The Birth of Feelingwork

The first time I placed my attention squarely on an inner, tangible property of a feeling state and pushed, I was not expecting much. Certainly I was not expecting a tectonic shift that would shatter everything I knew about feeling, mood, and emotion. Definitely I was not expecting to launch a journey that would shape my life from that day forward. And most assuredly I was not expecting to discover a virgin territory within the psyche, a mysterious landscape that had remained off-limits throughout human history but had suddenly opened its doors to invite me in.

It was the middle of a sunny summer afternoon, and I was struggling with depression. I focused my awareness on the space of my heart, where the feeling was strongest, and noted a distinct downward pull from my heart into my belly, like strong gravity.

I wondered what might happen if the gravity were reversed, if instead of pulling downward it pushed upward, and I took a moment to “try it on.” In imagining that simple redirection, the feeling itself shifted. Instantly. Dramatically.

From depression all the way to outright cheerfulness, my mood transformed for no good reason. This ridiculous mental trick had done what thousands of hours of deep introspection, journaling, self-hypnosis, cognitive therapy, and all manner of self-help, new age seminars, and mental experimentation had failed to do. In that moment my depression was gone.

It took me a few months to unpack this experience, expanding my inquiry into a full repertoire of questions eliciting tangible feeling properties including location, substance, temperature, color and movement. I got to the point where I could map and move any state at will. Still, though, I had no clue what I had stumbled upon.

Up until this time in 1994 I had been battling bipolar disorder for 15 years. This new tool seemed like a great way for me to beat back the depression when it struck, and selectively choose my state at any time. I imagined the realm of feeling as a vast, three-dimensional state space, my feeling state at any given moment represented by a point in that space. If I didn’t like what I was feeling, I merely needed to shift my awareness to a better location. Too far down? Move it up. Too much to the left? Move it right. I believed I could go from any point in the state space to any other point using my method.

A few more months of exploration, though, and things began to look a little more complex. I discovered that feeling states often came in clusters, and that sometimes it required mapping and moving several distinct, related states to achieve the shift I sought. What did that mean to my 3D state-space model? I didn’t know for sure, and continued to experiment.

Around this time I moved to Seattle, intending to apply this new technology to shaping emotional spaces for theatrical productions. In working with a dancer I came up against a direct contradiction to my state-space model. She intended to begin her performance in a state of Fear, and transition gradually to a state she called Stand Tall. We mapped both, and I guided her to transform Fear into Stand Tall.

The problem was, it wouldn’t go. Fear did not want to take on the Stand Tall form. Placing attention on Stand Tall, we found it also was unable to find its way backwards into Fear. Each of these had their own path from distress to power, with distinctly different states inhabiting each end of the polarity. They had a parallel existence and did not cross over one another’s feeling space.

This suggested something more like “parts,” with each part having its own, unique state space marked by its own, unique ideal state and its own territory of reactive states. Things were getting mighty interesting.

“Interesting” exploded a little less than a year after the first shift in Montana. On April 4th, 1995, I tackled a set of seven feeling states emerging from a rather intense dream triggered by a confrontation with a slide into mania. I remember catching my eye in the mirror the day before, seeing the craziness looking back out at me.

The mapping practice develops a strong witness consciousness. It strengthens the capacity to observe as if you are outside looking in. It was this capacity that threw the flag on my slide, demanding I stop because I knew the chaos waiting on the other side of the grandiosity and disconnection.

That night I dreamed a fearful dream, and woke at four in the morning determined to excavate its message by mapping the states contained in it. The day was brutal, largely spent at my computer, typing out my conversation with myself, standing first in the witness space and asking elicitation questions to identify and map each feeling state, followed by immersing myself in the state and replying to those questions, state by state following the path of inquiry. After identifying, mapping, and moving seven states, that evening I tumbled exhausted out my door onto the streets of Seattle.

The person walking down First Avenue that evening was not the same guy who walked that street the day before. I felt more alive, more present, more aware than at any time I could remember. Rather than the exaggerated, grand feeling states to which I was accustomed, I felt nuance and multiplicity. Simply passing another human being on the street brought a textured tapestry of subtle feeling beyond words, beyond the capacity of my focused awareness, stretching from one distant horizon of sensation to the other and filling the space between. “So this must be what feeling is like for other people,” I reflected.

I cried in the days that followed for the fifteen years during which I had never known feeling in this way. I had thought I would never want to give up my manic highs for any price, but this fullness was far beyond exquisite in a way my mania never was. From that point forward I never again slid into the roller coaster of mood swings that had shaped all of my adult life.

It took me a good two weeks to recover from this earthquake, to get used to the new normal and take on that this new experience was now “me.” As I emerged, I brought my attention back to the mapping process and saw it with fresh eyes. I had facilitated a large-scale transformation — in myself — using a tool that turned my attention to feeling, and to feeling only. I placed no attention on my history and made no effort to “heal” past trauma. I gave no energy to analyzing or changing my thoughts, beliefs, or behavior. Understanding played no role catalyzing the transformation: the transformation came first, and understanding followed along in its wake.

In short, this transformation happened according to no existing model of therapy, personal growth, spiritual practice, or other known approach to the psyche. It happened through engagement with something altogether new. The mapping process I had invented was no mere tool for shifting bad feelings to good ones. This was an instrument of perception, and what it revealed was a new territory not yet on any existing map.

As this sunk in, slowly, steadily, I made a deep commitment to exploring this new territory, the feeling mind, and have done so ever since. I have much to share.

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.