Lighten Up: Emotions

Boys playing in water.

Exploring your emotional body. What are emotions?

Are they inevitable? Where do they come from? How important are they? Do they belong to you?

I’m skeptical when it comes to methods that will help people become enlightened. I think those of us who are awake and choose to speak publicly about that state of being—how (if one can even say how) that happened, the adjustment period, what we see and experience currently from that state—need to be as plain as possible when it comes to what caused the awakening.

When we look at people and tell them what is plainly obvious to us (that they are looking in the wrong place, looking in the wrong way, that their spiritual practices are not the point) it can seem like we are implying we know how to become enlightened, or we know how another person can become enlightened.

If you’ve read enough of this site, you might tire of hearing this once again, but I’m going to say it anyway, and I would invite others who are fully and permanently awake to say it more often: I don’t know. There are a lot of things we just don’t know. Or, sometimes we know them, but not in a way that can be communicated. We know them directly and immediately, but the understanding is so far beyond language. Some things you have to know directly and for yourself. They cannot be communicated or put into a reference manual. They are beyond any hope of communication, and when we attempt it, well…just look at all the confusing stuff out there.

So, with this caveat in mind, I will write about things that I discovered or experienced before awakening that may or may not be of any use. I know…I’m not a natural salesperson!

Today I’d like to begin to address emotions. One thing that happened when I awoke is that my heart emptied out. That sounds terrible, doesn’t it? As if my heart became hollow. It’s partly because the word “empty” brings up so many unpleasant feelings. And also because we’ve been led to believe that emotions are precious and what makes us human, and some people even believe that they are our prime guidance system, given to us by the Divine. We even get cute wordplay: emotion = energy in motion. Adorable! Only no one seems to know what the blast that even means. We’re told we are supposed to use our emotions to manifest stuff and charge our magic. We might try to transmute emotions through tantra or antidote them, Catholic style, through an opposite emotion.

Psychology tells us to name our feelings, know our feelings, express our feelings. We are told that some feelings are noble and others are “negative” or base. We are, in short, obsessed with our emotions.

When I woke up, I stopped experiencing emotions. My heart was empty.

That might not be what you were expecting to hear. We’ve been told that enlightenment is the pinnacle of self improvement, so that should mean that all the good and noble feelings are amplified while the base and negative feelings disappear. That sounds great! Only, that’s not what happened. All personal emotions disappeared, leaving me with an empty heart.

When the mind is silent, truly still…not for a moment but always, feelings, emotions, as such, don’t arise. There is raw energy that will rip through your body/energy field. It happens rarely, and happens in one flash, and is gone. If your mind gives no name at all to it, you don’t experience it as love or sorrow or anger. You just feel a surge of energy, which flows through you and is gone, sort of like a sneeze.

This happened when my cat was put to sleep, and it went very, very badly. She suffered in terror, and we had done all we could to ensure that would not be the case. Once the vet had left our home, and it was done, I felt a rush of energy blow through me and I cried. But I did not feel it as any kind of emotion, just energy moving powerfully through my body in a flash. The same happened when my husband died. It was a great, cold starburst. Over in a flash, and never christened. It is energy in motion. Only, when we start fondling it with our minds it turns into something else. And all kinds of industries and mythologies and beliefs are built around that.

I’m not in any way saying you should ignore how you feel. I’m not actually telling you what to do at all with your feelings. I’m telling you what my experience has been.

Before enlightenment

I had some unusual experiences prior to waking up. When I was 12 I realized that I was beginning to care about how people perceived me. It’s common for kids that age to become self conscious, and I did not want to lose my freedom and independence. So I conducted a series of experiments to demonstrate to myself that it did not matter at all what others thought of me.

Once a week, I would raid my mother’s closet to find the most hideous left overs from an unfortunate prior decade, and I would wear them in public. I was acutely aware of how people were looking at me. Then, I would come home and dress in something stylish and go out in public. I was the same person, on the same day. People reacted very differently to me. I demonstrated to myself that people were going to have all kinds of opinions about me, and that those opinions clearly had nothing to do with who I was.

The following year, I, an introvert, purposely signed up for “try outs” of every imaginable kind. I tried out for all kinds of school sports teams, chess and even, god help me, cheerleading squad. Junior high school is designed to be totally humiliating to introverts who really would rather sit under a tree and read. I knew I would fail, and quite publicly. I decided to try my very best, not just go through the motions, but really try, and fail. I wanted to show myself that I could fail in front of all my peers, and I’d still be the same person, still feel no differently about myself.

Cheerleading tryouts were rigorous and completely humiliating. It was great! I unexpectedly made the girl’s volleyball team, as well as tennis. In any case, it was another self induced demonstration: I could fail and not feel bad about it; I could look totally foolish and not feel in any way diminished. This is not to say I defended myself against feeling inadequate. It was more like showing myself that feeling bad or embarrassed was simply not relevant.

So, obviously I was a weird teenager, to say the least. But what I wanted to show myself is that feelings do not follow circumstances. Feeling a certain way in a given circumstance may be normal, but it isn’t necessary. Circumstances do not cause feelings, they set the stage for you to react in the common way, with anger, sadness or mortification. Or not.

Society, and by that, I am including the people close to you who love you, will feel very uneasy if you don’t feel the correct feelings at the designated times. If you don’t feel sad or angry or hurt when you experience the sanctioned triggers, you are labelled in all manner of unfavorable ways. You might be a sociopath, or more colloquially, perhaps you weren’t breast fed or maybe someone dropped you on your head as a baby. A very close friend sincerely suggested that my lack of appropriate emotions was surely due to being adopted as a baby. In other words, you’re broken.

So even before awakening, I had many experiences, too numerous to describe here, where it seemed very clear that emotions are not the obvious or mandatory outcome of certain events. After awakening, even the emotions we normally treasure, such as personal love and what we think is compassion, were gone. There was no one left to narrate and interpret my experiences, and emotions did not arise.

It might seem the world would become so flat and wretched without our colorful, bouncy emotions to punctuate our experiences. But life has taken on a vivid immediacy and richness. But it has nothing to do with me, it’s not personal. And we take our emotions so personally, so seriously and revere them with a kind of religiosity.

For a long time after awakening I could not listen to music, even classical music, which I always had loved. I couldn’t watch movies, except for action movies, I couldn’t look at art. It was all just these intense personal emotions, but instead of just being in motion, they were forced into something solid, dense, physical…unmovable. I couldn’t relate to it, and it looked sticky and unhealthy.

What would it be like if our emotional energy remained pure, moving through our emotional body in one swift burst, staying not even a moment, not even long enough to receive a name, a story, a legend?

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