Feeling is much more tangible than you think. Over the last 25 years, I’ve asked tangible questions about thousands of feelings in hundreds of people. Universally, people seem to experience feeling, mood, and emotion as if they were virtual, material substances. Our common language often refers to these virtual substances with phrases like, “hard-hearted,” “butterflies in my stomach,” “iron will,” and “white-hot fury.”
The virtual substances of feeling carry many of the same qualities as the real-world substances we encounter every day. They include:
- Location in and around the body, (and this is important: not confined to the body at all)
- Texture, weight, density, hardness, and other qualities similar to solids, liquids, gases, light, or energy
- Color, transparency, and other visual attributes
- Movement, force and pressure
- Qualities of inner sound
These virtual material qualities are durable, visceral, and pervasive. They anchor and shape our thoughts and behaviors. They are also mostly unconscious, although we can become aware of them by turning our attention in their direction. These questions help us do that.
Try it yourself.
Choose a specific feeling state to explore. Write down the name you call this state on a blank sheet of paper. Then ask yourself the following questions about your feeling. It can help to read the questions aloud to yourself, or have a friend read them to you. Write down your answers as you go.
LOCATION. If you were to say the actual, felt experience of this feeling is located somewhere in or around your body, where would you say that is? What size and shape would you say it seems to occupy?
SUBSTANCE: If you were to say this feeling state has qualities of substance, would you say it seems more like a solid… a liquid… a gas… some kind of light, or energy… or something else? … What other qualities does this feeling substance seem to have? For example, does it seem hard or soft, heavy or light, thick or thin, more or less dense?
TEMPERATURE: What temperature would you say this feeling substance seems to be? If it seems neutral, would you say it is more like body temperature or room temperature?
COLOR: If you were to say this feeling substance has a color, what color would you say that is? … And does it seem to be transparent… translucent… or opaque? Is there anything else to notice about the appearance of this feeling?
MOVEMENT: Does this feeling substance have any qualities of movement – does it seem to be flowing… or pulsing… or vibrating? … And do you notice any force or pressure? What qualities do you notice about the movement or force? For example, is it steady or intermittent, inward or outward, rhythmic or random?
SOUND: If you listen internally, do you notice any inner sound? If so, does the sound seem natural or unnatural, steady or intermittent, rhythmic or random? Or is it perfectly silent? If it’s silent, is the silence significant, or is there simply no sound to notice?
To make it easier for you to try, here’s an audio recording of me leading you through the mapping process.
Pay attention to thoughts.
You might also want to notice the automatic thoughts, perceptions, and beliefs that accompany this feeling. Each feeling state operates as an autonomous unit, interconnected with other states but hosting its own micro-reality. You can gain some insight about each feeling’s unique world by asking yourself what seems most true, real, or important when you are feeling this specific feeling state. Make some notes about that as well.
Draw your image.
Now, get a set of colored pencils or pens to draw your feeling. Use the body outline here to trace or print out, or draw one of your own. Then simply draw what you’ve described in answering the questions. Drawing often helps you access the feeling more vividly, so don’t be surprised if you discover more about this feeling as you draw.
Download and Print a Template
These templates are designed to be printed, and filled out by hand. If you’d prefer a digital template, contact me and I’ll send you one. Let me know, too, if you’d like to know how to digitally create images like the examples here on the website.