WHAT IS A FEELING
The word ‘feelings’ can cover any thought or sensation we have. When we say ‘I feel’, we simply introduce some element of our mental state.
LISTENING TO OUR FEELINGS
However, when we say ‘listen to your feelings’, we mean something more particular. The context is usually one of conflict between alternatives. The idea is that there is some part of our inner state which should not be ignored, because it should influence what we do next.
A person who has been in a marriage for years might ‘listen to their feelings’ and end it, meaning that they recognise that, despite their attempts to rationalise, there is something more subtle, an intuition, that overrides plodding logic. A person with a difficult friend might ‘listen to their feelings’ and break off contact, realising that, despite their attempts to be empathetic, they are being drained more than they can cope with.
How can we tell that ‘listening to your feelings’ isn’t just being selfish? How do we know that the divorcing person isn’t just saving their own happiness at the expense of someone else? How do we know that the person dropping the difficult friend isn’t just making life easier for themselves?
One possible answer is that it is all about motivation. A person who is motivated by selfishness, when ‘listening to their feelings’, will make selfish choices. A person who is motivated by compassion, when ‘listening to their feelings’, will make compassionate choices.
The outcome can look similar. A divorce is a divorce. But even though the outcome looks the same, if we could look into the hearts of each person, we would understand better whether the chosen action comes from selfishness or compassion.
If we see someone breaking off a friendship, we cannot know, from the outside, exactly why they did that. It could be a selfish action – being greedy for personal comfort. Or it could be a selfless action – making sure they are not too drained, so that they can help others.
Today, when I listen to my feelings, I will try to notice my own motivation. If I notice that my ‘feelings’ are selfish, then I will soften my attachment to those feelings. However, if I notice that my ‘feelings’ are compassionate, then I will give them greater weight.