacked to identify the feeling state behind it.
In addition to the obvious clues to feeling states, judgments and attitudes are clues held by the shape of the story itself. Think of the story the way a screenwriter or novelist might. There are key characters playing their roles, forces which sweep through the landscape, and non-human entities which exert their influence on the outcome. Listen for those and inquire into them.
This is particularly important in the case of oppositional characters. When you experience someone whose efforts seem to be against your own best interests, and when someone with that quality shows up on your life on a recurring basis, that character inevitably lives within feelingmind anchored by its own feeling state. Give the character a meaningful name and plan to map your inner, felt experience of that character. Sometimes these strong characters take up residence in the relationships with people around you, and sometimes they are clearly inhabitants of your own inner realm. An example of the former is the “cold boss” who cares only about the numbers of your performance, while an example of the latter might be the “inner tyrant” who harasses you into behaving according to its wishes.
Beyond characters we also have various mythical-style forces and entities such as “fate,” “bad energy,”or “randomness” that can show up in our stories in ways which have great impact. What is important about these forces and entities is not some objective assessment of their existence, but the fact of their occupation of feelingmind as an actual, felt inner experience.
One question that is of immense value and falls outside the norm for various therapies and other processes explores the inner experience of the outer world. As we see in the architecture of feelingmind, one key component of our experience of self-in-the-world is the experience of the world itself, the context for our entire experience of this story. This is the function of the context source. When we are locked into our reactive configurations, the experienced world is a sort of character of its own in our story.
To excavate the world character, ask something along the lines of, “What kind of world is it, in which this is your experience?” Invite some sort of adjective placed in front of “world” for starters, and go from there. Some examples, “Dangerous World,” “Cold and Empty,” or “Everybody Out for Themselves.”
Sometimes, the external world character is occupied more by a single, world-defining personality. In my own mapping for example, the inner entity of my father’s energy often shows up as my defining context. Even when he has nothing directly to do with the story I am inhabiting, his presence in my past can shape how I experience other men or the world as a whole.
This category of clues is more likely to be relevant when you are facilitating someone else than working with yourself. Just as streams of thought are anchored in feeling, feeling interfaces closely with the body and directly influences its expression. Watch the way the explorer uses their hands as they describe an experience and you will see pointers to parts of the body, shapes, and movement. Take note of these in addition to the words spoken, because they can often support an easy entry to mapping. “I noticed that as you spoke of this feeling, you held your hands close to your belly as if to protect it. Is there some part of your experience of this feeling that lives in your belly? Or is it possible that something outside of you is threatening something located in your belly?” In the latter case, you are looking at two distinct feeling states, the threat outside the belly and the vulnerable place inside of it.
Pay attention also to reported somatic sensations. While it is true that what we are looking for in feelingmind exists outside the realm of actual somatic sensation, very often sensation and feelingmind experience overlap. Feelingmind is incredibly creative and fluid, and the signals from the body can be very strong. So very often, strong signals generated by the emotional system in the body serve as attractors for the location of feelingmind states. When your gut is “tied up in knots,” you will often find an actual feeling state lurking behind the somatic sensation of gastric tension. So use the body as useful clues to identifying feeling states. When you get into mapping the states, that will be the time to refine the awareness to focus on the feeling experience beyond the body.
The voice can also provide clues for identifying feeling states. Pay attention to hesitations, changes in pitch, or speed of talking. Anything that stands out as different can be a clue to an underlying feeling state.
As you go through the process of noting likely suspects, inquire more deeply by inviting attention specifically into each particular felt sense of that spot in the story. Ask specifically about the underlying feeling state using questions like these: “What are you feeling in this situation? What does it feel like when that happens? When you are in the middle of that, what is the feeling of it? What else are you feeling in addition to that?”
As you identify those felt points of contact, explore the language around them while seeking just the right name for the feeling itself. This name doesn’t have to be perfect, just good enough to use as a label, so you know where to place your attention as you begin mapping. At the same time, give yourself some latitude for creativity. Sometimes, finding just the right word or phrase as your label takes you a step farther into the essence of this state in your life or the function of the underlying part. Have fun with it, without getting too caught up in getting it “right.”
Once you have a list of identified states, it’s good practice to review the list looking for duplicates or potential links to new states. A name like “Guarding Against Evil” will most likely turn out to have the two components “Guarding” and “Evil” as opposing states expressing two distinct parts. Names that seem to point in the same direction, for example “Distress” and “Upset,” may turn out to reference the same feeling state. Confirm whether this is true by simply asking whether the actual, felt experience of Distress is the same as that for Upset. If so, choose one of the two names or find another that captures the feeling state even better.
If they do not seem to be the same state, you might want to confirm whether they are the same part or not. Do this by attempting to hold the two distinct states in awareness at the same time. If that is possible, maintain them as two distinct states on your list and treat them as distinct parts. If not, explore whether the two states can turn into one another, indicating two expressions of the same part. If you are able to turn them into one another, you might still choose to map both, but indicate their relationship in your notes and anticipate they may transform into the same ideal state. Don’t lock into your initial assessment, though, and be open to learning more about the true nature of the states and their underlying parts through the mapping and moving process.
Let me share a particularly powerful tactic for uncovering states that might be hidden because of the intolerable discomfort they engender. Much of the time in a reactive configuration, the states which are immediately obvious play the role of maintaining an oblivion of a deeper, pivot state around which the entire set is built. These pivot states tend to be those for which the experience of the core need going unmet was particularly painful. They might have names like “Despair,” “Annihilation,” or “Terror.”
One way to surface these states for mapping is to engage the nightmare scenario exercise. The most suitable place to employ this is for a configuration in which there is a strong drive toward some goal. Modal operators of necessity are flags for this, words including “must,” “have to,” “should,” along with their negatives, plus “always” and “never.”
Begin by encouraging exploration of what it feels like when this drive is fulfilled — the dragon is slain, the trophy is won, the princess is rescued, etc. Then invite imagining the nightmare scenario in which “you realize with finality that you have failed” to reach the desired outcome. “What does it feel like in this nightmare scenario in which all you have worked for has completely, utterly failed?”
Most of the time we don’t allow our attention to drift toward that scenario. We cling tightly to the states and the connected thoughts and perceptions which support the compensation. We don’t want to feel the failure, loss, or pain, but the deeper truth is, we completely and totally expect that to be our reality. The expected truth of that reality is too intolerable, and so we throw our life energy into creating the illusion that it is not true, that we can attain ultimate victory. Allowing ourselves to bring awareness to these intolerable states and include them in our mapping is a formula for powerful transformation.
In reactive configurations, source states are usually blocked or inverted, and the other functions are similarly obstructed. One interesting thing that often happens is that parts will cover for one another. For example, when an inside source is inverted, sucking energy out of the body instead of providing a limitless supply, another part may generate a false inside source, pretending to be a source of inner power and confidence, for example, when the actual inside source is in a state of despair or helplessness. So do not expect that just because a feeling seems to be “positive” it is in its ideal state. If the state coexists with the other states in the reactive configuration, include it with the others in mapping and moving and be open to surprise when it moves.
A common element within a set of states is one that might be called a meta state. Ask about how you feel about being caught up in the drama of your story, or what it feels like to be you, inhabiting the world you’ve described. Be open to whatever shows up.
In the answer that arises, discern whether this feels like a single meta state, or potentially an entire set. A single state might look like a simple attitude or judgment. An entire set will carry its own motivations and goals, its own reactions and responses, its own framing truth. It might show up with more of a name of a sub-personality or character with a relationship to the set to which it is responding. We will take a closer look at identifying related sets in the section on constellations.
From time to time you may find that you be carrying certain reactions or attitudes toward the mapping process itself. If you are facilitating someone’s journey, you may find these energies directed towards yourself. (In traditional therapy these sorts of phenomena might be referred to as transference or resistance.)
No worries. These are almost certainly arising as expressions of the set under examination. Include the states that show up, identify and name them and invite awareness about the role they play in the set. An irritability, for example, a grouchiness about having to do this darned mapping stuff, might actually be an integral part of a set you are working around a deep frustration about not being seen or included in plans that affect you. Or perhaps every time you bring your attention to mapping, you fog out and nod off. Bottom line: if it feels like it is getting in the way, treat it instead as if it is calling out to you, asking to be included in the process, and do just that.
While mapping, you might find it very useful to treat feeling substances revealed in mapping as if they were real. Although in the mapping process we specify clearly that these feeling substances do not need to obey laws of physics, nevertheless they do tend to mirror many behaviors from the material and energetic world. Use your own somatosensory intuitions to notice possible locations and structures for feeling states that have not yet been mapped. Here are a few you might look for.
If a state exhibits a force in a particular direction, it will often encounter resistance. Just like in the material world, if you push and there is no resistance, your push will become simply a movement or flow. If a feeling object is not moving, yet is experienced as having a force in a particular direction, inquire to see what might be meeting that force from the opposite direction.
In the case of pressure for something like a gas or liquid, inquire whether the pressure is inward or outward. If outward, it’s possible it is met by a containing substance. If inward, it might be the container for a different substance at its center. Probe a bit to find out by shining the field of attention into the space in which you suspect there may be another state.
On occasion you will map a feeling object which seems inert, rigid, contracting, or otherwise somewhat resistant to change. These objects can sometimes hide other feeling states within them. In these cases, sometimes that external feeling state is all we are aware of because it is doing such a great job of blocking our attention to what is at its center.
We can check for these hidden inner states simply by using the field of attention as a scanner. “Bring your awareness all the way into and through the center of this [feeling state]. What do you notice there? Does it seem to be the same [feeling substance] all the way through, or is there something different in the center?” If it does seem there is something different, check to see if there is a clear differentiation between one substance and the next.
Different substances and colors give the clearest indication of differentiation between the two. If the outer segues gradually into the inner with no clear demarcation, it may actually be experienced as the same feeling substance under different conditions, for example higher pressure, at the center. In that case it is most likely to be the same part. If they are clearly of different substances, identify and name the new feeling state at the center and take it through the full mapping process. If you have some question about it, just ask. “Does this seem to be a different feeling, or does it seem more like it is the same part of you?”
Most often this will clarify things. If you have one feeling object hiding and containing another, most likely they will be clearly experienced as having opposing intentions. Roll with that and map the second state. If you’re just not sure, the most conservative approach is to treat them as two different states, and map and move them both. If they are the same part, they will converge into the same ideal state. If not, they will diverge into their respective different ideal states. Mystery solved.
Containers are more common than you might imagine. Very often when we go into the source of a tension or anxiety we will identify a container. And for very high-energy, high-stress configurations we can even find containers running several layers deep.
Often times you will map a state experienced as a flowing substance. In these cases make sure to trace the source and destination of the flow. If you identify a closed-loop circulation, then no worries. It’s a single state. But occasionally you will notice the flow seems to be coming from or going to a separate, different feeling object. In these cases, make sure to identify and map that extra state.
The universal architecture revealed in the ideal states of a set serves as a wonderful guide for completing your work. When you have mapped and moved all the states you have identified, but have not yet completed your full, nine-part set of ideal states, you know you have some more excavating to do. It’s really that simple. Start asking around, poking here and there, working your way through the various types of possible clues. Look through your notes as well, including those from your earliest storytelling about the issue you chose to transform, as well as notes from mapping, especially those which might suggest structural clues or belief statement connections. Even your notes from moving states might reveal little glitches along the way which might suggest a place to direct your inquiring attention. What have we missed? What else is true? And… what else am I feeling?
Complete sets contain nine, contiguous, interrelated states, all of which are relatively easy to access when you are working on any one of them. Because of this, one simple question carries an inordinate amount of power for excavation: What else are you feeling? You can use variations on the question to link it to other specific, already identified states or certain contexts or memories. In general, though, we are inviting the field of attention to wander into the space surrounding any of the states already under the spotlight. You’ll be surprised at what shows up.
We covered the basics of mapping and moving in quite good depth in their respective chapters earlier in the book. Here I would like to offer some tips for more effective work.
First, let me address time expectations for the work. When I am working with a client addressing a salient issue that is ready to be worked, we will begin with anywhere from fifteen minutes to an hour just walking around the territory, getting the lay of the land. At the end of this time we should have a handful of states identified, ready for mapping. From then on, for most people we tend to average about half an hour each for mapping and moving a state. Keeping in mind that a full set contains nine parts, and that some of those may turn out to express with more than one reactive state, and working a full set can take anywhere between 10 and 15 hours. Working with a full constellation of three sets will be about three times that.
It’s a chunk of work. To begin with, I generally tell people there is a choice to make at the outset of your feelingwork excursion. One way to approach the work is in small doses. The other is to go for deep dives. Let’s take a look at each approach.
In the small-dose approach to feelingwork, we never bite off more than we can chew. The goal is to strive to complete moving at least a portion of what you’ve mapped in any given session. In the simplest-case scenario we limit ourselves to mapping and moving just one state per session, usually completing that in about an hour or less. Going for a bit more depth we can map and move two or three states in a session lasting two to two-and-a-half hours.
For many people that is plenty to tackle in the course of a week, and we schedule a two-plus-hour session every week or so. The advantage of this approach is it enables someone to maintain their everyday responsibilities and activities while taking on the inner work. But there can be several disadvantages.
One disadvantage is that over the stretched-out course of our work, life happens, and other sets or constellations can penetrate the bubble of our focused work and take up residence at the center. We’ll get some good effects, some release of stress for example, and that will open up the space for a deeper issue to surface and demand attention. It might be difficult to complete full sets or constellations as a result. In addition, sometimes we can penetrate into a new layer of awareness, perhaps identifying a previously hidden set, for example. Without time to map and move those states that have been surfaced, we might have to live with them for a longer period of time.
In the small-dose approach, it is usually best to let go of working in defined chunks and just follow the thread of what asks for attention week to week. We can trust that under the surface, lots is going on, and integration is happening outside of awareness. So even though we are not “completing” full sets and constellations, we are releasing locked-in compensations and reviving feelingmind across the board. The small-dose approach gets big results but with a less predictable flow of the work itself.
The deep-dive approach to feelingwork is for those who want a more swift resolution to current challenges and have the freedom (and fortitude) to dive in for longer sessions packed into a shorter time. This is my preferred way of doing my own personal work. Sessions can last three or more hours, and we can engage in more than one session per day. Doing so enables us to plow through a full constellation in less than two weeks.
In the deep-dive approach, I find it best to identify and map all states in a set before starting to move any. This enables us to stay in the reactive space and fully explore it, identifying the states and mapping them, tracing the patterns all the way around. That way, when we take on the moving phase, our work goes more smoothly and completes with a more satisfying and effective resolution.
Advantages of the deep-dive approach center on the power of the transformation. Working a full constellation is often incredibly life-changing, and doing the deep dive enables us to do a thorough job of transforming all the parts involved in generating the reactive compensation we’re looking to resolve. On the down side, this level of plunge into the darkness of one’s interior can be taxing to say the least. In mapping full sets at least, and in some cases the full constellation, you are bringing anywhere from 10 to 30 reactive states fully into awareness at once. It can be overwhelming unless you have a strong place to stand and good support around you. The effects can include a big hit to your everyday functionality and can even affect your health in negative ways for a short time before you turn the corner and start moving everything.
Doing a deep dive is like doing a deliberate “dark night of the soul.” You really get to experience the full extent of the darkness that has been living within you, with no softening, no habitual evasion, no escape for the time you are in there. You’re in it, and there is no way out but through.
Fortunately, “through” can happen very quickly. But something else to look out for is the possibility of a profound disorientation for a period afterwards. The transformation you have conducted happens at such a deep level that sometimes when you emerge, it can take you a week or more to rediscover who you are and get your bearings. In these times it feels like all your old patterns are no longer available, but you don’t know yet what is replacing them. If the constellation was formed during a particular developmental phase, you may find yourself going through that phase again, as if for the first time, but this time around you will have your full power and inner resources available to you. All you will need to do is trust your natural instincts, move toward what feels good and right, and you will begin to develop a new understanding and identity congruent with your more authentic self. It’s an amazing process.
Because of the power of this kind of transformation, I highly recommend that if you choose this path, you make sure you have the freedom and support to take some good amount of time for recovery afterwards. Giving yourself a good week or more of light responsibilities and plenty of self care is a great idea.
Finally, a word of caution. Doing a full constellation in ten days or so is a powerful catalyst for growth. Typically what will happen afterwards is that your life will expand, sometimes significantly. You will be doing, or at least considering doing, things you had previously avoided. You will find yourself attracting opportunities which were previously unavailable. You will enter relationships unlike those you had been drawn to in the past. As a result, you will find yourself facing new edges. Sometimes those new edges can bring a deeper constellation to the foreground. Occasionally this can happen right on the heels of the one you just completed.
At this time, there is no guaranteed, “safe” way to manage this process. We all carry such deep distortions within us, and most of them are well hidden. So we really just never know just what we are going to run into when we start down the path of transformation. Every part of us is connected to every other part, and just pulling on the thread that’s loose can lead us very quickly to some dark and treacherous terrain. This I suppose is one of the strongest arguments to support the small-dose approach to the work.
At the same time, the deep dive is one of the best ways to truly learn this work. Getting to really see and experience the inner architecture gives you an understanding you cannot get in any other way. For many of you for whom this is an important incentive, I imagine you also have developed that fortitude for inner darkness that I mentioned at the outset of this section. It’s an important strength to have developed, I think. There is no darkness more formidable than that which lies within us.
One convenient benefit of having attached a dynamically-linked image handle to the feeling state while mapping it is the ability to reduce the intensity of a distressing state. Of course, if you intend to continue immediately after mapping to the moving phase, there’s no need for this. But if for some reason there will be an interruption or there simply isn’t time to continue the process, you can give yourself some immediate relief.
To use the image in this way, start making adjustments to the sensory properties that seem most extreme. Make small adjustments at first — all you’re going for is a bit of relief, not wholesale transformation. That will come later in the moving phase.
Usually, the direction of change to bring relief is the one that’s intuitively obvious. For example, a feeling state that is extremely hot will probably benefit from cooling down a bit. One that is vibrating intensely will probably benefit from calming down a bit. A feeling state that is very heavy could probably use some lightening, and one that is very dark some brightening.
Once in a while, the obvious adjustment doesn’t relieve the distress. In that case, first try the opposite direction to alter that property. And if that doesn’t work, leave it as is and try another property. For most feeling states, just one or two properties will turn out to be “drivers.” Making adjustments to these will effect the greatest change to the feeling. Try making small changes to discover one of these drivers, and go with that one.
You may even wish to practice altering that property back and forth between one value and another, almost as if it is a slider on an electronic device. Slide to one end to experience the strongest distress, and slide to the other end to experience the greatest relief. You have control of that slider at any time you need it.
Over the next pages I’ll take you through some reliable approaches to a few common challenges you’ll encounter on the way through mapping and moving.
From time to time you may identify a state that seems to be something that is “not me.” It might seem to be some sort of transpersonal entity or other force from outside the self. It might be literally another character in your story or in some other way seeming to be not your own self. That’s OK. Map it anyway. Let me explain.
What is important in such experiences as encounters with the supernatural or the constant presence of a bully is not the entity itself, but your experience of it. In order to have an awareness of and orient yourself to this person, thing, force, or other entity, you must represent it within yourself. All thought, all consciousness is anchored in feeling. So your representation of this external thing is anchored in your feeling of its presence in your world. You want to map that feeling state anchor for your awareness of the relevant “other.”
Treat it like any other feeling state that you map. Your feeling of this thing, no matter how clearly external it may be, is an integral part of you. You will be grateful to reclaim this part by restoring access to its ideal state.
Sometimes you will come across a state that resists being moved. You go through the beginning of the feelingwork moving process and it just digs in its heels and says it’s not going anywhere. In these cases, almost always you will find this part is protecting you from feeling another state. The other state might be hidden, or you may already have identified or even mapped it. One signal this is the case happens when you try to move it and the second state jumps into the foreground.
These kinds of configurations are common. The anger is there to keep you from feeling the fear. The fear is there to keep you from feeling the despair. At times these dependency chains are several states deep.
In these situations you will do best by tracing all the way to the center of the configuration, finding the most intolerable state, and move that one first. Work your way back up the chain. By the time you get to the original state that had been resisting, you will find it ready and eager to move, and often the moving comes easily.
Another option to consider is to double down on the preamble, reinforcing the permission to “put it back” after you’ve moved it, the “in this moment” frame, and the “perfect world” frame. In addition, make sure to address the other parts more explicitly, even by name if that seems useful, inviting them to participate as passive witnesses and reassuring them that they will also get their chance to move. Sometimes that is all you need to do.
Sometimes you will come across a part which, when you invite it to shift, wants to leave the body and “just go away” or disappear. That’s OK. You always want to trust a part’s impulses, no matter how counter-intuitive they might seem.
Support the part in literally going to another place outside the body. Ask specifics about where it wants to relocate, and in what form. It might pool into a puddle on the ground below. It might dissipate into the atmosphere all around. It might evaporate and rise up to the sky. In every case, the part has not disappeared. It has just changed its form, and we continue to work with the new form.
Once the part has obtained its freedom from the body, (or the body has obtained its freedom from the discomfort of the reactive state), address the part in this way:
Now, in this moment, if you were free to come back into the space in or around the body in such a way as to offer your greatest gift, how would you want to do that? If you were free to take on qualities of any substance at all…
And continue with the standard moving questions to discover what new form the part would like to take.
Sometimes when you engage a part in the moving questions, it seems to want to become more intense, more uncomfortable. Again, trust the part’s impulses and roll with it. Sometimes the part will go into the greater intensity and break through into an ideal state on the other side. Sometimes it will ratchet up the intensity and just hang out there for a bit, or come back to its original state.
Going into the intensity is a way for the part to learn something about itself. Even in cases where it goes into the intensity and seems to want to stay there, you can just push pause on that part for now and continue on by shifting attention to other related parts. Move a few others and come back to this one, and very likely it will be ready to find its ideal.
Sometimes you might go into mapping a state or moving it, and find access to it is difficult because another, stronger state has taken over in awareness. In these cases, it’s almost always most useful to simply give the state that is asking for attention all the attention it needs. Completing the mapping process, giving the reactive space to express its reality, and taking it through the full moving process should open up access to the original, obscured state.
We looked at containers in the section on excavation above. In most cases, when you find a state locked into a container state, you will find the greatest ease and effectiveness by moving the state inside the container before moving the container itself. Usually, the container is there because the inner state has been deemed dangerous or uncomfortable for some reason. If it is clear that what is inside the container is in fact distressing in some way, then go for moving that inside state first.
From time to time, though, you will find locked inside a container a state which is a weakened form of something powerful like love. In these cases, the ideal state is itself the threat, and some other parts, the ones threatened, will need to move first. In the example of love locked inside the container, the threatened parts might manifest in states like shame or hurt. Take a look around and see what makes sense, and give it a try.
From time to time you will encounter a reactive feeling state which has the qualities of a source, but in reverse. Rather than originating in the midline, for example, and streaming some feeling substance into the feelingmind space, it sucks some substance out of the feelingmind space through what feels like a portal. Sometimes, for example, it can feel like we are losing our life energy through a black hole. These internal black-hole type structures are most common, but we also encounter structures that feel more like a gateway or portal outside the body, through which life energy or other feeling substance is being exported.
These inverted sources can be quite terrifying or debilitating, as you can imagine. However, I am generally quite enthusiastic when I encounter these. The reasons are, a) it is usually a very simple shift to move the state by reversing the direction of the extracting flow, and b) doing so usually results in the re-establishment of a source state. The shift is powerful and the effects are very swift.
As always, just because a feeling state seems to have this configuration, do not assume it will always shift into a source. Be open to what the part itself wants, and follow its guidance to its ideal along with all the other related parts.
Sometimes you will run into some difficulty either in mapping or moving, but most often with moving. In mapping, start with the most salient, easily accessed states, and work your way out to the periphery of awareness. Each state you map in the set will provide a reference point by which to triangulate your awareness of those more elusive states. If there’s something a little too vague to access easily, don’t worry about it. When it comes to moving the states, if that one does in fact play a role in the set, it will make itself more available.
In moving, start with the most intolerable states first if possible. I look for dependency relationships among the various states that have been mapped, identifying those states which are reactions to other states within the set rather than reactions to something external. When I feel ashamed about having lost my temper, for example, the shame is likely to be a secondary state reacting to the anger, rather than a primary one. In contrast, if the anger shows up in situations in which I have lost connection with someone important to me because of something I did about which I feel shame, and the shame gives rise to the anger, then it is the shame at the center.
In most sets, there will be one to three states I consider pivots for their central role in shaping the set around them. These are very often the most uncomfortable, most intense states. Start with those, and the mapping process will proceed with greater ease than if you try working from the outside in.
Here I want to share a couple tips for more effectively moving states all the way to their ideal, and having that shift be strongly felt.
When fishing for bass, you’ll feel a jiggle on your line and know a fish is nibbling at the bait. But you can’t just start reeling it in because the hook might only catch a little bit and tear away when the fish tries to bolt. You wait a bit until you feel a bigger tug, then you give a sharp yank upwards on your fishing line. That sets the hook, making sure it catches deeply enough to bring the fish in. You avoid merely wounding the fish and leaving it to suffer, and you get to feed your family a yummy meal.
In a similar way, I like to “set the hook” in a feeling state at the outset of moving it. Feelingmind is intimately interconnected with the physiology of our bodies. When we can feel the shift as a whole-body activation, the experience is more compelling and it tends to find its way more easily to a truly ideal state.
To achieve this, we need to find out which qualities of the feeling state map are the strongest drivers for change. We test it out by exploring the obvious parameters and finding out what happens when we move them in a direction we intuit will make the feeling state more intensely unpleasant. For example, something experienced as heavy and cold invites us to test out what happens when we make it heavier and colder. We identify the driver qualities and note them. Then we invite ourselves to ratchet up the intensity to the farthest extent of our tolerance. Make it hurt!
From the intensified place, the motivation to shift toward positive is much stronger, and it is easy to turn attention to the standard moving questions. We start with those driver qualities and turn the part loose to move toward the ideal, working out way through the process and tying it up well at the end.
In this way, you’ll have a powerful experience of change, which will grant a certain veracity to the shift and make it something your body remembers well. In the future, when your body finds itself feeling something like it did in the intensified state, it remembers which direction leads home and supports you in navigating your way back.
All the parts of a set are strongly interconnected. So especially at the beginning of the moving process, it is common for a part to stop short of the ideal. If a reactive state is all about protection, when you move it before the state representing the danger has moved, it is likely to maintain an element of guardedness toward that potential danger. A state called Withdrawal might shift into something called Safe, for example, when the Withdrawal is attempting to move you away from the danger, and the Safe is holding a stronger boundary against that danger.
In cases like this, return to the perfect-world frame. Remind yourself that you are seeking to experience the ideal state in this moment, in the hypothetical space of a perfect world. Reassure the part that in the real world it will have every opportunity to find ways to guard against the danger, but that here and now we are reaching for that north star to guide us in just how best to do that. Continue by inviting this part to continue toward its ideal using language something like this:
Now, in this moment, exploring what is possible in a perfect world, one in which there is nothing to be safe from, what further shifts would this part of you like to make?
Sometimes all that is left is a small adjustment, but at times when you invite this further reaching into the ideal, the part will make a large, qualitative shift and become something quite different. Either way, inviting each shift to go all the way to the part’s ideal state will be important
As we discussed earlier in the section about the difference between small doses and deep dives, working entire sets and constellations is better supported by the deep-diving mode of working. Here we will cover some of the key considerations when digging in with the intention of completing full sets and constellations.
As you wind down mapping and moving all the states on your list, it’s time to look ahead to how you will wrap up work on the set. Tying up loose ends and supporting the nine states in finding their optimal place in the configuration will firm up the shift so it sinks deep roots and supports your transformation through all levels of your being. Changes in beliefs, perceptions, motivations, behaviors, habits, relationships, and lots more will ripple through with relatively little conscious effort on your part, as you learn to trust the newly restored parts of yourself to provide true and sensitive guidance for your journey through life.
There will be times that you will have completed moving to nine ideal states, but you won’t be finished yet.
There will be times that you will have completed moving to nine ideal states, but you won’t be finished yet.
There will be times that you will have completed moving to nine ideal states, but you won’t be finished yet. Make sure that if you have more states on your original list, you clearly identify whether they need to be mapped and moved or not. Drop in to feel into each one of them to confirm: Is this a duplicate of another state I’ve already mapped and moved?
If not, include it in your process. Many times, a part will exhibit multiple reactive states responding to varying contextual needs. It might flare up and exhibit a territorial aggression when confronted, for example, but settle into a more passive, withdrawn state in other situations.
Why is it important to map and move a reactive state when you’ve already mapped and moved another state for the same part? Won’t it turn out to be the same ideal state anyway? It might, and it might not. There are two cases in which it will be important to include the duplicate in the process.
In the first case, the reactive state has a strong presence, and is tightly connected to vivid thought and belief structures which are easily triggered by common circumstances. In this case, even though the part has found its ideal, it can be dragged back toward the reactive configuration when this state gets triggered. Over time this will work itself out, but you can save yourself a little grief by cleaning up.
In the second case, you may find that in shifting the second reactive state, the part discovers a further evolution towards a truer ideal. In this case, you will be well served in wrapping up the set neatly by finding this optimized state.
Once you feel pretty complete about having mapped and moved all the states which revealed themselves as part of your set, you might find it helpful to simply go through and check in with each one. Every part benefits from every other part having full access to its ideal. So the parts you moved early in the process may have stopped short of their final ideal, waiting for more access to the ideal states of their neighbors.
Go through each of the ideal states you’ve completed and apply two frames. In the first, you will reiterate the perfect world frame, reminding this part about the freedom to express itself anywhere on the spectrum of possibilities and asking it to give itself full permission in this moment to explore what is possible in an absolutely perfect world, where all needs are met. In the second, add in to the perfect world scenario, “…and you have access to [name two or three key ideal states that feel particularly powerful to you].” This will help each state adjust further towards its ideal and strengthen its presence in that state.
In every set, the nine ideal states will include three source states, one inside, one outside, and one context. If your set has not arrived at ideal states which cover these key parts, you will want to continue until they are revealed. Most of the time, working your way through the tactics above will get you there. If you seem to have reached a dead end, though, and don’t have three clear sources evident, no worries. Take a break and come back a few days later. During the break, track what goes on internally, looking for clues to a missing state or possibilities for further emergence.
You will also want to nudge your sources toward their optimal form. For the inside source, this involves checking for its best location. Invite it to try on the full range of possible locations from root to crown, and to choose the location that feels most like “home” to it. Usually the signals will be clear and you’ll have a single best spot where it wants to settle in.
For the outside source, you are looking for a structure that is optimally unidirectional. Nearly all outside sources are coming from an undefinable location outside the body, traveling in a unidirectional fashion toward and through the body. If the part seems to want to come from 360 degrees all around, for example, double check to see if it could be a guidance part and also have a component reaching back in an outward direction. Once you have consolidated the direction, explore to make sure it is optimal by trying on having it come from other, different directions. You’ll know when it has found its home place because of the strengthening of its energy and its clarity.
Finally, for the context source, double check to make sure it wants to be located both inside and outside the body, occupying infinite space everywhere. Occasionally a context source part will stop short of entering the body, for example, if there is an unmoved reactive state remaining inside the body that is in opposition to it. Invite the perfect world scenario, invite the resisting state to witness and trust, and you’ll find your way to the fullness of the context source.
It’s not always immediately obvious when a guidance part is homing in on its ideal state, just what that wants to be. Many times you will find it emphasizing an outward movement, while at other times you’ll find an emphasis on inward movement. Even if it seems to you that the part may be an inside or outside source, confirm by inviting it to also travel in the opposite direction to complete a circulatory cycle. If it’s clear it does not want to do so, you probably aren’t working with a guidance part. Trace the movement of the feeling substance all the way through the cycle to confirm and strengthen the state.
Presence parts are generally clearly identifiable. They occupy a finite space and incorporate a finite amount of feeling substance. Often, this feeling substance does flow or circulate. The difference between a presence part with a circulating ideal state and that of a guidance part is that in the presence part, there is nothing exchanged with the world around. Nothing new comes in through this circulation, and nothing leaves. It is a circulation entirely contained within the experience of oneself.
Once you have settled into your nine parts, the final nudge toward the highest integration of the set involves connecting them into their natural triads. Start out by noticing those pairs and triads which may already have spontaneously formed. Sometimes it is very clear that two or more parts are working together toward a common cause or bound by a common metaphor or energy.
Beyond the obvious connections, work your way through the entire set. Start with the sources. Choose one source to focus on, and ask yourself which of the three presence parts goes best with it. Then do the same for the guidance parts. Work your way through the three sources in this way.
You might find a bit of uncertainty about which ones go best together, so simply try out various groupings to find one that seems to heighten the synergy in the entire set. You don’t need to get this perfect. The relationships are there whether you bring full awareness to them or not.
What you are going for is the ability to see each triad as a unit. You might even want to give each triad a name to capture what that unit is about for you. Then, consider the three triads as a whole. What is the essence of the entire set? What is it bringing into your life? How is it supporting your highest good? Give the new, ideal configuration a name that captures this essence for you. Now you will find it easier to refer to it in your everyday reflections and intentions.
When working within a single set, you may find yourself excavating a state that seems to hold extra significance, and to open the door to aspects that seem to hold the potential to launch an entirely new inquiry. Or you may identify a group of states that seems to function in a related way to the set you’re working on, but to operate in its own separate context and carry its own framing for your experience of life. Most likely you have identified states inhabiting a different set.
You have a choice to make about whether to dive in and pursue mapping the full set, or to maintain a boundary around your current work. Eventually you will likely want to dig into the new set. It’s up to you when to fit that into your life. If you are working with full constellations, of course, and the set is one of the three in the constellation you’re currently working, you’ll want to dig in as part of your full excavation.
To be honest, I hesitate to take this section on. In the scope of the space I have available in this first book, there is no way to adequately convey to you how to work with constellations. This is a skill I’ve acquired over many, many years of doing this work, and there are certain ways I perceive the territory that will be difficult to convey with words alone. Even providing a case study would run to hundreds of pages, as the bare notes alone from a constellation often exceed 50,000 words. This is the sort of skill that will best be transferred through serious practice and training.
Not only that, but I also must confess that I am still grappling with understanding the deeper nature of the constellation. I am confident in its existence, and I have worked about a dozen and a half of my own along with nearly that many in others. But that, quite frankly, is a very small number. To fully understand such a complex structure as this will require that we acquire a great deal more experience.
Nevertheless, for now, let me take an airplane-level view and give you a quick tour of what we’re looking for and working with when we take on a full constellation. I’ll aim for giving you enough to be able to figure it out with diligent effort if you should take on working a full constellation of your own.
One thing important to note about working with constellations. Generally you will find need to be prepared for a deep-dive approach for at least portions of your work. For example, punching through into the core set usually means going through a bit of hell for a while, and the sooner you can get through that the better. Plus, trying to work a constellation piecemeal will often turn into a patchwork that is hard to tie into a coherent whole. If you map and move a few parts here and there, you will most likely stimulate spontaneous shifting of some remaining states, and it may be more difficult to access them to continue the systematic progression through the constellation. In addition, restoring partial functioning generally leads to an expansion of your envelope of life, and you will be bumping up into new issues that are tied to states outside of the constellation you are attempting to complete. It all becomes a bit haphazard and you slip into more of the small-dose approach, losing your opportunity to fully uncover, grok, and cleanly transform an entire constellation.
In working a constellation, you may choose to attempt a broad survey right from the beginning. In this case you will scan the entire field of the issue under inquiry in order to attempt to identify the three broad categories of your experience. You might think of these as the sub-personalities or personas that trade off duties depending on circumstances. Alternatively, you might simply dive into the presenting states and start mapping, excavating one set at a time as they arise in the work flow.
Let me give you a general idea of the three types of set you are likely to see in your constellation, to assist in your early excavation or later surfacing process. One thing. Everything I am about to say should be held loosely. These are general properties of these sets, and the variations I’ve seen so far suggest we should not get too locked into our ideas of what these should be. Use these categories to the extent they are helpful, but always defer to the actual, inner experiences that show up in your mapping.
The first set likely to make itself known is the reaction set. (In its ideal configuration I refer to this as the activator, but in the configuration in which you will make your first acquaintance, you’ll agree “reaction” is a better name for it.) Beneath that one, generally more difficult to access, is the core set. And the umbrella covering the two of these, the one which manages the conditions of your life as given by the reaction and core sets, I call the manager set.
The core set holds a foundational assessment about the nature of life itself. It generally took form very early in life, has not changed much since then, and generally will have obstructed or inverted sources. Sometimes the reactive states from the core set can be more difficult to elicit belief statements from because they took shape at a time before language. That’s OK. Trust that the mapping and moving will yield powerful results without having to understand rationally what it’s all about. We can think of the core set holding an assessment along the lines of, “Life sucks.”
The reaction set occupies a space metaphorically outside or around the core. (Not literally. Both sets will occupy the full space of the body and its surroundings.) It holds a configuration that can be thought of as a reaction to the underlying “truth” about life represented by the core. It is a kind of “therefore” appended to the core assessment. “Life sucks. Therefore, I don’t want to be here.” Or something along those lines. The reaction set tends to be more up at the foreground of awareness, making its distress known. Partly its function is to orient you toward avoiding becoming aware of the underlying distress at the core. Partly it is providing orientation to the next level, the manager set.
The manager set provides an interface between you and the world. Given the priorities voiced by the reaction set, it seeks to find practical solutions to the general needs for navigating life. We can think of its contribution to the whole as adding a third clause to the first two: “Life sucks. Therefore I don’t want to be here. Unless…” The “unless” is an exploration of compensations that can make more tolerable the given conditions of life along with the impulsive reactions to those conditions. The manager also tends to function more outside of awareness but for different reasons than the core. It tends to be more assimilated into our identity, and to become the water we swim in. The manager is very simply the way we do things. It remains largely outside of our awareness until we bring the light of our feelingwork inquiry to examining it.
These three sets can fall more or less into the categories as I’ve described them. Each constellation in every person is unique in the challenges it was given and how it responded to those challenges in the course of our lives. Make sure to hold the container within which you conduct the work as openly and supportively as possible, and use these guidelines not as expectations but as invitations for your various sets to respond to. Does it resemble this? If not, then what is more true?
I have found there seems to be a natural order in which to work the sets of a constellation. As I have mentioned, the reaction set seems to show up first for mapping. It is often in mapping the reaction set that you will map a state which seems almost like a doorway or passage into the core set. Accessing and mapping that state gives you easier access to the deeper core, and that is a good time to turn your attention to doing at least the excavation, if not the entire mapping and moving of the core.
If you choose to map and move the full reaction set before proceeding to the other sets in the constellation, you risk having the core set leap strongly into the foreground and take over your attention. You really need to be prepared to turn your focus to the core at that time, else you could find it making your everyday life more difficult than it needs to be. In general, you will find the best order to proceed being to map the reaction set, followed by mapping and moving the core set. After that you can choose to either map the manager set, then move the reaction and manager sets to complete your constellation. Or move the reaction set, followed by mapping and moving the manager to finish your work. Either way tends to work just fine.
As I’ve mentioned before, please hold these guidelines loosely and respond to the call of the actual states you are working. Trust your own inner guidance about in what order to pursue your transformation.
If you get the idea in reading the above that working a full constellation can be a bit arduous, you’re right. More than a bit. Generally, what we are aware of on the surface before entering the space of a constellation is a mere patina upon what is buried within. And generally, working your way through these hidden layers will take you to places that are excruciating for a time. Discovering and fully experiencing the inner hopelessness of a core set, for example, can require us to devote a great deal of energy into simple self-care for the duration of our process. And often, seeing into the secret machinations of both the reaction and manager sets can be quite humbling. Realizing that your manager’s self-confident drive toward success is driven by a deep shame, for example, can really make you take a step back and re-evaluate your entire life. Be prepared. (At the same time, truth be told, there is no way to prepare for this.)
One of the most satisfying benefits of feelingwork is the relationship it enables between a facilitator and their explorer. Here are a few aspects of the unique relationship experience feelingwork makes possible.
Beyond the instructions in the earlier chapters, the following tips and tactics should support you in having the most satisfying experience of facilitating, whether you choose to facilitate feelingwork formally as part of your profession or informally for a friend or family member.
When you are facilitating someone’s feelingwork journey, you will serve them best by taking copious, accurate notes. Here’s why.
You are a visitor in someone else’s world. The language they use to refer to their world is theirs and theirs along. The connections between the words and phrases, and the inner experiences they point to, are unique in all the world. You do not have direct access to their inner world. Their words are all you have as your interface.
Treat their words as priceless, sacred gems. Your role is to support their journey through a land open only to them. They offer you their words to give you handles to help them on that journey. If you rephrase what they say, or bring your own way of articulating things into the process, you lose that vital connection to the territory inside of them. They’ll feel it. They won’t feel as well supported. They may even get lost in their own territory.
When instead you use their own words and phrases to point to vital portions of their world, they feel you beside them. They experience your support and guidance. They benefit from having their private, unique world held so graciously and gently by you. Holding their world with this kind of fierce respect enables them to travel more securely from place to place, to conduct their inquiry, to make their way into the dark places and safely back out again.
One more thing. You do not need to “understand” what their words mean. Most of the time, you can do an excellent facilitation job simply using their language in your facilitation, supporting their inquiry, without really knowing just what they mean by this or that word or phrase. This is especially true with regard to feeling state names. Even, for example, if their first (or favorite) language is different from your own, if they name a feeling state in a language foreign to you, ask for the best way to spell it, capture it as they specify in your notes, try to match their pronunciation when you refer to the state, and you’re good to go.
Keep in mind, your facilitator role is not about you. Do not take up space making sure you understand everything they are talking about. It is as if you are their proxy for their own selves, and make sure you capture exactly what you need, no more or no less, to do that job well. Do only what you need to in order to offer steady, reliable facilitation.
No matter who you have the privilege to work with, no matter if you think you already know them well or not, even (especially?) if they are your own child, you are entering a foreign land. Treat it with ultimate respect and surrender your expectations at the border. In feelingwork, the explorers themselves will be discovering terrain they hardly knew existed, and some features that will be complete surprises to encounter. Don’t get the idea that somehow you magically know more than they do about this territory.
In fact, we could say this is one of your important functions as the facilitator. One of your jobs is to embody the sense of openness and wonder at the unfolding mystery of the territory within. As you hold that steady in your own being, you will be inviting the explorer to do the same. We all need to be reminded that life is far mysterious than we can know, even within that inner realm that is most intimately personal to ourselves.
One form this can take is when you hear something the explorer describes which you think you easily understand or can relate to. Hold an open curiosity, and ask the explorer to elaborate, to make connections between this and that, to dig a layer more deeply. Do this when it seems that it could serve the explorer’s journey, but notice for yourself the differences between what comes forward and what your expectations might have been. People are infinitely fascinating. Enjoy it!
One general principle you can trust in the work is this. If it shows up in your session, it is relevant to what the explorer is working on. I have never seen anyone able to activate more than one constellation at a time. So if you have entered the session with a focus on the constellation under inquiry, and something comes up in the course of that session, then no matter how random or unrelated it seems, include it in your inquiry. One way this sort of thing will show up is in interactions between the explorer and the facilitator. In psychotherapy this is called transference. In feelingwork it is an opportunity to excavate further relevant states and patterns.
So as the facilitator, if you notice something that catches your attention in the way the explorer interacts with you, make a note of it and call the explorer’s attention to it. Do so with encouragement, welcoming what is showing up, asking about what the explorer might be feeling that is feeding into that interaction. Ask about whether and how that feeling or this pattern shows up in the larger pattern you are exploring together, and invite the explorer to name the relevant feeling states and include them in the mapping process.
The entire feelingwork process will assist you welcoming whatever shows up. When you are working the process, you are functioning as a neutral proxy for the explorer’s own agency. You are the faceless guide serving the intrepid leader as they conduct the epic exploration of their own inner landscape.
This is incredibly liberating to the facilitator. Never are you in a situation where you have to manage someone’s way of interacting with you by interpreting it one way or another and figuring out the best way to handle it. You simply include it in the inquiry in the same way as any of the other states being examined, and very quickly whatever reaction the explorer may have had toward you is no longer about you at all. Both of you are engaging the behavior shoulder to shoulder, side by side, with curiosity and eagerness to discover what is really there.
A further note: Experience this a few times with someone you are facilitating, and the next time someone reacts to you over dinner, at the check-out counter, or across the boardroom table, you can much more easily hold a neutral curiosity about what might be going on under the surface for that person. You will give yourself a pass from whatever game that person is playing with their projection on you, and be able to engage in a way that is productive for you both. Most likely, your neutrality will have the effect of dissolving the projection and defusing the energy that had been there.
As a facilitator, from time to time you will be supporting an explorer in going into some truly dark spaces. One of your most important roles as facilitator is to hold the deeper trust that a) every part, no matter how dark, ultimately is reaching toward wholeness, and b) the feelingwork process is strong enough to take you there.
Honestly, in order to be able to hold the strong frame an explorer needs, it is pretty important that you’ve gone into your own nether regions and experienced the way feelingwork carries you through. The paradoxical thing about this is that, the darker your own journeys have been and the more powerful your own transformations, the greater a sense of eagerness you will hold when your explorer encounters difficult states. They will sense that eagerness, and it is that which will bestow the greatest measure of the necessary framework of trust to help them keep putting one foot in front of the other and follow the process all the way through to completion.
When you do succeed in guiding someone through such a journey, it is one of the most satisfying experiences there is, (at least for me). Seeing someone face their own terror, their own shame, their own hatred or grief or hopelessness, and walk through it and beyond into the most powerful states they’ve ever accessed, there is truly nothing like it. I wish you many of these experiences in your facilitation journey.
In the proverbial perfect world, we would all be free to do feelingwork deep dives whenever we needed to. We would be able to work our constellations as they came up. And we would have the support to work our constellation from beginning to end, putting other things on pause and finishing our work before returning to the daily grind. (Of course, if this were a perfect world, none of us would need feelingwork because our civilization would be feelingmind literate, and we would all have fully functioning, healthy feelingmind systems. Maybe one day we’ll get there, but that day is not now.) Alas, we do need to coordinate with the demands of everyday life in our journeys into feelingmind.
Perhaps the most important function to provide your explorer as you work your way through your session is a container for the work. Maintain an open dialog with your explorer about where you are in the process, what are potential next steps, and what choices about where to go next make the most sense given the frame for your work as a whole. For example, if you have unlimited time available and can blast through a big chunk of work, it’s probably fine to map a dozen or more states before moving any. Perhaps no so much, though, if you only have two hours available to work this week.
To serve this function you will also need to manage the time. For the explorer, time flies by. They are entering states not common in everyday life, which by definition are “altered” states, and they are not accustomed to tracking time when in these states. So it really is up to you to make sure the time container is well respected and maintained. Make sure to know before you start what their needs are for ending. But at the same time, avoid having a hard ending time to support a tidy end to your work. If you are in the midst of mapping or moving a challenging state, it will feel better to the explorer to complete that before finishing the session, so avoid taking on too big of a task when it’s close to the end.
Also consider what sort of entry and exit your explorer would like to have. The beginning might look like diving right into mapping, or it might be more of a gentle entry with some review of the recent time period. At the end, some explorers will be able to turn the switch and go to their next activity. For others, finishing with enough time for a nap or restful meditation session before the next obligation is preferred.
Most likely you will have done feelingwork, either solo or under someone’s facilitation, before taking on the facilitation role yourself. So you’ll have a point of reference in your own experience that you’ll want to refer to when guiding others. But be a little careful with that.
From time to time you will encounter explorers with very different experience than your own. Keep coming back to the fundamental principles of feelingwork facilitation. You are here to serve their journey and to support their experiences whatever those might be. Let me give you a few examples of what you might encounter.
In all these cases and more, again, you’ll want to rely on the basic structure of the process, to keep your facilitator role as pure as possible, to enter their world as fully as you can, and to maintain your own sense of wonder at the differences among us. Good luck!
One of my visions for feelingwork is that it becomes a widespread partner practice. People who either are already in some kind of dyad or who come together specifically to support their feelingwork journey will trade roles as facilitator and explorer. This kind of practice will not only support one’s own journey, but has the potential to create a rare and deep bond between the partners. Feelingwork provides a profound education into the nature of being itself, and more specifically offers a window into one another’s unique inner realities. Sharing that with someone can deepen and strengthen our sense of belonging to this human world of ours.
Sit across from one another in whatever way feels most comfortable to you both. Take a moment to be quiet with one another and tune in to yourselves.
One of you start. Complete the sentence, “Right now I am feeling…” Keep it brief.
The other ask the mapping questions, starting with, “If you were to say the actual, felt experience of this [feeling name] was located…” Do not take notes. Simply be present with the answers. Ask the mapping questions only. Do not go into the belief questions for this practice. Allow yourself to witness your partner’s feeling state. Perhaps you can “see” it, perhaps you can imagine what it might feel like. Allow yourself to be moved by what your partner shares.
When the mapping questions are complete, trade roles. The person who started asks, “And right now, what are you feeling?”
Trade roles, back and forth, allowing yourself to be present with one another’s feeling, to be touched by one another’s presence. Continue for as long as you wish. (You might set a timer for 15 minutes or half an hour to start.) Avoid lapsing into story. Do not use the moving questions. Simply be present with what is, with one another.
When you finish, you may want to talk about your experience. Share some shift or opening you experienced, and something you want to take away from your encounter.
This seems very simple, but I will tell you it is one of the most powerful ways I know to experience a kind of wholeness in the presence of another.
In feelingwork, you are either in the facilitator role or the explorer role. You are not crossing between them, and you are not inhabiting your ordinary, everyday life role. No matter who you are to one another, when you are doing feelingwork with one another, make sure you set clear boundaries.
First, set a boundary between the feelingwork and the rest of your life. Set a clear time to start. If possible, use the same physical or virtual space each time and avoid using that space together for anything else. Do whatever works to help you enter the feelingwork space when it is time to begin and step out of it when you are through.
Then, set a boundary between the hat you wear outside the session and inside it. When you are taking the role of facilitator, do what you need to transition cleanly between who you are outside of your session and your facilitator role inside of it. Your role is to be completely of service. Your facilitation is not about you. Your own needs must be handled before and after, and not swirled into the session itself.
When you are taking the role of facilitator, it is all about you. Let go of whatever you might be holding about the person who is stepping into the role of facilitator, good or bad, and place that outside the space entirely. The person holding the role of facilitator for you is there entirely for you, ready to serve your journey and nothing else.
Make sure to have an agreement about the time you will spend. Renegotiate that agreement when necessary. For example, set an end time plus or minus fifteen minutes, and make the decision about when to end depending on what is showing up just before then.
If you are working with a feelingwork partner, you have a wonderful opportunity to step completely outside of your facilitator and explorer roles to reflect on the process as a whole. Schedule some time to sit down over a cup of coffee and just talk about it. What have you learned in your time as a facilitator? What have you learned about the process from the perspective of the explorer? How can you support one another in strengthening your skills in both roles? This reflection time is best spent completely separately from your session time. Again, keep the role boundaries clear to get the most out of the work.
There’s a certain advantage you give up when you go it alone with feelingwork. Having a facilitator gives you the luxury of focusing exclusively on your deepest inner experience, but going solo requires you to also maintain solid grip of the structured process. Without carrying the framework you are at risk of getting in over your head and potentially mired in the inner swamp. And those swamp creatures can be relentless.
The most significant challenge in working alone is that in order to explore a feeling state that is un-resourceful such as sadness, lethargy, confusion or mental fog, you must first access this feeling — you must feel it in order to engage your sensory imagery. Accessing this type of feeling can make continuing the work difficult. When you are feeling confusion, for example, anything you do can seem confusing to you. When you access sadness or lethargy, it can be hard to keep up your motivation and stick to a plan. When you are in touch with mental fog, it can be challenging to be clear about your experience. When you are mapping hopeless, it can seem pointless to continue at all.
That means that those best suited to working solo have the capacity to both immerse themselves in their inner experience and manage the process from the outside, as if they were both explorer and facilitator under the same hat. It’s a pretty demanding practice. I’ve worked solo throughout my history with the work. While there were occasional attempts to simultaneously teach someone how to facilitate and be the person they facilitated, they were not so effective for my own work. And because so far I’ve been the guy who knows more about this work than anyone else, I’ve been stuck with that limitation.
Given my history, I can tell you with confidence that you can take this work anywhere you want to go on your own. At the same time I will say that at times it’s just freakin’ hard going. It isn’t always easy to go deep into hell and keep a foot on the other side of the gates. But once you’re there, the only way out is through. So you just buckle down, lean into the structure of the process, and keep putting the next foot forward. So far I have not gotten permanently stuck, but I tell you that is a definite risk for those with less experience than my own. So tread with caution.
I recommend you let the people around you know what you’re doing, and that you check in with those people from time to time to stay connected with the world of living humans. Cultivate your support network and let them know you’ll be calling on them as you immerse yourself in the deep end of feelingmind.
You know, it really is a judgment call here. On one hand I would say refrain from taking on work that’s too ambitious if you do not have a good support structure around you. But if you have such a support structure, I would much more strongly recommend you reach out to someone in your network to explore a feelingwork partnership instead. Allow someone else to help you carry the structure that will get you through. And do the same for them.
You might be concerned that teaming up with a feelingwork buddy might mean twice as much time is necessary to get the same amount of progress on your own journey. I doubt if that is true. My own inner work in comparison to what I see others accomplishing with my assistance suggests that the time invested will be about the same because you will go twice as fast on your own journey with the help of a strong facilitator. Give it a try.
If after my attempts to get you to consider otherwise you decide to plunge in under your own steam, let me share a few tips that might help you stay safe and make optimal progress.
In your solo journey, your best friend is the structure of the feelingwork process. It is straightforward, systematic, and no matter where you are there is a next step forward. Get to know it backwards and forwards, and learn to rely on it. Here are a few tips to help you do so.
I got started by creating a strong container for myself through the written word. I would explicitly write a facilitation question for myself on my notebook computer and pause. Then I would read the question as if it was spoken by another person, for me the explorer, and explicitly write my answer to it. And pause. Then I would put my facilitator hat back on, read the answer to the question, formulate my next facilitation engagement, and explicitly write that. Back and forth. Round and Round.
This is a powerful tool that, in combination with the structured feelingwork questions, can carry you through the process from beginning to end. Give it a try as you get started.
Another method for creating strong external container is by using audio or video facilitation. I have made such files available on my website, but you can also make your own. Load them up on your phone or other preferred device and skim through to the section relevant to your current process, and listen to the prompts as if someone is there with you.
Alternatively, you can simply read the questions out loud to yourself, really letting yourself hear the vocal delivery and letting it land with the part going through the process. Then respond to the prompt, capturing your notes, and return to the next prompt in the sequence.
At the very least, (and I still do this from time to time today), articulate the questions “out loud” to yourself inside your head, in self talk. This explicit verbalization, even though it is completely internal, can do the trick. The essential need is to externalize the facilitation so you can free yourself to immerse in the feeling experience and report back what you find there. Maybe you will have other ideas to help you do that. If so, give them a try.
Throughout your process it is very important that you keep comprehensive notes. To manage your full process, you will need to refer back to what you experienced at various points at each step, and these notes will be essential. When wearing your facilitator hat, use your notes to refresh the memory of your explorer self and strategize next steps. When in your explorer persona, use your notes to support your digging deeper and weaving the threads from reactive to ideal as you transform your states. Good luck!
One benefit of having a facilitator is that you have the embodied representative of your own witness function. There they are, looking at you! It’s relatively easy for you to put yourself in the facilitator’s shoes, so to speak, to get outside yourself and access what you’re experiencing from a more neutral perspective. Well, guess what? Feelingwork helps you do that for yourself. Here’s how.
First, do a little mapping. Go into two or three different but relatively benign states. Now lead yourself through the following.
As you entered one state, then another, and went through the mapping process, you centered the source of your awareness outside these states. You observed their qualities as if from the outside, from a more objective perspective, and you moved the beam of your attention from one state to the next. You might describe this part of you, the one who was doing the mapping, as your observer or witness self. What would you call this part of you?
Now take this witness self through the mapping process. Once you’ve done so, you can use this map of your witness self to access this part of you clearly and strongly before you begin mapping in future sessions. Even more important, use it after each session to step clearly out of the mapping process.
Pro Tip: In order to map the witness self, you had to step outside of that as well. What would you name the witness of the witness? You can also map this. You might think this would lend itself to endless iteration, but generally the third witness is as far as you will be able to go. Often, that third witness is experienced as a profound universal consciousness kind of state. It’s worth exploring if you’re so inclined.
In managing your own feelingwork process, you are quite frankly never fully separate from the explorer role. And that’s OK. In fact, it’s no different from being an explorer benefiting from facilitation. In your everyday life you are living with the constant presence of the sets and constellation you are working. That offers you important opportunities.
Pay attention to what shows up in your life. That includes your feelingwork sessions but extends out into everything else as well. Notice thought patterns, idle daydreams, nighttime dreams, reactions, little automatic habits. Everything is likely to be an expression of the underlying constellation you’re working, and everything is ripe for clues to the parts driving the patterns you are seeking to change.
Keep a notebook or other means of keeping track of your observations. And trust what shows up. Even if it seems to come from left field and have nothing to do with your track, hold open the possibility that it is in fact very relevant, and give it the opportunity to confirm or deny that relevance.
As you go, you are almost guaranteed to enter some territory that lies outside your initial expectations. You will be surprised by what you discover inside yourself, and how it connects to what shows up outside. By letting go of your expectations you make yourself maximally available to the discoveries that will be asking for admittance to your process. Enjoy!
Here are two more techniques which are excellent complements to feelingwork.
I first learned the technique this exercise is based on from Connirae Andreas of NLP Comprehensive in Boulder, Colorado back before feelingwork was born. Connirae’s process is called Core Transformation, and the central tactic is extremely powerful.
This is a great tool for gaining insight into those most difficult reactive states and nudging them toward engaging in the moving process.
Generally I use this technique only for feeling states that seem highly resistant to moving. If even this doesn’t get you the traction you need, continue by turning attention to another state, and come back to this one when things have loosened up a bit more.
You may have come across the essential practice of active imagination in the work of Carl Jung and others inspired by him. It works in a similar way when applied to support feelingwork. It follows a similar principle laid out by the recursive want exercise. The central idea is that we can trust that the deepest impulses of any part of us, no matter how dark it may seem on the surface, move us toward wholeness. Active imagination invites this to play out in the safe space of imagination, supporting a part in having what it wants, then noticing what it further wants after that initial desire is satisfied, and continuing the chain until a resolution is achieved.
You can spot an opportunity to use active imagination in belief statements of a mapped state that start something like, “I just want to…” and end with something taboo, horrifying, or otherwise out of bounds. We’re talking about things like killing this person or that one, destroying the world, stealing, torturing — all the primal impulses we restrain ourselves from acknowledging. Or it is more passive, simply wishing for some out-of-bounds thing to happen without our intervention.
In active imagination, we enter a container of fantasy, supporting whatever shows up, holding a trust in the ultimate goodness of the part. We begin by inviting the scenario to unfold in the most definitive way possible, very clearly expressing that initial impulse or desire. We imagine that first action is complete or that first wish is granted, and we notice our experience. What is true? What happens next? What is possible now? And most importantly, what do we want now this change has come about?
Then we lean into that new impulse, that new desire. We invite it to play out fully and completely. If needed, we cycle through this process many times, following the chain of events until we come to a place of resolution. We know we have arrived when there is a deeper sense of completion, and an absence of impulse or desire for further changes.
What is true in this place? What has come about? Especially, what are we feeling?
This exercise is another very powerful one for demonstrating the deeper truth of every part of ourselves, and it is very effective for nudging recalcitrant parts into the flow of transformation. When you have completed the exercise, return to the original feeling state as mapped, and employ the standard moving process to release the ideal state. Use active imagination judiciously, being prepared for some wild rides, and it will serve you well.
As an explorer, you are going places that may not have seen the light of awareness for a very long time, potentially decades long. Give yourself plenty of support for getting there and returning with a minimum of disruption to the rest of your life. I’ve done feelingwork, both solo and with others, in locations as varied as an outdoor park, on the bus, in a coffee shop (my favorite place to work through the worst dreck of my own), or in the quiet comfort of my office. As a rule of thumb, quiet is good, but some people may prefer the anonymity of a bustling public space or the strains of a favorite genre of music in the background. It’s all up to the explorer’s preferences.
First, make yourself physically comfortable. In doing this work, there are times when you are fully in what might in other contexts be called a trance. You will benefit from not having to pay attention to niggling things like sitting up straight. If you can, have access to a place to lie back or down, close your eyes, and go fully internal when that feels like what you need. Over the past 15 years I’ve done most of my mapping in a sturdy Lane recliner, (as have many of my clients).
Along these lines, minimize distractions and interruptions. Turn off your cell phone or other pinging devices, and make sure important others know you will be busy and prefer not to be interrupted for the time of your session.
After your session, try to leave time to just chill. This is very hard work, and should be considered as such. You will deserve and benefit from some down time when you finish.
Finally, support your work with appropriate tools and materials. I’ve outlined some options below.
Back in the day, I did all my feelingwork on paper with colored pencils for drawing. Here were the ingredients in my toolkit:
Nowadays I rely on an excellent digital toolbox. Here are my essential devices and apps, with alternatives that might suit you better.
The topic of digital tools is best handled digitally, so I will put some effort into making more guidance available on the website.
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