Ask almost anyone, “How are you feeling?” They will almost always answer, “Fine’” or some noncommittal variation of that, both usually a throwaway greeting and reply. Not many seem to realize that feelings, when honestly acknowledged, can speak the truth of a self more clearly than anything else. Feelings can be the clearest, though often most difficult entryway to what is really happening within a self and others who share. For example:

“How’re you feeling?”

“Fine.”

“You don’t look fine.”

“Well…actually I’m not. I’m hurting and angry as hell.”

The conversation that may follow is easily imagined, friends being friends. No gossip or sports talk or shopping tales. Feelings, when probed, besides rendering one vulnerable, invite presence at a deeper level. Though they may not be separated, the head and heart of a self function very differently.

The mind offers too many hiding places for the truth of self. Words can mold or mask a persona on many levels. But feelings, when honestly and clearly named, say “This is who I am.”

A therapist, now retired, often began his sessions with the following:

“How are you feeling…physically? Mentally? Psychologically? Spiritually?” adding, “‘Fine’ is not an acceptable reply.”

It gave him, he said, an instant inventory of what was happening on the other side of the coffee table once he finished probing the replies.

The four questions provide a quality control instrument for managing a life. Go back to the earlier statement, “I’m hurting and angry as hell,” to see how this might work. You do not need to be a therapist to ask, “What’s going on?” And a listening ear may be all you have to offer – and all that is needed. Those feelings, however, are the threshold into the deeper self. Once the story behind them finds words, what to do about them can become clearer in the telling.

Individuals can use these questions to “go inside” to see how their life is happening at any given moment. As long as they are willing to get honest and past “Fine,” they can take better care of their inner self. Many too quickly and easily measure the quality of another’s life by what they see. But when it comes to a self, the externals often give the lie (albeit a white one) to what is happening inside. Feelings are the key to getting there.