Notes on “Feelings”
“The teaching is not in the words, it is in the love and understanding from which the words proceed and with which they are permeated. The words are just the packaging of the teaching. They are important but only in so far as they lead to the love and understanding from which they originate. As such, and in the hands of a skillful and sensitive teacher, a very wide variety of means and expressions will be used depending on the moment…”– Rupert Spyra
Sometimes in the The Three Principles field, or in nondual circles, I’ll hear the word “feelings” being used in many different ways, but with the assumption that we are all talking about the same thing. So it may be useful to flesh out what is being pointed to when a teacher or coach talks about them, especially in the context of being pointed to “a feeling” as guide to truth with a capital “T”.
This is my initial attempt to bring some clarity to the concepts, as well as spark some understanding and perhaps inspire some insight into and dialogue about what we mean when we say “feelings” in a context of a “spiritual”, or a non-dual, or a Three Principles understanding, or in any deep sense.
In a nutshell, the “feeling” being pointed to is the sense of transcendence, not so easy to describe, but a real experience, in the moment. It’s not thinking and it’s not emotions. It’s not feelings in the usual everyday sense of “I feel like a hamburger”, or “I feel like she let me down and I’m pissed”, or “I’m happy I got a new car.” These examples are all what are called “objective” feelings – they seem to be related to things, objects in experience, a desire being fulfilled, or an expectation not met, or any kind of reaction. The deeper feeling being pointed to by a deeper understanding is impersonal, and reflective of what does not change with time.
The transcendent feeling is important because it’s not at all emphasized in the culture or in our learning, and in fact is felt or sensed when all that “stuff” we accumulated from “outside” – thoughts and feelings from the past – are out of the way.
Typical or traditional psychology deals with the content of consciousness: thoughts and feelings. However, a spiritual understanding, non-dual “path”, or Three Principles understanding (basically a spiritual psychology, as it came to be formulated after the initial revelations nd teachings of the founder), should point one towards the context of all feeling and thinking, towards what we can call “consciousness”, which, most importantly, is not personal but rather universal and boundless.
So let’s get some definitions and clarifications out of the way…
First, a definition “understanding”: I’ll use the word “understanding” as it’s used in these fields to mean seeing for oneself the truth of the direct knowing or intelligence “from Source”, when we suddenly understand a problem’s solution, or have an insight into a situation, or about a friend or loved one, or into life as a whole, and so forth. A moment of understanding can be as tiny as it suddenly becoming obvious where you left your car keys after you’d been trying to figure it out, to as large as what Universal Intelligence is. The bigger insights are the kind of understanding that the teachers and sages are generally pointing to, or that a life coach is facilitating the insight into, for example so we can get a “grounding” in “the understanding” (of our “true nature”), but big or small understandings are all of the same nature: standing under truth.
The Feeling of Happiness is Home
The greater context of the concern with feelings is that the most global level, all beings seek happiness, and this is generally thought to be a feeling, even if we don’t acknowledge that what we are seeking is either a feeling we assume is happiness, or we seek happiness itself. For example, someone might seek to become wealthy, or decide that living in a hut with only a pot for a possession if the path to happiness. We because we believe at some level that it will make us feel loved by others, or loved by God, or free, or safe. That is a feeling, and is temporary: someone may become wealthy and have a good feeling for a while but it will pass and change. Ot their life in a hut turns out to have as many ups and downs as their life in a large house. However real happiness is not so fickle. We all seek happiness because it’s our true nature and is our “home”, and at some level we know that, consciously or unconsciously.
So humans in particular do many things they think will bring them happiness. As children, we are born knowing how to be happy, naturally. After we are children, we do try and this with knowledge from the culture that is learned: various formulas for seeking happiness outside ourselves, through relationships (including with ourselves, such as who we think we are: our identity in the world), situations, or things. Ultimately we want a good feeling in life, and ideally, a good feeling that lasts, is more or less a permanent home we abide in, and not just an occasional guest in our house. So it certainly seems important that we look at what feelings are, especially in a field like The Three Principles Psychology, or if one is a spiritual teacher or student, since almost everyone comes to them in order to feel better, even if happiness is sought indirectly via “enlightenment” or self-realization, or just self-improvement.
It’s also important to see when wanting something is driven by fear or desire. Desire is a sense of wanting, felt in the body, that can drive thinking, and whose source is the sense or belief to be a separate entity, a person. Fear and desire can play out in all kinds of ways – the whole human comedy or tragedy – but the key thing is that there is no freedom in being controlled by feelings or thoughts. Something that is not conscious is like a robot, and it will do what it does automatically, mechanically, repeatedly. As a person, we have no control. There is only one will, the will of freedom: in contrast a separate entity will be determined by the endless chain of cause and effect that appear to exist in time and space.
There is no lack, no wanting, no sense of desiring and fearing in a state of true happiness. And again, it is not a state – we lack words for this reality of what we are, ever-present, all-encompassing, impersonal freedom – it is reality. But it gets covered up from learning and life experience, and the repeated thinking. But once you are tired of that and desire peace and freedom more than derivative love and pleasures, ways are sought – some direct, some more indirect – to get back Home.
Ultimately, true happiness is not a state. A state is referring to something that changes: a local, or personal, conditional state of affairs. Since we are talking about spirituality and psychology, and one that points people away from circumstances.
Feelings as Barometers of State of Mind
And as many practitioners point out, feelings are an indicator of what’s going on in terms of our thinking and state of mind, or level of understanding of ourselves and reality. If we have a true understanding, we will by nature feel better, and conversely, if our understanding of life is very low, our feelings will reflect that.
One of the bits of wisdom the field has helped to spread is that feelings can be a guide to the quality of our thinking, much like the dashboard on a car. Here is a quote from an early Three Principles book (from 1997 when it was called “Health Realization”):
‘Just as the warning lights on the dashboard of your car alert you to potential danger, your negative feelings alert you that your thinking is no longer serving you. Without your feelings to alert you that a problem is lurking, you’d have no way to determine when you have drifted off course.
If you constantly label your negative feelings – for example, “I’m angry” – instead of simply noticing “I’m uncomfortable,” you keep the negative feeling alive in your thinking, increasing the degree to which you are caught up and concerned about how you are feeling. Your thinking becomes a spiral whereby the more analytical you become about how you are feeling, the more trapped you will become.
The act of noticing uncomfortable feelings — seeing them as a warning flag — reminds you that you are thinking; it wakes you up. This simple act clears your mind and points you back in the direction of your healthy thought process.’
– “Slowing Down To The Speed of Life” by Richard Carlson And Joseph Bailey
On Thoughts and Feelings
People in the Three Principles field, by way of responding to question about how to “Get it” – the understanding – very often say “It’s in the feeling”.
One of the key ideas that is prevalent in the Three Principles field is the direct and inseparable link between thoughts and feelings. This useful insight plays out in several forms. So for example a recent thread on FaceBook (in the “What The F*#$ Are The Principles?” group):
Claire: we all have wisdom, we all feel called to help others as coach or otherwise and if we speak from ‘our heart’ (metaphor) we’re doing the best we can! So we can forget about specific words, and just go out and love people and say what occurs to us!
Julie: It’s truly in the feeling.
Pam: I find when I speak from a feeling, what I am trying to say is heard. I’m not a coach, but I do want to share what I have seen.
Amir: This is as simple as it gets
Eric: Sounds like you got it.
Only thing that comes to mind is how Sydney Banks would say Thought is like the rudder steering us through life. So surely it’s a tool guided either by either reaction or wisdom. More metaphors…
Michael: Well said
Eric: Thanks. I’m just the rudder…
Michael: Eric, So funny, I meant for that to be to Claire. Looks like your rudder is off.
Words are funny! My take on that is that the rudder (thought) is the animating force behind our experience of life. fair?
Eric: *Your* rudder is off lol – you were replying to my comment, not the main thread. 🙂 Though you can count on my rudder being at least partially off a fair amount of time. 😉
No the animating force is universal intelligence or “energy”. The rudder is just a creation, movable and changeable, part of the movie. But we can’t see it normally because we think we *are* the rudder (and the boat)…
Michael: Damn rudders. I was using animating force as that which enables how we see it in the moment (thought/rudder) not that which animates or gives life. AKA universal energy.
A later question and answer chat:
Hey Eric, you mentioned thought as the rudder. In your study of non duality is there a differentiation between thought and feeling.
Hi Michael – Let’s see, I suppose one should first differentiate between a non-dual understanding and the path to get there. The “direct path” is what I’ve been around, or am at, and this takes as a *starting point* the fact of awareness as universal consciousness as what one truly is, rather than assuming there is a person to do something to get somewhere. In other words it starts at the top of the mountain rather than a winding path leading up.
The various things in the way – beliefs and tendencies we learned of unconsciousness (“ignorance” in the East) – are dissolved in the relentless pointing to It which is not an “it” (an object within awareness).
From the perspective of seeing the dynamic of thought and feeling, the non-dual teaching will sometimes as a practical matter, like the 3P, point out to the student how their thoughts will create or correlate to a feeling – feelings being ultimately just a sensation in the body – or thoughts triggered by a feeling in a feedback loop, such as giving the feelings meaning or importance (seriousness), which adds to or changes the feeling reaction. 3P teachers, especially the early ones (Health Realization days and before) in a similar vein to the direct path, but more psychologically-oriented, point to feelings as an indicator of one’s quality of thinking, thus giving one an opportunity to wake up to thinking-in-the-moment. They both point out the fact that the more unconscious one is, the more identified with thinking and feeling one is. One’s state or “level” of consciousness automatically will rise when this thinking is released. There is always a choice to react or not, and a non-reactive awareness is where we want to abide. Then we are the driver and not the driven.
From the perspective of the direct path (the pathless path), they are all just *content* – and so we ask: what is aware of the thoughts, feelings, sensations and perceptions? It’s always pointing back to who you are, absolutely: simply Being aware of being aware, which is state-free, undifferentiated, global, real, and True. So thoughts and feeling are lies in this absolute awareness: just passing, changing appearances, relative to the unchanging nature of what we are.
Some Notes On Understanding and Expression of Truth
I’m going to attempt tease these out because maybe it will help us see more clearly what’s going on. As I see it there is the understanding and there’s the expression of it. So the possible combinations of those two – understanding & expression – are:
1. High understanding and ease of expressing & communicating it.
2. High understanding and difficulty of expressing & communicating it.
3. Low understanding and ease of expressing & communicating it.
4. Low understanding and difficulty of expressing & communicating it.
Note the expressing & communicating are not necessarily the same thing: where I sit on the balcony as I write this, there are many birds singing. They are being very expressive indeed, but they are not communicating to me. The same bird species and perhaps other birds understand them at some instinctual level, but to me it’s just pretty noise, like music.*
For the purpose of this essay, to simplify things I’ll assume we are all good communicators, such that there’s not a huge practical difference between expressing and communicating (and we are all of the same species speaking the same language!). Therefore the issue at hand is, what do we really mean in the Three Principles Field and in spiritual-psychology teachings by “feelings” (and in non-duality and since there is an overlap in all these fields, and that is also where I’ve become familiar with other’s interest in understanding more deeply what feelings are, since we all want “good” ones and not “bad” ones supposedly, in our innate search for happiness) .
Let’s focus on #2 – an understanding and difficulty of expressing it – since it may be best to assume folks seem to have “it” to a degree (an understanding, and that’s whom I’m addressing), and I’m writing about how to better express it in words, how to “language it” (or try!). Why? So we can communicate, lessen confusion, and hopefully maybe even shed a little light on the matter at hand (a better understanding).
By the way, I like one definition of “understanding” a friend gave once: “standing under truth”. There you are, minding your own business, after struggling to understand something, and an insight comes from out of the blue, from above as it were, and you find yourself with a greater or better understanding.
So in terms of the understanding, what Syd meant when he said “look for a feeling”, at it’s most basic level was simply saying that what he’s pointing to is an an experience, not an intellectual understanding. It can’t be contained in words or concepts, but must be felt and understood as a whole. You come out of a meditation or a class, or after a great insight has shifted your outlook, and your perception of life has changed, and everything has a different feel to it that’s hard to pin down.
On a somewhat more temporal level, there are particular deeper feelings that could be said to be intimations, or perfumes of timeless truth: the hard-to-pin down experience of our shared universal reality: love, peace, deep joy, great beauty… very “quiet” feelings.
Then on a even more temporal level, there are more ephemeral feelings, like being “in love” that are exciting, like a drug. They are experienced in the body (which is the mind: sensations experienced in consciousness via the instrument of the body). They are a little less quiet.
And even shorter lived experiences disturbances we could call “emotions” (e-motion) like anger, lust, fear, “stress” – that have an intensity and may seem real but come and go very quickly. Also in-the-body-experience of course. And even noisier.
So to be helpful to others, it’s good to distinguish what feelings are experiences of lies, and what of truth.
For example, one friend in a Three Principles forum gave the example of a violent sociopath who (he claims) gets a good feeling from killing someone – a sense of glee perhaps. Do you want to say “follow your feelings”? No – in that case it would be immoral or lead to bad behavior. So it can be important to distinguish what we mean by “feelings”, on a practical as well as to make sure we are communicating.
Bondage is following feelings that are lies – not reflective what you truly are – and freedom is being lived according to true feelings, and experience that can’t be described, only “felt” as a whole.
It can be difficult to talk about or convey some of these deeper feelings: poets and mystics have been taking shots at the moon for thousands of years, and there’s never an end to the attempt to express. These feelings are not rational: they are of a non-linear reality that we are trying to package in a linear fashion via a string of sounds, or in the case of writing, some little strings of symbols that represent sounds, and by some amazing magic, these sounds in the mind are turned into, exploded into, birthed with meaning. These little marks on paper or on a screen are what a reader makes sounds in their heads with, that hopefully spark something for them (an insight, an experience, an understanding).
“If the only thing people learned was not to be afraid of their experience, that alone would change the world.” – Sydney Banks
I’ve also heard Syd on a tape say “Don’t be a afraid of feelings. Now, I don’t mean going around proving you have feelings…”
The way I read this was, “How can you dissolve these feelings if you aren’t even aware of them? How can you reveal deeper, better feelings if you are clouded by uncomfortable ones you don’t acknowledge, or that are unconscious, that are running you, that you are letting yourself be controlled by? I’m not saying change your behavior: rather, look within.” For example, I was using substances for years to try and control, reduce uncomfortable feelings like anxiety or depression. But those feelings were covers for deeper feelings that were evidence of deeply held beliefs that were untrue (for example that I was a separate and limited entity, a body that was going to die). How could I uncover, unmask the feelings and see what truth they were hiding if I was running scared from them? Like monsters that are just mirages: sensations in the body and thoughts, all of which are in the mind. And what is this “mind”? A set of activities, movement, that another thought comes in as labels as “me”, then takes seriously. That’s what gets us in trouble.
Are these feelings “rational”? For example are any of these “levels” of feelings good guides to action (in the present, or to gauge what someone has done in the past, or to decide on a future action)?
There are better words than irrational. “Irrational” can be a pejorative term, for example, an “irrational fear”, or someone is acting hysterical or irrational. We could say “un-rational”, “un-rational” or “para-rational”. Take your pick.
Here’s what I posted to a Three Principles FaceBook group recently, as an example of a feeling-as-experience:
‘This is something I’ve seen lately, but am not used to ‘hanging out with’: that spiritual truth, love, beauty…. are irrational. But in a good way. 🙂
For example, lately the focus-point if you will, has to do with the will, doer-ship, personal will, decision, choice, however you want to say it. And yes, as I was discussing with my spiritual friend yesterday, it’s paradoxical. The mind just can’t get around it, has to give up at some point.
The experience of “being lived”, as some have said it (Wei Wu Wei, Byron Katie are the one’s I’ve heard lately) happens in the moment, for example in “being of service”, or “being in love” (happens several times a week for me) and we can think about it later, conceptualize it, but it’s like the empty shell, the mold from which the sculpture emerged, or the cocoon leftover, but the butterfly lives and flies free.’
* This is true even though I “know” intellectually, that naturalists say the birds are using song to carve out and maintain their territories, sometimes I wonder if they are also expressing joy of being, since I may get an immediate impression of that when I feel there is no difference between “me” – when “I” disappear – and the bird singing. This is the difference between intuitive knowledge and intellectual, stored knowledge. Which is right? Depends on your perspective and purpose.
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