Well HOW ‘do you feel’ about that? In media interviews, in movie scripts, in our cappuccino conversations, we often hear the question, “How do/did you feel”. But it’s a question that usually means ‘WHAT’ did you feel? HOW do you feel is a separate issue. We all learn HOW to spell, HOW to wash dishes, HOW to drive a car, etc., but it seems very few of us learn HOW to FEEL! In fact it could be argued that no one learns HOW to feel i.e. how to consciously choose your feelings, because no one teaches us! Could that be because no one really knows?
And then there is another question, which sits between the WHAT and the HOW of feeling. It’s WHY do you feel what you feel! Once again it seems few people, when asked these questions, can clearly see the what, why and how of the one ability we all share as human beings, the ability ‘to feel’. Complicating things even further is what we call emotion! When we ‘feel emotional’ what are emotions exactly, and why are we… feeling them?
There appears to be two reasons most of us don’t really know ‘what’ we are feeling, most of the time! The first can be found in our education and the second in our body!
An Absence In Our Education
The missing ingredients in our formal education were self-awareness and self-understanding. There was no focus on understanding what we were feeling and why we felt what we felt. Certainly there was no separation between our emotions and feelings. This meant we didn’t talk much about the inner world of our self. We didn’t discuss our feelings…much! Perhaps we talked occasionally about extreme emotions like excitement or sorrow, but we said little about the more subtle and frequent feelings in between. That meant we didn’t develop a language to describe what was going on within our consciousness, where all our feelings originate, accumulate or repeat.
The Effects IN Our Body
Which brings us to the second reason. We don’t generally register our feelings until they have some ‘effect’ in our body. We don’t notice how they originate within our consciousness and not in our form. We often don’t notice the emotional disturbance called worry until it has an effect in our stomach. We don’t notice the emotional disturbance called fear until our heart starts racing. We don’t notice our angers until our fists clench and our face is hot! By the time we notice these emotions they often just feel ‘physical’. So we fail to notice their origins of our emotions in our minds.
Without a Language
When we don’t fully develop a language based on our description of the emotions that we feel we don’t develop ‘shared meaning’. That’s why most conversations around understanding emotions don’t go very far, don’t last very long and often regress either into an argument or the glazed look of boredom! We don’t start with, “Well what do you mean exactly when you say ‘emotion’?” And very often, when we do ask the question, ‘what do you feel about that’, we really mean what do you ‘think’ about that! We don’t realize we really mean ‘thought’. Then we become confused and emotional, and end up wondering why we are feeling so…agitated!
So, for many of us, emotions, feelings and thoughts become brilliantly entangled.
Read ten different writers, who sometimes call themselves ‘experts’ on the subject of emotion/feelings, and you will likely find ten different perspectives and perceptions. It all adds up to a fogginess about WHAT we are feeling, which stops us seeing WHY we are feeling what we feel. And we need to see WHY if we are going to know and understand HOW to feel and be the master creator of our feelings…again!
An Unresolvable Catch 22
That said, it’s fairly obvious to most of us that we now live in a highly ‘emotional’ world. It seems many people live in an emotional state most of the time so that ‘all’ they are feeling are their emotions…most of the time! And when they are not they want to! This diminishes our clarity around ‘the what’ and ‘the how’ of our feelings. Why, because in order to clearly see and understand the WHY and the HOW of feeling we need to be free of emotion! When you are angry you cannot see the cause of the anger is …in you! When you are sad and fearful you can’t see the cause of your sadness and fear is… in you! So you won’t be able to see exactly WHY you made yourself angry or sad or fearful as long as you are in those emotional states! Therein lies the ultimate Catch 22. It also explains why the practice of meditation becomes so useful, as the purpose of meditation is to untangle ones ‘self’ from all emotional disturbance in order to restore mastery of your feelings!
So lets begin our enquiry with our emotions. What are emotions exactly and why are we feeling ‘emotional’ most of the time? In others words what is causing us to ‘emote’ so much? See if this rings true in your ‘insperience’.
The Cycle of Suffering
There is an ‘emotional cycle’ in which we all become trapped. It goes something like this. Fear arises, which then turns into sadness, which then turns into anger and back into fear. Why? We create fear in its many forms, such as anxiety, tension, worry, panic, terror, because we imagine (believe) we are about to lose something (in the future). We create sadness in its many forms, such as sorrow, disappointment, downheartedness, melancholy, because we believe we have just lost something or someone (in the past). And we create anger, in one of its many forms such as irritation, frustration, resentment and hate, the moment we look outwards to find someone or something to blame for our apparent loss. They all have one thing in common which is ‘loss’. This is a big clue as to why we create, emote and ‘feel’ all these… emotions! And therefore why we suffer so much. It’s all because we believe in LOSS!
Where there is the ‘belief in loss’ there must be a belief in possession. That shows up in our thoughts and words when we think or say ‘that’s MINE’. That’s MY car, MY house, MY money, MY partner, MY family, MY country, MY belief! This is sometimes called attachment. That means that attachment is the pre-condition to loss and therefore the root cause our emotions of fear, sadness and anger. It is therefore the root cause of our suffering i.e. all forms unhappiness. If we were not attached to anything or anyone we would not ‘fear loss’, we would not experience loss and we would not create and FEEL the emotions of sadness, anger or fear. We would not suffer. We would not make our self unhappy! If you are interested you can test this many times a day by taking a few moments to reflect on your own feelings and the emotions that you feel when you believe you are about to lose or have lost something!
Sadness, anger and fear are what could be called the ‘three families of emotion’. You will find that all ‘emotions’ will fit into one of these families (we’ll come to love and happiness, joy and serenity, in a moment). Guilt is a combination of all three. It’s because of the attachments that we form that many, if not most of us, will live our entire life in and out of this cycle of suffering, but we won’t be aware of it. And we won’t do anything about it because of two fatal beliefs that we assimilate and carry within our subconscious.
The first belief is that these emotions that we ‘feel’ are caused by other people or by circumstances. And the second belief is that these emotions are natural i.e. they are human nature. So we conclude there is nothing you can do and nothing you need to do about them. But when you challenge these beliefs you may realise they are not ‘true’.
The truth is we create all our own emotions. They are a signal telling us we are acting against our true nature! One of the dictionary definitions of emotion is ‘agitation of mind’. When expanded to include the mechanism by which we create our emotions it sounds like this: Emotion is a disturbance (agitation) in our consciousness (mind) when the object of attachment is damaged, threatened, moved or lost! (which are all forms of loss). Once again take a few moments to test this in the light of your own ‘insperience’!
At this point many ask, “But what about love and happiness, are they not emotions too”? This is where we enter the territory of what could be called ‘emotional confusion’. Because we didn’t learn to be aware of our emotions and feelings, and to clearly identify the emotions that we create and feel, we failed to differentiate between feelings such as love and joy, compassion and serenity, from ‘emotion’. These feelings were labelled and seen as just ‘other emotions’. Because love and joy are our true underlying nature that leads to the tendency to believe all our emotions are just naturally occurring states of consciousness. We didn’t, and still don’t, realise that any agitation (emotion) in our consciousness is a signal that we are making a mistake (attachment/possession) and that there is something we need to change (let go of) within our self.
Emotional confusion is where we confuse a state of agitation within our consciousness with a natural state of consciousness. Common ‘emotional confusions’ include: worry is confused with care, we worry about someone because we believe to worry is to show care! But worry is fear and care is love, and fear (agitation) and love (natural state) cannot co-exist, they are at the opposite ends of a vertical spectrum. Love and fear are made of the same energy, which is the energy of our consciousness, our self, they are just a different vibration of that energy. Fear is love distorted by attachment!
We confuse excitement with happiness. But excitement is a ‘stimulated agitation’ within our consciousness, whereas true happiness is contentment and natural emanation of joy from our heart (the heart of our consciousness) into the world. Happiness is not agitation. We confuse respect with fear, passion with anger and terror with relaxation as we consume the latest horror movie.
This is why we use the words ‘love’ and ‘happiness’ a lot, but we really mean something else. It’s just that we are not aware that we mean something else because we don’t really know what these words mean! When we use the word love we usually mean attachment e.g. I love my car, I love my house etc., really means I am ‘attached’ to house and car. I love coffee, I love chocolate, usually means I am ‘dependent’ on a substance to stimulate certain physical feelings. In the movie there is usually a moment when he looks into her eyes and says, “Darling, I love you”. But what does he really mean? Often it’s with that look of longing, meaning ‘I want you’! In such moments love is confused with desire.
There is a similar absence of meaning around happiness as it is confused with acquisition, with pleasure and with relief from pain e.g. the toothache has gone I am so happy!
So it’s no wonder we are thoroughly confused about what we are actually feeling most of the time. This results in an inability to read the signals that our feelings/emotions are sending us. So how do we unconfuse our self? Well, understanding the process of feeling goes a long way. So lets explore what ‘feeling’ is, exactly?
There is a very simple definition of feeling. Feeling is perception by touch. Each of us can perceive, touch feel at three levels – the physical, mental/intellectual and spiritual.
When you touch the new dress or suit at the department store you feel the material and you perceive the quality of the material. So you feel, at a physical level, using your physical sense of touch!
You also ‘feel’ at a mental/intellectual level. When you read or hear some of these ideas you bring them into your consciousness, put them up on your mind and you perceive them, you feel them. A little voice inside says, “Yes that feels logical, I perceive the logic in that”, which is YOU using your rational ability to perceive/feel. At other times you don’t see/perceive the logic, but still that little voice said YES that feels right, that rings a bell. In this instance you are using your intuitive capacity to perceive/feel something. These are what could be called subtle feelings at the mental/intellectual level. Notice you cannot do either (perceive/feel rationally or intuitively) when you are emotional!
Our deepest capacity to ‘feel’ is at the spiritual level when you ‘pick up’ the invisible radiant energy of another. We feel their vibrations, often without seeing them or even being in the same room. We sense their mood. But the deepest level of ‘spiritual feeling’, the subtlest of feeling, is to sit quietly, withdraw all your attention from the world around you, away for your own body, quieten your mind and you will become naturally aware of your own inner peace. You are in your natural state of peace and you ‘feel’ that peace. You touch, perceive, feel your own inner peace. Hence the practice of meditation is to release the self from gross physical feelings and even more subtle feelings at a mental/intellectual level and to be in a deep state of silence and stillness. In this state you naturally feel your true underlying nature, which is cool, calm and contented.
So why don’t we choose our feelings in this way? Because we were mostly taught that feeling is a ‘noun’ and that it’s something that ‘happens to you’. But’s not, it’s a ‘verb’. It’s something that you do! But no one teaches us how to.
So let’s bring feeling and emotion together and, as we do, we notice two things.
1 You do feel your emotions, and it seems we are almost constantly feeling some kind of emotion simply because emotions are addictive! It’s an addiction that the marketing, advertising and entertainment industries use to make a lot of money!
2 You can free your self from feeling emotional i.e. you can stop creating emotion, and if you do you will notice that only then are you able to consciously ‘choose’ what you feel.
Restoring Your Choice
When you are emotional (creating and feeling emotion) you cannot ‘choose’ your feelings. For example when you bring anger into a meeting you won’t be able to generate a feeling of forgiveness when someone admits a big mistake. You won’t be able to choose to feel compassion for someone who is suffering. You won’t be able to be calm and focussed for someone who needs your calm and clarity to help them with their confusions. Why, because you remain internally busy creating and feeling your emotion of anger.
So, in summary, emotions seem to be what most of us are creating and feeling most of the time. It’s a habit. Emotions are addictive as well as exhausting. We don’t learn to see and know the difference between emotions and feelings. All emotions are forms of suffering. They are unnatural disturbances that begin within our consciousness. But because we call love and happiness emotions, which are natural, we then believe anger and fear are natural, so we won’t do anything to understand and change them. The cause of all emotions is attachment to something within our consciousness. That’s why all emotion originates within our consciousness around the perception of ‘I have lost’ or imagining ‘I am going to lose something’. We are attached to so many things, people, places etc. This is why we live in an almost perpetually emotional state of fluctuating anxieties, sorrows and angers.
Feeling is ultimately something you ‘do’ not something that happens to you. In order to be the master of your feelings you will need to become detached or non-attached within your consciousness. Only then are you internally free to discern and create the appropriate feeling towards whoever or whatever is in front of you.
To be the master of your feelings, to be able to consciously choose what you will feel, requires detachment or non-attachment. Detachment does not mean you do not care or that you avoid. In fact you cannot care fully unless you are detached. That’s why you will encounter what seems to be a paradox at the heart of most spiritual practices and wisdom paths and it’s this.
You cannot know love or ‘be loving’ unless you are detached.
Otherwise fear, sadness or anger will enter your consciousness and chase love away! This is subtle territory with many fine lines. Notice, when you do worry about someone, who are you really worried about? Worry is fear and fear always means imagined future loss. What do YOU fear losing when you worry about someone else while believing/thinking that is how to care! Answers, especially from mums and dads, on a postcard to…
Question: What is the difference between emotion and feeling? (an invitation to articulate this for your self)
Reflection: What are all the things/people you are attached to in life? What are the emotions you create and feel most in relation to each one? What emotion would you create and feel if you woke up tomorrow and they were not there?
Action: Research the meaning of ‘attachment’ and ‘detachment’ from ten writers/sources? Then write your own definitions!
By Mike George