When I ask people how they're feeling, most often they respond with some version of okay, which would include words like fine, all right, and good. Occasionally they'll say that they're "not so good," or "I've been better."
These responses indicate that most of us play an emotional piano consisting of only two notes: okay and not okay. Yuck. Imagine listening to a real piano with only two working keys, as opposed to the usual eighty-eight. Kind of boring, wouldn't you think? What kind of music could you write for an instrument that played only B-flat and G in one octave?
Just yesterday I spent an hour intensively listening to Brenda and loving her, and then I asked her how she felt. "Good," she said. I sat knees-to-knees with her, held her face in my hands, and began to speak to her with my nose touching her nose. Again I asked her how she was feeling, and with a little help Brenda said the following, among other things:
"I feel close to you. I feel closer than I've ever felt to anyone in all my life."
"I feel understood."
"I feel safe."
"I feel sad that I've spent my whole life without this feeling."
"I wish my parents had done this."
"I feel a little angry that nobody ever took the time or showed the interest in me to do anything like this."
"I feel warm."
"I feel loved."
"I want to do this all day."
"I feel a little guilty—selfish—that I want more of this."
"Part of me wonders if I deserve this."
"I like feeling this way."
"I almost feel giddy." She laughed as she said this.
"I feel hopeful that I can feel like this again—and again."
"I feel bad that I've never done this with my husband."
"I wonder if I'll ever be able to do this for my husband and kids. I hope so."
Within minutes Brenda's face had transformed. The more she talked about how she felt the more she experienced who she really was. She also felt much more connected to me.
We all have a wide variety of feelings, but until we express them, they cannot be fully, vibrantly experienced. Unexpressed feelings are like piano keys that are nailed so they can't be moved and can't make a sound. Feelings are beautiful all by themselves, contributing to the symphony of who we are. They also form a connection from us to other people.
Further, they give us information about who we are and what we need. When we are unable to express these feelings, all these important functions remain unfulfilled. Our emotional growth is stunted, we can't learn who we really are, and our ability to form healthy relationships is impaired.
Practice expressing how you feel, as Brenda did. If you find your efforts less than fruitful, ask a wise man to help you. Sure, some of your feelings may seem "negative," just as some combinations of musical notes seem dissonant, but don't make judgments about them. Just practice having them and expressing them. When you can play all eighty-eight keys, the overall sound will be infinitely more rewarding to you and inspiring to others than if you have access only to a note or two.