Human beings feel.

And these days we’re feeling a lot. There’s a lot to feel.

We’re desiring connection with one another. We’re feeling scared at the prospect of actually doing what our inner-guidance asks of us. We’re feeling hurt when people don’t like what we create.

We’re feeling increasingly free, as we discover that our livelihood and quest for meaning can be the same thing.

And we’re feeling increasingly frustrated as the ‘simple 3-step solutions’ turn out to be neither simple, nor a solution.

What are my true feelings?

“I feel called to a new and deeper embodiment of my purpose.”

We’re called. We feel it. The tug of possibility. The yearning of the soul. It’s real. Visceral.

“I don’t feel like I’m good enough to build this business to the next level.”

It’s hard. It’s not flowing. We’re coming up short. It starts to feel like a mistake, the dream was a mirage. What happened?

“I feel confused.”

What’s true? I’m trying to trust my experience, listen to my feelings, and yet they seem to contradict one another.

6 Different kinds of feeling

Feeling one thing is not the same as feeling another.

Leonard Cohen said “I don’t trust my inner feelings. Inner feelings come and go.” Which is a pretty provocative statement from one of our most feelingful contemporary mystics.

But what I think he’s actually pointing to is the fact that we’re confused about the nature of feelings.

When I say “I feel…” I think it’s one thing. It’s a feeling. It’s true, and it’s the same as other feelings. All feeling are made equal.

They’re not.

So let’s unpack feeling. There are at least 6 different kinds. Probably more. But let’s start with 6. They’re really different. Even though each one uses the verb feel.

1. Sensory Feelings

This is the most basic kind of feeling. And perhaps the original meaning of the word. It’s a sensory feeling.

“I feel your hand in my hand.”

I feel your touch. It’s undeniable. It’s not open to interpretation. I feel your hand. And it’s touching my hand.

However I can also feel internal sensations. These can be a little more elusive. But they’re the same awareness of sensation.

“I feel a contraction in my belly.”

If I can be quiet and still enough I’ll notice it. I slight pulling, dry sensation in my lower gut. It feels contracted.

Sometimes it may not be so subtle. A raging suck in my entire lower body.

Feelings on the level of sensation are very direct. They’re closest to the source of experience. They require no interpretation. They simply require observation.

2. Emotional Feelings

“I feel angry.”

It’s not a sensation. Though it has a sensory base to it. Probably a hot sensation, rising. But it’s more than that. Anger is an emotion. And again, we feel it.

“I feel sad.”

It doesn’t require too much interpretation. Although sometimes it can take us years to actually recognize an emotion. It took me a long time to recognize anger in myself. I misidentified it a lot. And it would get twisted into depression.

There are four fundamental emotions: anger, sadness, fear and joy.

There are hundreds of shades of emotion. Some of things we call emotions are not really emotions.

3. Feelings of Desire

“I feel a desire to kiss you.”

Desire is not an emotion. It’s a pull. It’s the pull of Eros. Eros is the root of erotic, but erotic doesn’t mean suspender belts and baby-oil, it means the mysterious force of nature that has us want something. It’s love with movement. It’s evolution rising up.

“I love writing. I want to write.”

We feel it. We feel desire. Desire is not sexual. Though it can be expressed sexually. Desire is the movement that wants to push out and through, into something new.

“I feel a desire to help you create your new teaching program.”

It’s not an emotional feeling. I just feel I want it. I desire it.

4. Intuitive Feelings

“I feel it could be powerful for you to explore your relationship to money.”

I said that to a new client recently. I just had a feeling that exploring his relationship to money was going to unlock a lot of the things he was struggling with.

It wasn’t an emotion or a sensation. It wasn’t a desire. I didn’t want him to explore it necessarily. But I had a feeling it could open up some things neither of us could quite see yet.

It was an intuition.

Dan Siegel, the famous Neurobiologist says intuition is a feeling based in science. It’s the ability to draw information from the neuronal webs that surround all your bodily organs.

We think our brain is in our head. It’s not. We have neural networks throughout our entire body. The biggest cluster is indeed in our head. But we have two enormous clusters around our heart, and in our gut too.

“I have this really strong feeling we should go meet this guy. I don’t know why.”

Intuition is the ability to feel the messages from our body.

5. Relational Feelings

“I feel really close to you.”

Closeness can mean physical proximity. But when I say “I feel close” I normally mean that I feel connected to you. It’s a relational feeling.

We’re mammals. We’re designed to attach to one another. Young mammals attach to their parents in a way that other species don’t. It’s one of the things that separates us from reptiles, birds, insects and other creatures.

We can feel the texture of our relationships, in the moment.

“I feel really seen by you” is not about literally being observed with the eyes, it’s feeling understood. In other words, you and I are connected, and we’re both feeling the mutual understanding that we’ve created.

Relational feelings are the felt experience of being connected with another human being.

“I feel you.”

6. Shadow Feelings

There’s a bunch of stuff that we think we feel, that aren’t actually feelings. Or they are feelings, but they’re masquerading as something else.

We’re now into the territory of language games.

Language births consciousness. But it also warps it. We can say things in language that are impossible to actually experience in reality.

The philosopher Alfred Korzybski was one of the first to write about this. He pointed out that in language we can talk about the distinction between our bodies and our minds. And yet, if you really look, you can never find the split. It’s always a body-mind. You cannot actually experience one without the other.

“I feel like I have to work harder to succeed.”

It’s not a sensation. You can’t find any sensation in your body that’s labeled “I have to work harder.”

It’s not an emotion either. Or a desire. It could be an intuition. A calling to work harder.

When I ‘feel’ this feeling though, it’s not an intuition. It’s an assessment.

Some part of my mental map of the world says that the level of hardness with which I’m working is insufficient.

And yet if I try and experience the scale of sufficient and insufficient I can’t find it. I’ll discover that my idea of ‘sufficient’ is completely arbitrary.

This is a shadow feeling.

And this particular one is simply a ‘belief’. It doesn’t rest on anything true. If you follow it down, you’ll discover that it’s simply a concept, resting on another concept, resting on another concept. There is no solid ground under it.

There’s no feeling there at all.

We’re misreading our feelings

We’re making category errors. We’re mistaking one kind of feeling for another. A lot.

We misinterpret emotions as intuitions. I feel fear at the prospect of starting a new project (which is utterly inevitable), and yet I misidentify that as an intuition that I’m not meant to be doing it.

We misinterpret relational feelings as sensations. I experience disconnection with someone close to me, and then ‘feel’ that person has ‘pushed me away’.

We misinterpret beliefs as emotions. I get pissed off in relation to you, but I then tell you that “I feel you shouldn’t have said that thing to me.”

We’re confusing our feelings. It gets us into trouble in our relationships, in our businesses. It warps our connection to reality.

It confuses us, as we walk the winding path toward realizing our work in the world.

I don’t feel like it

I was taught that “if it feels too hard, I don’t have to do it if I don’t want to.”

Which is true. I don’t have to. I don’t have to do anything if I don’t feel like it.

The freedom to ‘trust my feelings’ growing up has probably given me a much higher level of emotional awareness than many men of my generation.

But what I’ve had to learn is that the momentary “I don’t feel like it” always contradicts and obscures a deeper feeling.

I love to write.

I love the feeling when I can birth something new, and say it in a way I’ve never thought of, or heard someone else say. I love discovering who I am, through writing about what I see.

It gives me such a sense of fulfillment. Soul deep fulfillment.

When I imagine myself in 10 years, I imagine a man who’s a recognized writer. The author of published books and the speaker of new ideas.

That’s something that’s important to me. I want it. I desire it. I feel called to it.

Yet each morning I wake up, and I don’t want to write.

“It’s feels too hard” the voice inside me says.

“You’re not good enough. You won’t write anything good today, better to not try.”

If I trusted my ‘inner feeling’ I wouldn’t write that day. I’d wait until I felt better. Which is what I did for years. I waited until I felt ‘in the mood’ to write. It meant I wrote occasionally.

Now I write every morning. Whether I feel like it or not.

Because I’ve learned to recognize that I’m just feeling afraid. I’m afraid of stepping out of my comfort zone, because I don’t know what’s out there, and I don’t know myself in that unknown place.

It’s fear. Not intuition. Or desire.

So I’ve learned to ‘not trust’ that inner feeling.

Which feels like a much better strategy.

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Ewan Townhead

I hope you enjoyed the article. If you're interested further in my work, you can find out more about me here, and my coaching here.

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  1. Ewan

    If you think there’s another kind of feeling I missed, then throw it out here.

  2. Avatar

    A man that’s well on the way to be a recognized writer! I hope that I can develop the discernment to know when to “follow” my feelings, and when not to. When they are coming from ego or masking something, or telling me something of deep and true value. To “feel” when I am the subject of my feelings, and when I can move them to an object stance. To not be overwhelmed by the feelings, but to also be very in touch with them. We can’t make a decision from our head, as we also have to include our feelings, like you started off you blog. Thanks for writing. Philip

    • Ewan

      Thanks for your kind words 🙂

  3. Ewan

    Philip – what you say reminds me of Wilber’s line. “Hurts more. Bothers you less.”

    Where do you think your discernment is cloudy?

  4. Avatar

    Thank you Ewan for making the distinctions. One of my observations is that often we don’t even get as far as recognising there is a feeling regardless of what type. We might have a vague ‘notion’ of something going on but can be so conditioned by the idea that feelings aren’t value that it stops right there. If we can drop out of a ‘thinking’ self for a while and allow ourselves to be with our feelings with a mood of curiosity and permission they will tell us so much.

    • Ewan

      Totally Beverly. I observe that too. And I also usually find that there’s what ‘feels’ like a ‘good-reason’ that we don’t want to feel stuff!

  5. Avatar

    Loved it!!!!! The concepts are a natural fit for my work with corporate groups and horses and managers who have lost the ability to describe what they feel!!!


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