Buried feelings

“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.




8 thoughts on “Buried feelings

  1. Patrick

    mmm?, so…(inevitably the question comes)…”how do you feel about this reflection (on feelings)”? I feel excited that someone else out there has the same struggles I do (i just mask it differently) and I feel envious that you had such a great spiritual director (is envious a feeling?).

    Anyway, Madeline,,,thank you thank you thank you for writing your journey…for being polished!!!

  2. Madeline Bialecki

    Patrick, I think the answer is that I feel fairly free about writing the reflection. I don’t think it is a mystery that my feelings tend to be buried, so I feel like I am just acknowledging what others already know about me. I do think envy is a feeling/emotion. When I am envious, at least for me. Envy is one of the emotions I can more easily identify (for some mysterious reason) and one I try to deal with quickly (usually by reflecting on all my blessings and trying to return to gratitude for what I have rather than what I don’t and someone else does).

  3. Pat

    For over 7 years I have been carrying a list of feelings in my purse so I can came to know/guess more clearly what is going on with me/others i.e. what needs of mine/others have been met or not. I was raised in a household (and society) where feelings were denied or severely limited (mad, glad, sad). I am especially grateful to have read and to be learning Non-violent Communication by Marshall Rosenburg. I am learning how to be compassionate toward myself and others. Christmas night when my daughter wanted better understanding of a situation with her boyfriend, we got out the “feelings” and “needs” cards (available at cnvc.org) and she had satisfying “aha” moments as she identified the most prominent feelings that arose when specific needs were not being met. There can be sweetness even in difficult moments when coming to clarity and responsibility. Madeline, your reflection reminds me of the “spiritual direction” that I receive from participating in NVC practice groups!

  4. Julia Grey, OP

    I am grateful Madeline, for your sharing which gives me an opportunity to say more about feelings. The topic is one of my favorites. First, let me say that your blog is refreshing and the responses to it are real and honest. Discovering or recognizing your feelings takes time and patience. Once you can name your predominant or strong feeling, the next step is to notice where you feel the feeling in your body. Is it in your throat, gut, chest, upper part of your body, etc.? Then, put your hand on the place where you feel the feeling without judgement or evaluation. Notice how that is when you honor the feeling by placing your hand on the sensation or feeling in your body. Next, listen to the feeling by describing it…heavy, tight, big…maybe an image will come or a picture, another feeling word. Just be gentle with yourself and the feelings will reveal themselves. Feelings need a hospitable environment.. The gift of learning this process or skill of “Focusing” is that it is an alternative way of being with feelings instead of ignoring, hiding, minimizing or rationalizing your feelings. This process has helped many to become freer and more compassionate with self and others. Julie


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