Learning to recognize, re-cognize, embody, express, and name our feelings is a life-giving practice. Because our feelings are among the most fluid expressions of Life itself as it continually moves and changes. And they often pair with subtle sensations, movements in the body-mind.
A chartreuse-winged butterfly – yes, chartreuse – crosses my line of sight. Flits across the yard and back again. I have never seen such a creature before, nor such a color in a winged being.
And I find no online source that yields a species name.
But I can capture the feeling that lingered: a mix of a rising up to meet, a joy, a curiosity, a quick inhale, a caught breath.
I am devoted to naming what I see, hear, think, sense as accurately and precisely as I can. Sometimes it is still to save myself from terror or trouble, often it is to locate myself, find some stability. More and more it is to come into relationship with what is right here, without time-traveling to regrets or anxieties.
Yet even now it is easier for me to select the Prismacolor shade
of blue that is true to my emotion of the moment
than it is to precisely name a feeling.
Sometime in my late twenties, when I was a young mother, I came across the“list of feelings that persons have but often fail to identify” pictured in the banner photo. I don’t recall whether someone gave me a copy or I myself typed the many mis-spellings on my green Olivetti portable. In any case, the list was a revelation, no less than Helen Keller’s discovery that the sensation of water could be named by movements in the palm of her hand
How do I describe my family of origin? repressed? secretive? private? of its cultural time – first-generation Americans who came of age post WW I and in the Depression?
Emotions of all kinds loomed large among the unnamed and unexpressed, crackled and smoked around me. I was buffeted by strange winds and weather systems, haunted by maternal and paternal hungry ghosts. I didn’t know who or what they were, just felt the life force bound up in them, and that they sought some kind of appeasement. I learned to snuff out my own feelings. I stored great indistinct tangles of emotion in large, heavily guarded vaults. So large that to unravel even my own state of mind or heart became overwhelming.
But I could sit with the list and begin to name a multitude of orphaned feelings. Eventually I was able to tolerate more sensations in my body (that is another story) as they shifted with my feeling-state. Then I began to discover the pleasures of nuance.
Nuance is truthful to the uniqueness of the moment, thus a great ally to living a life of practice.
Of course, we can name every little thing exhaustively – and to the point of exhaustion, when we name to capture and fix something in place – a bit like pinning a specimen chartreuse butterfly to a mounting board.
We don’t need to name everything, just enough to warm us. Just enough to move with the precious and unique dance between the changing forms that surrounds us and and the fluid life that arises within us.