“How do you feel about that?” is a very popular question among spiritual directors. On my recent retreat, the director asked that question on day two. How did I feel about something I had shared. “I feel good about it,” I told her.
But she wants more. She wants my emotional response, and “good” is not good enough. I get it. She wants me to touch my emotions. Unfortunately, I don’t have easy access to a lot of my emotions. I have emotions; they are just buried deep within.
Sr. Julia was my spiritual director in PA, and “How do you feel about that?” was a favorite question of hers. I don’t think we ever met without her asking how I felt about something I had told her. It could have been something at work or something in my prayer or, well, just about anything. How did I feel about it?
My stomach knots as soon as I realize the question is coming because I usually don’t know how I feel. (You would think that after thirty years in spiritual direction I would be prepared for the question, but somehow I keep forgetting that it is coming.) Sr. Julia would then suggest we do an exercise called “focusing” to help me get in touch with my feelings. Resistance was my first reaction; I would fight it and try not to roll my eyes (sorry, Sr. Julia).
And then she would guide me on a walk of my interior, emotional landscape. A word or image would come to mind and I would voice it. She would repeat what I had said. She would prod, “anything else?” Yes, the image would expand and soon I would be in touch with my feelings. After one focusing exercise with Sr. Julia during the time I was taking care of Jim, I wrote this in my journal:
I saw a huge, high waterfall—an abundance of water coming over the edge. At the bottom, the water roiled. Then I became aware that the roiling water was polishing the rocks below the surface of the water and making them smooth. I went under the water and it was quiet—like a womb or a tomb. The tomb of Jesus came to mind—God with Jesus in the quiet, in the darkness, with turbulence outside but inside, peace, quiet, trust, love. I am the rocks beneath the water.
How was I feeling? Like the outside world was overwhelming me, and I was being polished by the outside forces, my rough edges were being smoothed; inside I was at peace.
Ultimately, I am grateful to be asked how I am feeling and then pushed to discover what might be buried deep inside.