Have you ever been confused about whether or not to follow your feelings, especially when you’re in a challenging situation or have a big decision to make? If so, you’re not alone. I’ve found that one of the biggest areas of confusion I see when people start exploring the principles behind how the mind works is the area of feelings and emotionality. Have you ever been told you should “do what feels right”, or “trust your gut” or “wait until you feel inspired”? As a result of this well-meaning but ambiguous advice, people sometimes get paralyzed while waiting for “the right feeling” to come. Or they dive into analysis of their feelings, trying to discern what their feelings are telling them to do so they can use them as a basis for decision-making. In the worst cases, it can end up boiling down to a kind of “If it feels good, do it – if it feels bad, don’t” philosophy which can lead to passivity and/or victimhood.
Many people think Buddhism is a cold and unfeeling way of existing, but that is NOT what The Buddha taught – He taught we should embrace our feelings and come to know them for what they are. Once we “know” our feelings or emotional perspective we can utilize them for growth and understanding. Your feelings are an incredibly precise and accurate gauge or signal. They’re an aspect of your neurophysiology that has evolved over hundreds of thousands of years, to help you live, thrive and survive here on planet Earth. Your body has countless feedback loops and signaling systems to govern things as diverse as body temperature, hydration and pH level. Just as the fuel gauge and speedometer in your car give you precise feedback about fuel level and speed respectively, your internal ‘gauges’ give you feedback on specific and interconnected rhythms and systems that are designed to keep you running at your optimum.
In 1852, pioneering neuroscientist Hermann Helmholtz realized something extraordinary. Helmholtz realized that various processes must be occurring in the brain before a representation of an object in the outside world appears in the mind. He proposed that perception of the world was not direct, but depended on ‘unconscious inferences’. The one thing your feelings are a reflection of is your Thought-generated perceptual reality in this moment. Your car’s speedometer is an expert on one thing and one thing alone: the speed at which the wheels are turning. It can’t tell you anything about your car’s fuel level, its RPMs or the engine temperature. Your speedometer doesn’t know anything about those things. Your feelings are an expert on one thing and one thing alone: The formless power of Thought taking form in this moment.
Your feelings can’t tell you anything about your past, your future, what other people think of you or what you’re like as a person. Our feelings don’t know anything about those things. When we innocently believe our feelings are telling us about these things, we can get into trouble. And we do: we all sometimes get tricked into believing our feelings are telling us about something ‘other’ than Thought in the moment. We believe our feelings are letting us know about future events or past experiences. We believe they’re letting us know about our progress or our prospects, our relationships or our achievements. We believe they’re letting us know about future glories or indignities, about the path we’ve trodden or the road ahead.
This is what I call the ‘outside-in illusion’; the mistaken belief that we’re feeling something other than the principle of Thought taking form, moment to moment in our consciousness. So here’s a question you might find useful:
Where do you believe your feelings are coming from?
If it genuinely seems like they’re coming from anywhere other than the ebb and flow of thought in this moment, you’ve been tricked into believing in a world that doesn’t exist. And the second you wake up to that, even as a possibility, you’re on your way back to your reality. So if you’re not using feelings as the primary guide when making decisions, how do you know what to do? Here’s the thing: you actually make thousands of decisions each day, without even thinking about them consciously. Most of the time, your decisions are taken effortlessly as you respond to the moment. The times when that doesn’t happen is when we’re caught up in the outside-in misunderstanding. And the moment we wake up from that misunderstanding, we know what to do.
The moment you insightfully realize that you’re living in the feeling of “thought in the moment,” and not what you’ve been thinking about, you’ll wake up in the here and now. And you’re optimized for the here and now. This is where you thrive. Right here. Right now.
Peace and Love, Jim