In and of themselves, feelings aren’t good or bad, or helpful or unhelpful—it’s what we do with them that counts. If anger arises and does its dance, you might experience an urge to eat, if that is your habit. Yet, if you let yourself feel the anger and use it as an opportunity to inquire, either into how you are living and communicating, or into the beliefs that created the anger, then it can be helpful, then it can serve your growth.
A feeling is red flag, an indication that you believed a stressful thought. But the opportunity inherent in a feeling is less about the feeling itself and more about what you do with it. For example, if boredom arises you could inquire into how you are spending your time and get motivated to find something else to do that’s not boring. If fear arises, you may want to ask yourself, “What is the worst that could happen if what I fear could happen, actually happens?” Making the fear more concrete usually has the effect of showing that its worst manifestation is not so terrible and cutting the power of the belief that gave rise to it.
If sadness is present, there is the possibility that it can motivate you to do things that moves you out of the sadness. But unless you ask yourself, “What do I need to do to get out of this sadness?” or “What is this sadness about?” the sadness doesn’t get you anywhere.
Sadness can also point you to a belief you have that is stopping you from doing something you would love to do, something that would make your heart sing. Maybe there is something missing in your life that you need to explore. If this is the case and you use the sadness as an impetus to inquire, the sadness is helpful.
For most people, when a feeling arises, it triggers an impulse to distract themselves—through eating, watching television, getting busy, or shopping. In the moment of following those impulses, the feeling has no value. Not only that, the impulse to distract can lead to a pattern of habitual avoidance through unhelpful behaviors.
Instead, if you can break out of this cycle and use the discomfort of the feeling to prompt you to inquire then you have given it a purpose. Asking yourself the following kinds of questions, allows you to make the best use of feelings: “What am I believing that is causing me to feel this way?” “Is there a misunderstanding or a mistaken belief that I need to question?” “Is there something I need to address in this moment or in my life?” Even if you follow the impulse to distract yourself from the feeling, all is not lost. It is never to late to inquire.