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What does it mean to learn to feel?

forest path

For me, learning to feel means learning to relax.

Sometimes when I feel rushed or busy, I try to pull myself away from the edges of my body, of my life, into a narrow zone where nothing, especially emails, can reach me. I’m protected there, but I’m also contracted and tense because trying to block things out. I feel like I already have too much to do — experiencing my own sensations would be too much.

Sensations are experiences. Just hearing a sound — right now I am hearing the sound of my fingers typing these words, and also the sounds of roasted almonds crackling as they cool — that’s an experience. Smelling an odor — right now I smell coffee and almonds — that’s an experience. Having a thought is an experience. Touching, even something as simple as your clothing touching your skin, is an experience. As long as we have consciousness, we are constantly having experiences. Go to a sensory deprivation chamber and you will still be able to see, smell, feel, think. Fall asleep but thoughts continue as dreams. Being alive means you can’t escape feeling.

But when I feel overwhelmed, I try to escape anyway.

Learning to feel means that instead of trying to escape, I just relax. I totally give up, just for a moment.

And when I do relax, everything gets easier — much easier than trying to stop the inevitable from happening. Sensations are always happening anyway, whether or not I want them to be. I can give up trying to control what I can never actually control, and just feel it.

And when I do end up tense and contracted and trying to control the uncontrollable, I can feel that too, and a little bit of relaxation can happen when I do, even in the midst of discomfort.