What About Feelings?

image by RH Miller

by Joan Tollifson

What happens when we feel a deep wave of something we don’t like—maybe sadness or anxiety, depression or despair, loneliness or a vague sense of doom? Does the thinking mind immediately get to work telling a story—what this feeling means about me, what a lost cause I am, or what this feeling means about life, that life is scary or dangerous or disappointing or untrustworthy or whatever, or what I should do about this apparent problem, and so on? Do we begin immediately thinking and story-telling and problem-solving (or more accurately, problem-constructing)? Do we start trying to get away from this unwanted feeling? Turning on the TV, picking up a book, checking our email, lighting a cigarette, eating ice cream, getting busy on our iPhone, running through various spiritual beliefs in our head…anything other than simply being just this moment, exactly as it is, however it is right now. We want happiness, peace, freedom, joy, enlightenment, awakening…and we think to ourselves, “This can’t be it.”

What happens if, instead of resisting this unwanted feeling or running from it or thinking about it or chasing after something we imagine would be better, we simply allow the unwanted feeling or experience to be here, just as it is? What is it actually like? I’m not suggesting we think about that question and try to come up with some conceptual answer, but rather, what happens if we’re simply present and aware, allowing the present feeling to be as it is, exploring it directly with open attention, experiencing it as pure sensation, pure energy—without a storyline, without assigning any meaning to the sensations, without labeling any of it—but simply experiencing this whole event that we’ve been calling sadness or anxiety or depression or despair or loneliness without calling it anything?

We may notice that in doing this, our sense of identity has shifted effortlessly from the character in the story (who has a reason, in the story, to be sad or anxious or depressed or lonely) to the awareness beholding the whole happening. Is this awareness that is beholding it all sad or anxious or depressed or lonely? Is awareness trapped or bound or lacking in any way? Is this awaring presence limited or defective or broken? We may notice that the whole happening that we were calling sadness or anxiety or depression or despair is not a solid thing at all—that it is actually moving, vibrating, changing, evaporating, appearing, disappearing—and that at the center of any sensation, if we go deeply into it with awareness, there is no-thing there at all—only empty space, pure presence, pure aliveness—infinite potential.

Of course, the danger in saying what I just said is that the mind may start deliberately trying to “do” this allowing with a kind of subtle expectation that this allowing should result in all the things I just described: a shift in identity, a discovery of emptiness or pure presence or infinite potential, the disappearance of the disturbing feelings, and so on. And when we have that kind of expectation or agenda in mind, then we’re not really allowing the present situation to be as it is—we’re not simply letting it be and exploring it with open curiosity—instead, we’re looking for a result, which is a form of resistance and seeking. And when we’re looking for a result, that often has a way of preventing that desired result from happening. As we often note, by seeking enlightenment, we overlook it Here / Now. So if what I described in the previous paragraph doesn’t seem to be your experience, that’s totally okay. It’s not a sign that you’re a loser or that you “don’t get it.” There’s no right or wrong result here. Simply allow your experience to be just as it is—not trying to make it be any different than exactly how it is, however that is. Let go of trying to escape or fix or improve or evaluate the situation. Be willing for that uncomfortable feeling to go on forever (it won’t, but that willingness is a wonderful surrender and a discovery that nothing needs to be different). Let go of the stories and the labels and the meanings offering up by thought. Simply be totally present with the raw experiencing itself, the bare happening of this moment. And see how that is, without expecting anything.

This is a lifelong, present-moment adventure, and each of us has a unique journey. Give up trying to be like someone else or trying to replicate someone else’s awakening. Instead, turn your full attention to Here / Now, to THIS that cannot be doubted, the actuality of THIS present experiencing and THIS awaring presence—the living reality of THIS moment, however it is. Whatever shows up here—whether it is depression or bliss, calmness or agitation, dull or bright, pleasant or unpleasant—whatever shape this present moment takes, whatever coloring it has, THIS (right here, right now, just as it is) is the gateless gate. The secret of liberation (in every moment) is to not turn away, but instead, to accept the invitation. To surrender. To open. To be just this moment, without separation, without standing back, without resisting. The separation is never really there, of course—it’s always an imagination. We are never really lost or in the situations we believe we are in.

In fact, “my life situation” or “the world situation” is always an abstract mental construction, an imagination, involving memory and thought and conceptualization and storyline…as is the “me” who seems to be “in” the situation. We discover this for ourselves by shifting our attention from the story (“me” and “the situation”) to the bare actuality of this moment (sensing, perceiving, awaring, being). In that direct experiencing—that awaring presence—we find no separation, no division, no conflict, no problem. Instead, there is fluidity, spaciousness, aliveness, openness, present-ness—and yes, surprise of surprises, we may even find that there is freedom, joy, love, happiness, peace right here at the very heart of this present moment. Everything we’ve been seeking “out there” turns out to be the very nature of Here / Now. And everything that appears Here / Now is the gateless gate to that discovery.

This article was first posted on Facebook.

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