#Askingforafriend: Between a rock and a hard place, what’s the way out?

By Lauren Dixon
GCU Office of Student Care
#Askingforafriend

Seventeenth-century philosopher Baruch Spinoza posed, “Emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it.”

This statement has profound implications. It suggests that we can minimize and even overcome suffering simply through increasing our understanding of what we’re feeling and why we’re feeling it.

Yet if this is true, why do we struggle so much to form these clear and precise pictures of our feelings and experiences? What is it that gets in the way of our ability to understand our own experiences clearly?

Simply put, we often get too distracted trying to categorize our feelings and experiences into binary categories (e.g., “right or wrong,” “good or bad,” “selfless or selfish”) and then trying to defend why they should or shouldn’t (another binary category!) be designated as such.

Our binary mode of thinking is linked to another mode of thinking called “problem-solving mode.” When we designate a feeling or experience as “bad” or “wrong,” we become fixated on wanting to solve our way back to “good” or “right” feelings and experiences. And when there is no simple solution to fix the feeling, we get stuck. And we suffer.

For example, if I feel depressed in the midst of a global quarantine, I might think, “It’s bad to feel depressed. I shouldn’t be feeling this way.” And now that I’ve labeled it “bad,” I view it as a problem to be solved. Yet there is no solution within my control. So I view myself as stuck.

In order to get un-stuck, we have to release our binary/problem-solving modes of thinking and shift into a more holistic mode of seeking understanding.

“Understanding mode” can be equated with qualities of curiosity and non-judgment. Understanding seeks to thoroughly explore the feeling “depressed” and develop a comprehension of what it feels like, what thoughts are connected it, and what we need while we feel it (not to be confused with what we need to stop feeling it).

Understanding mode invites us to look beyond what is causing our feelings and to acknowledge what it is like to feel these feelings.

Here are some questions that help us stay engaged in understanding mode:

  • What emotions am I feeling? (e.g., anger, fear, pain, guilt, shame, joy, passion, love)
  • In what significant circumstances have I felt these feelings before? How did I react to these feelings then?
  • What kinds of messages about myself have I historically connected with these feelings?
  • What would be most supportive to my physical body when I feel this way? (e.g., slower breathing, movement, rest, nutrition, comfort, etc.)

While understanding does not directly solve our problems, it frees us from the struggle of thinking that we should be feeling any way other than how we’re feeling. Understanding softens anger, connects us to compassion and illuminates what we need within our current circumstances.

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GCU Magazine

Bible Verse

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12)

To Read More: www.verseoftheday.com/