Which comes first, the thought or the feeling? Do our thoughts actually create our feelings? Or does a sensation in the body give rise to a thought, which would suggest that feelings come first?
One of the things I have learned in my studies is that when you have an apparent dichotomy, you can bring the level of analysis down to a finer view and the dichotomy will disappear. Okay, that’s a fancy way of saying that most things look different when you take a different point of view.
So ages ago, psychologists theorized that a sensation in the body was just that, until the person gave it a label and then it became an emotion. Much later, pioneers in the cognitive therapy movement suggested that what we THINK can dramatically affect how we feel; specifically, we can generate a whole lot of personal distress by thinking distressing thoughts. That doesn’t address the question of where those thoughts actually arise, though. Lowen (check out the lowen foundation for his writings, and audio and video recordings….http://http://lowenfoundation.org/index.html) was ahead of his time, really, in pointing out that the neural activity of a thought likely arises from a sensation in the body. Damasio offers a variety of clinical and scientific support for this…that the FEELING of what happens is what creates our thinking and our behaviour.
WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES ANY OF THIS MAKE?
Okay, I am getting there. You know that I love the theoretical but the practical is infinitely more, well, useful. What it means is that everyone has a piece of the truth. In your own experience, you can point to times when thinking about something in an unhelpful way has made you feel worse than you were feeling before. So that part is verifiable with experience. And when you develop your body awareness so that sensations register on your consciousness, it becomes apparent that there are links between body sensations and at least some of the thoughts that seem to arise spontaneously. Here’s a pretty crude example: You start to notice an empty feeling in your belly, and then there are some noises from in there, and at the same time, you suddenly notice that someone in an office down the hall must have popped popcorn (that should be illegal unless they plan to share) and you have a thought…..Maybe I’ll go out for lunch. It would be hard to argue that the internal sensations, the external stimulation and the thought were unrelated.
Try it…try to see what connections you can find between your thoughts and your body sensations. Or just your thoughts and your feelings (emotions, or overall mood states). Notice when your thinking is affecting your feeling state. Notice what thoughts arise when you experience particular body states. See if you can figure out which is chicken, and which is egg.