feelings as an experience in the body
Last year I discovered 1) that most people experience emotions at physical locations in their body— and later 2) that I do too.
In the time since I've also introduced two friends to this— and each was as surprised as I had been at first— so I figured this could be an interesting post to write.
So, nine months ago I was talking to a wise friend:
me: I just quit my job and I have no idea what I want to do next. I'd like your advice on figuring this out.
friend: Hm, what would it feel like if you did know what you wanted to do next? I.e.: What would it feel like in your body?
me: Well, I'd be pulled to do the thing.
friend: That doesn't feel like a body sensation. Consider: if you were clear on this, then where in your body would you feel differently?
me: uhh… What?
friend: Hm. Ok. For example, do you want (redacted: thing that most people would say they want)?
me: to some degree.
friend: does it feel wanted or unwanted?
friend: where do you feel that in your body?
me: uhh…… I don't know how to find it as a location on my body.
friend: Do you remember a time when you felt this?
friend: Ok, where was the feeling then?
me: uhh…… I'm not sure, it's not accessible
By the end of this conversation I understood that my friend was expecting me to recount my feelings/emotions as phenomena in my body (or perhaps in some other definite location), because this is how most people experienced their emotions. But instead it seemed like I didn't have access to whatever my raw experience of feelings was.
This marked the first time I consciously recognized that I was dissociated from lots that I was feeling. I felt like I had no idea that feelings occur at body locations, and I thought maybe it didn't apply to me. I certainly couldn't experience emotions in my body in the present, nor could I recall this in recent memory. (Besides experiencing butterflies in my stomach, or feeling emotions "in my head", at least.)
Anyways, after a few months of living and developing the willingness to pay closer attention to how I was feeling (there was not much else for me to do during this time, I was depressed and at a dead-end) (note that lots of meditation was involved and helpful), I began to, in fact, notice feelings as phenomena in my body.—And, wow, there is so much intricacy to the emotional ripples and textures in just my stomach alone. In the time since, I've also gotten strange happinesses in my fingers, and surprisingly lack of self-appreciation there too. Anxiety experienced in my upper chest; love experienced at a spot a little inner and a little lower than that;… Overall, there's just so much about how I feel in body that I can see now and am surprised and delighted by, but that I hadn't at all been tracking before.
My ability to pay better attention to how I feel in my body and to see more of what's there has been getting better over time, too. I still feel like I have a ways to go, though, and I'd like to eventually be able to sustain a more instantaneously-refreshing loop on knowing how I'm feeling, for example. But I’m inching towards being more comfortable with this.
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average body-emotion mappings survey
A study surveyed many people about emotions and where they feel them on their body and averaged the results:
other interesting ways to experience feelings to look for
I showed the rest of this post to my friend Damon and he noted there are many other interesting, yet non-somatic, ways of experiencing feelings that might be helpful to look for, too. E.g.:
excitement and energy levels (vibey stuff)
where your attention and awareness are, generally
noticing flashes of imagery in the mind
noticing "non-real" visual phenomena that seem to mean something
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Thanks to Damon Sasi and Şefika Nur Öztürk for reviewing this post before I released it.