One stumbling block for many people along the spiritual path is the confusion between feelings and emotions. It can be very helpful to understand the difference between the two, in order to gain greater clarity about what emotional experiences you want to empower in your life.
Feelings Versus Emotions
Feelings occur as actual sensations in the body or energy field, whereas emotions are what happen once we assign a conceptual label to the feeling. Oftentimes, pain or sadness can be felt as an aching or dull sensation in the body, while fear, anger, or jealousy can be felt as a rush of energy moving up the body. When you remove the labels of “pain, heaviness, sadness, fear, or anger,” however, these experiences remain neutral, and simply exist as sensations being experienced within you. It is only once the mind attaches a concept to what you are feeling that it begins to take the form of an emotional reaction. If you remain neutral to what you are feeling, just observing whatever is happening in your body or energy field, emotional reactivity does not exist.
The Paradox of Emotions
Ironically, it is emotional reactivity that actually prevents a person from deeply feeling what is going on inside. Emotions act as a buffer between a person and their direct experience, with the ego attempting to protect the psyche through emotional reactivity. Anger, for instance, always arises in response to feeling either sadness, fear, or pain. The ego defense mechanism of anger gets activated almost automatically in a moment of vulnerability, preventing a person from feeling the underlying pain or sadness. Throughout the history of humanity, this ego mechanism has served the function of ensuring the survival of the individual. A hunter or warrior pausing to feel sadness or pain would undoubtedly leave themselves vulnerable to attack from a predator or an enemy. It is quite common to see people become angry with one another (usually unconsciously) in order to push the other person away, so that their true feelings of pain or sadness will not be exposed. However, this ego mechanism is now threatening the survival of our planet, as many people are still unable to feel their connection between other forms of life. As the ego gets dissolved through meditation and mindful awareness practices, then greater empathy emerges. Investigate how emotional reactivity within you may be preventing you from experiencing the underlying feelings.
Dropping Judgements of Feelings
It is also helpful to let go of the idea of “positive” and “negative” feelings. Feelings are purely sensation, and are always neutral until assigned meaning by the mind. I have found that sadness and grief, for instance, sometimes feel very healthy, and are necessary to experience from time to time in order to maintain balance within my life. Sadness felt at the loss of a loved one or the ending of a relationship is a natural part of the cycles of life. As we learn to stay present with our feelings, these experiences add to the richness and depth that we feel in our lives. It is only once the mind interprets these feeling as negative that it causes suffering. When the pain of sadness turns to anger, jealousy, resentment, anxiety, or depression, does it then cause suffering for you and others around you. And the only way that the pain of sadness could turn into a negative emotion is if you label it as a negative experience, and then react against it. Instead, choose to remain neutral and in a state of complete acceptance of what you are feeling. Over time, this will dissolve emotional patterns of the ego.
The Benefit of Dropping Emotional Reactivity
When you don’t allow yourself to feel what is going on within you, but instead allow the ego to continue repressing your feelings through emotional reactivity, you are keeping yourself in an emotional prison. And over time this self-repression manifests as a sense of numbness, anxiety, depression, or feeling generally disconnected from life around you. This has profound implications in one’s life, because it is through our feelings that we are able to receive the energy of others, and to have the awareness to express our energy consciously to life around us. When the ego covers over our feelings, we lose our connection to life around us, allowing a person to do tremendously harmful and painful things to other forms of life.
Dissolving Emotional Reactivity
Creating space between what you are feeling, and your thoughts and reactions about what you are feeling (emotions), begins the process of becoming free from emotional reactivity. This will begin dissolving the unconscious patterns of creating emotional states that cause suffering for yourself and others. Coming back to your breath or to your spiritual heart will harmonize your energy back to a peaceful state. As you master non-reaction, you will notice that drama and conflict dissolve from your life. In the absence of negative emotional reactivity, the experience of creating emotions becomes a conscious practice, where you allow for positive emotions to be created through you, while no longer fueling negative emotions with your energy.