Feeling in Pursuit of Meaning

by Christopher Lovejoy on January 12, 2019

A slow pace in life invites the soul; a fast pace in life enlivens the spirit.

What seems slothfully slow to me might seem frightfully fast to you; what seems frightfully fast to me might seem slothfully slow to you. Starting something new can be disconcerting for reasons that touch on fear, doubt, and worry, but if I were to point to the one reason why the unknown is resisted, it would be this: “will I have time to process my feelings to perpetuate a sense of meaning, purpose, and direction?”

In years past, when the pace of life was generally uniform for almost everyone, this question didn’t pose much of a concern, but with the pace of life picking up, even accelerating, and with cycles of information and inspiration circulating at ever faster rates, I would hazard a guess that this question is a growing concern for most people, especially for those for whom “feeling better” is still a willing work in progress.

For the sake of meaning, cultivating and calibrating the fine art of getting better at feeling is fast becoming as important as cultivating and calibrating the fine art of feeling good, right, better, or best.

*

This feels good and this feels right. This feels better and this feels best.

Certainly, these guidelines are essential for navigating the new and the unknown, but what to do when the new and the unknown presents situations and interactions that overwhelm the inner guidance, that overwhelm the capacity to process feeling so as to preserve meaning?

Wallow in misery? Sink into the depths of depravity? Fall prey to insanity? Obviously, these are not good options. Rather than doing misery, depravity, or insanity, what else might we do to feel ourselves into meaning, to get comfortable moving in and out of meaning with feeling?

In the not-so-distant past, when people could set aside the time for it, “talk it out and talk it through” was the go-to option. Actually, it still is, but only if and when you can find the time and/or money to do it with someone who can make the time and/or money to keep doing it with you.

If time and money are in short supply, the talking cure might not be a viable option.

Let us now explore and examine a practical alternative for assuming ownership of the unknown that almost anyone can do on their own, for their own reasons, in their own space, and at their own pace.

*

They call it “expressive writing,” but a more accurate phrase would be “expressive feeling,” or, more elaborately, “expressive feeling in pursuit of meaning by way of recording through speaking or writing.”

Expressive feeling is typically about becoming truly intimate, or at least familiar, with your deepest thoughts and feelings, through speaking or writing, in the face of a difficulty or challenge in life that seems overwhelming ~ or even underwhelming ~ in pursuit of making sense of it.

A caveat to keep in mind where expressive feeling is concerned is that one not record thoughts and feelings about a trauma too soon after it happens if it feels too overwhelming. Doing so can interfere with the cognitive and emotional processing required to make sense of it. In the wake of a trauma or a difficult challenge, it’s best to wait days, even weeks, before attempting to test the waters with expressive feeling.

By the same token, with feelings fresh and raw, not waiting, or not waiting too long, might be the way to go, provided that a sense of meaning can be preserved and/or perpetuated throughout the process.

Expressive feeling can also be about navigating in and through and from the unknown. If, for example, you seek a new lease on life, or if you wish to try your hand at something new and different, with new and different people, expressive feeling can help process the experience.

in the face of the uncertain unknown …

I give myself time to let my feelings flow
to preserve and/or perpetuate a sense of
safety, meaning, purpose, and direction

In navigating the unknown with expressive feeling, resist the urge to push or pull; simply let it flow, as and when it does. This isn’t about spilling your guts willy-nilly; it’s about giving your guts an outlet for feeling into meaning ~ for saying what you mean and meaning what you say.

*

The ground rules for being expressive with feeling are as follows …

(1) Choose a time and place when ‘n where you know you won’t be disturbed

For the sake of consistency, it helps to set a time of day and a timeframe for expressing yourself day after day ~ for example, “at this time of day, I like to be here when I express myself, knowing that I can spend at least ___ minutes on this, but no more than ___ minutes.”

In the expressive feeling literature, 20 minutes in the evening is recommended, but keep in mind that someone’s evening could be someone else’s morning. Also, we all have our own daily rhythms; what might feel really good at one time of day might not feel so good at another.

Convenience might also be a factor if you live with others, especially if children charm and grace your household; it might be more convenient for you to do this in the morning before everyone wakes up, rather than in the evening when everyone is busy doing their own thing.

For myself, I find that 20 minutes is a good fit, at about the same time every morning, but I am also open to doing this later in the day, or even at night, as my schedule, inclination, and/or inspiration permit.

(2) Choose your mode of recording: do you feel drawn to speaking or writing?

Your choice might be constrained by how much privacy you need to express yourself openly and freely. An open space is conducive to being open about speaking your mind with heart; a closed space serves to support feelings of safety and comfort for expressive healing.

In writing, consider using a lockable diary or an app that requires a password.

For myself, I presently feel drawn to writing inside a password-protected app.

(3) Identify the reason for expressing yourself: is it to heal, to grow, or to flow?

Do you find yourself in need of healing and wholing, in need of processing a trauma, or in need of dissolving a block? Do you find yourself in need of growing through a particularly difficult challenge in your life right now? Or do you find yourself in need of feeling your way through?

Your response serves your focus for expressing your meaning through feeling.

For myself, I start every writing session with this prompt: “heal, grow, or flow?”

(4) Express yourself for yourself on a personal matter that’s meaningful to you

In speaking or writing, letting it flow and grow is the way to go; feel into the meaning and consider relating your feelings and meanings to any one or more of the following: your experience in childhood; your relationship with parents; encounters with loved ones past or present.

After restoring and refreshing your sense of meaning with and through feeling, consider the added benefit of expressing yourself from the points of view of those with whom you had an interaction (or altercation).

For myself, I love that I can be intimate with myself and my feelings, which is not too surprising, given that I identify strongly with the INFP personality type and its leading feeling and intuitive functions.

If speaking or writing is not your forte, or even a strong skill for you, keep in mind that this speaking or writing is for your ears or eyes only. The key takeaway is that you need only express yourself for yourself with thoughts and feelings that align with your sense of meaning. Over time, your sense of self will grow ever more robust, as well as malleable, like warm putty in your hands, to be shaped as you see fit.

*

Here are a few samples of expressive writing to serve as inspiration …

In pursuit of meaning through expressive feeling and healing …

> I feel quite numb and empty right now. I’ve been confronting someone for the past 24 hours with the truth about how this person behaves in relation to myself and others. I was drawn into reacting to her constant complaining and blaming, so much so that I now feel a bit shell-shocked from the heated interactions that occurred on and off throughout the day and night. In the midst of all of this, I didn’t always have the physical and psychological space to call time-outs, and I now fear for the future of what remains of this emotionally fragile relationship. At this time, it just doesn’t seem salvagable. I harbor little hope that the relationship can be repaired and restored to some semblance of relatability. The options are few: stick it out; open up; or get out. The first option is simply not acceptable to me, as more of the same old, same old will likely lead to a serious breakup; the third option seems extreme to me and not at all palatable at this time for a number of reasons. The second option feels best (at least until I can make a graceful exit with a focus on shifting priorities), but this requires that I review the CARS method:

Connect with empathy, attention, and respect, but be mindful that dealing with a highly suspicious type of person requires emotional distance from their stories of threat, danger, and subterfuge, using neutral response sets such as “that’s pretty unusual”; “that’s truly frightening”; “that’s something to avoid”; “I know this is a stressful time for you”; or “I’ll never know what happened, as I wasn’t there” ~ with paranoid thinking, it helps to remain neutral: neither challenge nor confirm. Analyze alternatives or options (when I’m not a target of blame, I might try “that sounds really stressful, so let’s take a look at your choices for dealing with this”; when I do become a target of blame, I might try “I have no wish to go against you; maybe we can work together on this to figure something out). Respond to misinformation or hostility (“that sounds pretty unusual; there are always several explanations for any event; we’ll just never know”). Set limits on the high-conflict behavior by offering understanding (“I understand what you’re saying, but we can’t pursue this if we can’t prove that this is what happened”); by appealing to rules, regulations, or policies (“I can see that you’re frustrated, but it’s just rules we need to follow”); or by suggesting appropriate authorities in response to fearful schemes to obtain justice or protection or to exact revenge … I must say I feel better for having written this; not so numb, not so empty. <

In pursuit of meaning through expressive feeling and growing …

> I’ll be the first to admit that emotional reasoning is seductive and deceptive. I’ve done it myself more times than I can count and its basic premise is by no means easy to counter: “I feel this; therefore it is fact.” What nonsense, when placed in the spotlight of reality and reason. Nonsense or no, emotional reasoning is more common than I would like, and so it is not enough to merely identify the offensive pattern of distorted thinking; one would also do well to challenge the pattern and to replace its content with something real or ideal. And here I catch myself: can I see how I just indulged a judgment focus, a pattern of cognitive distortion that seeks to put labels on everything with a pattern of all-or-nothing thinking? Let me backtrack, replacing a judgment focus with a focus on discernment: it could well be that emotional reasoning is not a matter of being “seductive” and “deceptive”, but simply a matter of learning and growing to master the art of articulating feelings with facts. The basic premise – “I feel this; therefore it is fact” – just might be easy to counter or challenge with the proper understanding and an attitude of friendly curiosity, and even if emotional reasoning is common, who is to say that this is necessarily a bad thing? What if the reality of emotional reasoning is such that it presents a matter of learning to discern fact from fiction? Or, what if the reality of emotional reasoning is such that it presents opportunities to fake it ’til you make it to manifest desired conditions and relations? Here we have the opportunity to learn and discern, and perhaps only the most obvious, deleterious instances of emotional reasoning by way of cognitive distortion are in need of correction. At this point, I find myself in wonder: could such correction be done playfully, diligently, and persistently, not only with others but with ourselves? <

In pursuit of meaning through expressive feeling and flowing …

> A pure love of self that radiates understanding and appreciation in the presence of others: for myself, what could be a more pressing, potent, and productive source of care? A pure love of self that radiates compassionate wisdom in the presence of others … a pure love of self that reflects beauty, harmony, serenity, intimacy, and ecstasy with uncommon care … a pure love of self that taps, tunes, and tastes a depth of feeling in a pursuit of meaning that plumbs the depths of meaning with a fine and ever refining feeling … a pure of love of self that gives and shares feeling with meaning and meaning with feeling in an ever circulating feeling through meaning with an ever articulating meaning through feeling … a pure love of self that explores, expands, and extends itself through those who are likewise called to explore, expand, and extend themselves from a pure love of self … it matters not the means or the methods; what matters is that one stay the course with a pure love of self that radiates and reflects, pursues and plumbs, gives and shares, explores and expands, extends with expressive feeling through meaning without hesitation or reservation … ultimately, all desired results and outcomes will come and go as they come and go. <

In closing, I think it safe to say that expressive feeling though speaking or writing is a deeply loving, trusting, forgiving, yet powerful way to find healing through meaning, as well as a potent means by which to grow and flow into the most articulated, elaborated versions of ourselves.

A collection of sound recordings and writings might even serve to document a return to innocence through a process of inquiry and discovery that ultimately finds each of us flowing and feeling our way through meaning into realizing the ultimate in personal freedom and fulfillment.

/

Resource:

Opening Up by Writing it Down, James Pennebaker

Expressive Writing: Words that Heal, James Pennebaker

Open Up! Writing About Trauma Reduces Stress, Aids Immunity

The 3-Step Evening Ritual that Will Make You Happy

/

A preview of my published work can be found here.

An outline of my masterwork in progress can be found here.

A listing of my posts on this site can be found here.

Previous post:

Next post: