Mapping a Feeling State (Expanded)

In a previous post I provided the bare bones for mapping. In this post I’ll go just a little more deeply into the method.

You’ll do best if you have some way to capture your answers to the mapping questions, either pen-and-paper or a computing device. And you’ll get the most out of it if you can draw the image either with colored pencils/pens or on a computer/tablet. Near the bottom of the post are downloads of templates. You can use the PDF forms for typing your notes, then print to draw the image. Or you can just print them out and take your notes by hand. I’ve also attached a file with larger body outlines including male, female, and androgynous figures.

Choose a feeling.

To begin, choose a specific feeling state to work with. For this first one, don’t worry about finding the “right” one. Just go for something that feels easy to access and tangible in your experience. If possible choose something where you really feel it in your body. While feeling is different from body sensation, the physical sensations of emotion are very interconnected with feeling, and their presence is an indicator of strong feeling states. Roll with it.

Give your feeling state a name. Again, don’t concern yourself with finding a proper feeling or emotion label. Just call it whatever word or phrase helps you tag the felt experience most meaningfully for you. The names “heebie jeebies” and “flutter in my throat” can sometimes work even better than conventional names like anxiety, sadness, or anger for the purposes of mapping.

What is your first impression?

Start to sink into the actual feeling of that, the actual way it feels to you in and around your body. Imagine how you would describe this to a friend. How would you tell your friend what it’s like to have this feeling? What happens in your body? What happens in your mind? What kinds of things does it make you do? Jot down a few notes. The purpose of this first impressions part is simply to connect your attention to the feeling.

Get ready to map.

So now we’re ready to actually do the mapping. On the following pages, you’ll find a few questions that help you elicit a very tangible image that brings the feeling to life. At the same time, creating this image gives you a bit of distance. To answer the questions you have to step away from the feeling a bit, to get perspective on its qualities.

The following questions about imagery are different from normal conversations about feelings, emotions, memories or thoughts. As you go through the questions, you might feel at first like you’re making up the answers. That’s OK. You’re right. You are making it up.

It can be helpful to think of this practice as applying a part of the brain that is very skilled with imagery in an unfamiliar way. We’re directing its attention towards the feeling part of your brain that is more amorphous and harder to perceive with clarity and objectivity. It’s as if we are using this imagery part of the brain the way you would use an X-ray to get a very clear image of what’s going on beneath the surface of the body, out of sight. You can’t look at feeling directly, but by using the instrument of the questions you interact with the feeling in such a way as to deliver a tangible image.

As you answer these questions, go with the first thing that comes to mind and then check it out. Does that actually feel right? Is it green versus blue? Is it a hard solid versus a liquid? You’ll know. There’s going to be a quality that fits, that just feels right. Something different from that will feel like it doesn’t fit.

Trust the feeling. Trust the image that comes to you. And try to set your logical mind aside as you do, because its expectations may not apply here. There is a strong logic to the feeling mind, but it is not necessarily the same logic we are accustomed to applying to mental and emotional experiences.

So go ahead and put your attention on the feeling you’ve chosen to map. Let’s get started. Take notes as we go.

Location

If you were to say that the actual felt experience of this feeling was located somewhere in or around my body, where would you say that is? And what size and shape would you say it seems to be?

And I say “in or around” because feelings are not necessarily confined to the body. They can extend outside the body. Pay attention to that. Occasionally you’ll even find a feeling state that exists completely outside the body. It probably won’t happen this first time around for you, but you never know. So pay attention to where is the actual feeling relative to the physical structure of your body.

Just to be clear: we are paying attention to the felt sense, to feeling, which is not the same as monitoring body sensations. Feeling exists with reference to the body and to material experience, but it is not confined to the space of the body, or the physical sensations of breathing, heartbeat, digestion, muscle tension, etc.

You may find it helpful to close your eyes and to eliminate the various sensory channels from your attention, one at a time. Release visual images. Release sounds. Release kinesthetic and tactile sensations. Notice that without those primary senses, and even without thought, you are still conscious. What is left is feeling. This is what you are mapping.

You may also find it helpful to scan the space of your body progressively. Start at your feet and cycle through the following question, moving the focus progressively from one end of your body to the other.

Does any part of the actual, felt experience of this [feeling state] exist in your [legs…]?

Once you identify the location, go back to explore the size and shape. If you have difficulty finding its location, choose a different feeling, maybe a stronger one, and try again. Make a note about what you discover.

Substance Quality

Within the region of that feeling space you just identified, if you were to say that the actual felt experience of this feeling has qualities of substance, would you say that it seems more like a solid, a liquid, a gas, some kind of light or energy, or something else?

If you’re not sure, try one on, imagining the test substance occupying the location of the feeling. Then cycle through, testing all primary substances to find one that seems to match. Then take a little time to refine that. If it is a solid, does it seem hard or soft? Is it heavy or light? If it’s a liquid or a gas or an energy, does it seem thick or thin? How easy would it be to move your hand through it for example? Make a note of the qualities of substance that you discover there.

Temperature

If you were to say that this feeling substance has a temperature, what temperature would you say it is?

Does the feeling substance seem warmer or cooler than body temperature? Or is it more of a neutral body or room temperature? Or is it more extreme? Make a note of the temperature.

Color

If you were to say that this feeling substance has color, what color would you say it is?

Again, go with the first thing that comes to mind and then check it out. You might get a very specific, vivid shade of color. You might get more of a range of grays. What color does it seem to be? And does this feeling substance seem more transparent, in a way that you can see through like glass? Is it more translucent, that light comes through it more like a lamp shade? Or is it opaque, more like a rock, where there’s no way you could see through it? And are there other visual qualities that you notice? Make a note of those.

Movement and Force

Does this feeling substance seem to be moving in any way? Is there a flow, or a pulse, or a vibration? Is there any kind of a rotation or travel? Or is there a force or a pressure?

Make a note of the qualities of the movement. Is it steady, or intermittent, or random? If there’s pressure or force, is it inward or outward or in some other particular direction? Pay attention to the details and make a note of those.

Inner Sound

If you listen internally, do you notice any kind of inner sound or voice that naturally accompanies this feeling?

In that space inside do you notice perhaps your voice or someone else’s? One voice or more than one? Some sound, whether a natural sound, or a mechanical sound, or a hum, or something like that? Perhaps something musical? Make a note of what kind of sound you notice, including the possibility that either there is no sound, or that you notice the presence of silence.

Do you notice anything else about this feeling?

Now scan your notes. Is there anything you want to change, any adjustments? Anything you’ve discovered in some of the later questions about some of the earlier qualities? Go through and make those adjustments to your notes.

What beliefs arise?

Each feeling state is an anchor for unique beliefs attached to that specific state. Inviting those beliefs into your awareness is an excellent way for you to track the effect of the feeling state in your life before and after you move it.

To access the beliefs, how would you capture in words what seems real, or true, or important from the perspective of this feeling? You may find it helpful to complete a sentence fragment like one of these:

“I am…” or “I’m not…”

“I have…” or “I don’t have…”

“I need…” or “I don’t need…”

“I can…” or “I can’t…”

How would you complete one of those sentences as a way of expressing what this feeling seems to be about?

For some feelings it will feel more appropriate to say “You are…” or “You should…” for example, where there’s some element of almost as if the feeling is engaging with you or against you in some way. So write whatever comes naturally to capture the embedded belief that is anchored by this feeling.

Draw your feeling portrait.

Below I’ve provided a few templates for you to print, if you like. Draw the feeling as if you were standing outside of yourself, and you could actually see it. Consider the outlines as transparent bodies. It’s like you can see all the way through, so it’s neither front nor back, but one view, both front and back.

Draw what the feeling looks like, the way you’ve described it. Use color. Colored pencils work really great or any kind of markers or other media. Sometimes you’ll draw the view from outside, other times it may be a cross section. Sometimes it will work best to draw the front view, other times the side, while sometimes you will need both to really illustrate your feeling. Do whatever works for you, and keep in mind you only need to satisfy yourself. This won’t be entered into an art competition.

As you draw, be open to discovering new aspects of the feeling. In drawing, you are deepening your relationship with the feeling state, and in that deepening you may discover aspects of the feeling you didn’t notice when you were working with the questions. Trust whatever shows up for you, and if you need to, go back and update your notes after you’ve finished your drawing.

Summary

We’ve just finished the process of mapping, creating the tangible image which derives from the feeling state. By now you should have a clearer sense of what the experience of this feeling is for you. And you should also have the experience of connecting with your witness self. A lot of times when we experience difficult states, we fall into them and experience ourselves as if that anger or that sadness is our whole selves.

With the mapping process, though, in order to answer these questions you have to step outside of the feeling. You have to place the origin of your attention outside the feeling in order to notice what color or substance it is, and that’s a wonderful thing. We are made of many parts and some of those parts function as witnesses. The more that we can access a witness self and the stronger we can make that part of ourselves, the easier it is for us to navigate emotionally challenging waters.

This process of mapping, all by itself, can be very helpful for you in a variety of different situations. I encourage you to use it often.

Audio

You may find it helpful to externalize the facilitation of the process by listening to the following audio which leads you through it.

Mapping a Feeling State

Want to participate in conversations about the feeling mind? Over the coming year (2019), depending on interest, I’ll be I’ll be hosting live, group calls where we can go much deeper into the material and practice the skills. If you think you might be interested, please reach out to me.