Feelings are good servants, but they are disastrous masters.

—Dallas Willard

One of the most significant saboteurs or underused sources in people’s lives that I’ve noticed in our work has to do with the role of feelings/emotions. For many people, emotions rule—either by being so disconnected from them that they are completely out of touch, or by being essentially directed by them…

I personally am not always aware of my feelings in terms of them being predominate drivers. Or so it appears at first blush. But when I stop to do a reverse engineering assessment on them, I find that many of my actions, or inactions, are often fueled by some underground emotion. It requires intentional work to identify though.

Growing up, I became pretty practiced at distancing myself from my feelings because they were often disturbing. Being keenly aware of them would often result in me hurting deeply when I felt marginalized or rejected and I certainly didn’t like that. Like many people, I preferred pleasant emotions and not feeling disturbed. To this day, I gravitate towards wanting comfort and ‘peace’—and a good way to do that is to be unaware of feelings. This tendency has caused me great trouble due to avoiding conflict or uncomfortable situations until they got worse and worse.

I was talking to someone recently who has just the opposite experience with her feelings. They are so prominent that they often carry the day in terms of decision making. This, of course, can cause a whole other set of problems.

I think both of these represent a misuse of feelings. Our feelings have a role and it would be wise of us if we tapped into them and use them as ‘servants.’ We can either have our feelings, or our feelings can have us.

In the Reinvent Training, we ask participants to think of emotions as ‘thoughts trapped in our body.’ Many people don’t realize that our bodies intuit much information that we consciously don’t pick up on. Nevertheless, the part of our brains that register threat pick up on it and a sensory intelligence is activated. When regarded in this manner, emotions or feelings can be a source of valuable information.

The way you can make it work is by doing what I mentioned above: a reverse engineering assessment. This starts by first and foremost being willing to be with uncomfortable feelings. This is a big task because we understandably want to shut down things that disturb. It is possible, although a developed discipline, to ‘welcome’ feelings that you’d rather not have. But when you do, you can notice them (without needing to do anything about them) and then inquire into what message they may have for us.

Examples: Noticing, here is a feeling of anxiety… what am I concerned about? Here is a feeling of anger… what is upsetting me, is there some injustice occurring? Here is an unfeeling of apathy… what am I wanting to disconnect from?

Then as the answers come (which they will if you are really wanting to know) your feelings can help you become aware of what needs to be addressed. When engaged in this way, our feelings become a resource; a font of embodied knowledge that can be extracted and used.

So, how do you regard your feelings? Do you disengage from them? Then they are your master. Are you controlled by them? Then they are your master. Do you utilize them to inform you? Then they are your servant. So, let’s stop resisting our feelings… and let’s stop letting them be our ‘masters.’ They are an important means to help us navigate life—if they are not used as the steering wheel but rather as fuel.