Sometimes in the The Three Principles field, or in spiritual circles, I’ll hear some confusion about what is meant by “feelings”, and 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.
This is my initial attempt to bring some clarity to the concepts, as well as spark some understanding and who knows, potential insight, into what we mean when we say “feelings”. I’m using the word “understanding” as it’s used in these fields to mean seeing for oneself the truth of these very deep truths the teachers and sages are pointing us to, or a life coach is facilitating the insight into, so we can get a “grounding” in the understanding (of our “true nature” for example – another way of expressing the search for truth and happiness).
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 (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).
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 when, in the Three Principles Field, by “feelings” (and in non-duality and other spiritual circles, since there is an overlap i those fields, and that is also where I’ve become familiar with other’s interest in feelings, 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 pointing to the fact that it’s an experience, not an intellectual understanding.
Then, 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 the 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.
One of the bits of wisdom the field has helped to spread is that feelings can be a guide, 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
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.’