Belinda: You often distinguish between thoughts, feelings, and intuition in your classes. Let’s talk about feelings first.
I see many people using feelings as their main criteria for making major life decisions and relationship decisions. They’ll talk about their feelings as if they’re the most sacred and true part of themselves. Do you believe that feelings are that reliable?

Rabbi Finley: Feelings are definitional of the limbic system and the ego self. That’s what feelings are. So if a person says, “This is how I feel,” I say, “It doesn’t matter how you feel.” Can you assess that feeling? In general, are your feelings reliable? There are many tests that I ask. For example, if you followed that feeling all the way, where would it take you?

B: What do you mean by following the feeling all the way?

RF: What happens is, people have these feelings and if you take these feelings the whole way—you cut out all of the sensors and just took them the whole way—the feelings will tell you what they’re really about.
Oftentimes, feelings are profoundly destructive. We just don’t know it because we never really quiz them enough to see what they’re after. For example, when a person says, “I feel my friend doesn’t like me,” we’ll talk through the feeling.
“What’s the feeling really trying to say?”
“Well, my feeling is saying to me that my friend likes me because I do things for him or her.”
“So, what’s it really saying?”
“That I’m not a very worthwhile human being and so I have to do stuff to make people like me.”
I say, “So don’t tell me your friend doesn’t really like you. What you really feel is that you’re worthless. Want to talk about that feeling? That’s the real one.”

What feelings do is they hide and they produce false statements. They produce false thoughts. So then, you start thinking about your friend instead of the real thing that generates the feeling, which is: I’m not a worthwhile human being. A lot of people don’t want to deal with that level of truth. They’d rather accept that secondary or tertiary thought than go down to the core thing inside.

B: So, it looks as if feelings aren’t the truest part of a person.

RF: Feelings in general, when you’re under stress, are the least worthwhile part of your being.
One time in counseling, before I really knew all of this, I did a lot of this instinctively. There was a couple that came into my office. She was temperamentally more artistic; not really organized. He was a very uptight attorney, CPA.
He came in with a charge sheet:
“She lies! She says she’ll be there at 3:00P and she arrives at 3:30P.”
He called that a lie. So as he’s building up this charge sheet against her, she’s really feeling horrible. I had an instinct that there was something wrong with him.
I said, “You’re describing a really horrible human being.”
He said, “She really is a horrible human being and I don’t know what to do with her.”
And I said, “Just take her out and shoot her.”
He said, “No…eh…no…not that. But…I see you get me.”

If he followed that feeling all the way, he’d murder her. I exposed him. That’s what a lot of people do.
I said, “Ok, let’s imagine that. Get the gun. Do the ambush. Murder the poor lady, right? Now she’s dead. Your kids have no mother. You’ve got a murder on your hands. Are you better? Is that what you want to do?”
“Well, not really.”
I said, “Then, stop it.”

B: So feelings can be destructive when under stress. How about feelings when you’re not under moral stress?

RF: When you’re not under stress—when you’re having fun, you’re with people that you like and you’re having a good time—feelings are the best part of ourselves. We celebrate. We have joy. We have bliss. It’s the best part about us human beings. When you’re under moral stress, it’s the worst part of ourselves. So, I’m not against feelings. I’m against feelings being that which guides us through moral stress.

B: OK. What is a better guide than feelings?

RF: The antidote for most people is rational thought. But, there are some folks who just think horribly. So, oftentimes when I’m working with somebody, I’ve got to find the most trustworthy aspect of the person in a given issue.

B: How do you determine which is the most trustworthy? By the outcome?

RF: Yes. I say to a person, “As you process life, tell me how you process things.” I get a little bit of a history and most people’s type is: rational thought is always better than feeling. There’s the occasional person whose instinct or gut feeling or intuition is strong. And there’s the occasional person whose feelings are actually better than their thoughts. But, if anybody were to walk in my office for counseling, my first assumption would be that they suffer from bad feelings and I have to teach them to think rationally.

B: Where does intuition fit in?

RF: Oftentimes, when I see that they don’t think well, I ask them not to go into their feelings, but into their intuition. Intuition and feelings are two different things. Intuition is a strong feeling that something is right and wrong, but [they] can’t rationally articulate [it]. Feelings always come with feeling resentful, feeling angry, feeling fear. But a gut feeling just articulates it true. For some folks who have trouble thinking things through, I get them to start with an intuition and then try to figure out that intuition.

B: So, it can be better to go with intuition, rather than thoughts or feelings...

RF: Even when we start to go with gut or instinct, I still have to teach people to think rationally. People really have no idea what it means to think rationally. They don’t know that thinking is a skill. That’s another huge area of focus—teaching people how to think.

Rabbi Finley is Co-Founder, Co-CEO and Rabbi of Ohr HaTorah Congregation. He received his doctorate in Religion-Social Ethics from the University of Southern California. In addition to his work at Ohr HaTorah, he serves as a professor at the Academy for Jewish Religion, California Campus, where he teaches Liturgy, Jewish Mysticism and Spirituality, and Professional Skills. Rabbi Finley also serves on the faculty of the Wexner Heritage Foundation and the Department of Continuing Education at the American Jewish University.

Author's Bio: 

Belinda Lams of Soul Organizer is a Certified Professional Life Coach, Professional Organizer, and speaker. She is passionate about helping people live from clarity and purpose. Belinda is available for coaching services by phone and can be reached at