“You need to become fully conscious of your emotions and be able to feel them
before you can feel that which lies beyond them.”
― Eckhart Tolle
Lincoln Stoller, PhD, 2020. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) www.mindstrengthbalance.com
We are designed to be reasonable. It seems that everything that anyone says either tries to be reasonable or tries to show the unreasonableness in something else. Academic studies are all reasonable, representational art mixes reason with impression, and modern art attempts to provide different reasons. This presumption that reality is reasonable is a mind-box. We might be more critical of it if we knew how limiting it was.
I can think of three alternatives to reason-based reality—two that are human and one that is not. The human alternatives are feeling and impression. The nonhuman one is reflex, physical law, or some other interaction that doesn’t require consciousness. To what extent do we consider these alternatives?
I would say that physical law is the domain of science. It presumes to be reasonable, but reason is something that we add to it. The foundations of physical law are not reasonable—they just are. From them we build a theory to be tested against observation, but what is has the last word regardless of whether or not we can make any sense of it.
Our notion of what’s reasonable is shortsighted, and I’ll mention this in passing. I won’t go into it, but it’s worth stating that, to the best of our knowledge, reality is not reasonable, it’s recursive. It is this recursive property that throws a bone in the works and gives us Russell’s Antinomy, Gӧdel’s Theorem, and the Halting Problem, all of which tell us that reasonable theories are fundamentally circular. I don’t know how to add this into the current discussion, so I’ll stick with our normal, flawed notion of the reasonable, which we conceive of as a non circular series of steps that lead from cause to effect.
From our linear notion of what’s reasonable we create our objective point of view; and we’ve extended this to ourselves, viewing our identities as objects that exist. This is kind of a dead end for a host of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that we’re never sure what we’re looking at.
Feeling and Impression
Feeling and impression are more fundamental than theory and reason. Neither requires analysis in order for us to experience it; being reasonable is quite unnecessary. You might be tempted to throw all your chips in with feeling and impression but things are not that simple. It turns out that both require a measure of thinking or, to put it another way, by thinking you can change your feelings and impressions.
This is the root of the paradox: you’d like to layer things in an orderly manner, and it’s natural to put one’s impressions at the bottom and then put what you feel about them as your next level of experience. After that, we’re tempted to say that thinking arrives, at which point we start throwing concepts around. You can believe this if you want, but it’s not the way we work.
You have to perceive to have experience, as your perceptions exist in your mind. You have to think in order to feel. This applies to emotions but not to reflexes, so we must distinguish the two.
We make your lower leg move with the knee-jerk reflex, the patellar reflex, and you don’t need to be conscious for this to work. We can make a severed frog’s leg jump with an electric current, and it doesn’t even have to be alive. But we can’t create an emotion in your conscious mind unless you are aware and minimally cogent.
It takes a lot of thinking to feel emotional about something. Even the simplest emotion, such as the startle reaction, requires knowing what you’re seeing. People who were blind from birth and then have their sight restored cannot make sense of what they see. For them, a movie that you and I would find to be a tear-jerker or a thriller is just a lot of colors and shapes. This is not just a “fun fact”—we can make something useful out of this.
Half of our brains are devoted to vision-related things. “Visualizing things” would be a better term, since external sight is not the issue. External sight is the province of the eye; visualizing is a mental process that operates independent of sight, and blind people “visualize” just as much as sighted people, as odd as that may sound.
Let’s take this back to the question of how you feel. Impressions are not enough to make you feel, at least not with regard to the raw perceptions. I’m also talking about the higher feelings, not the reflexive ones. You feel by visualizing, in some general sense. I’m using the term “visualize” to mean that you recreate something in your mind that you’ve experienced before. This is not a simple process!
We know or think we know that the brain “understands” by recreating experiences it’s had before. We’re pretty sure of this with regard to physical motion, as thoughts of motion involve the same neurons as the actual motions. It is likely that this extends to thoughts and emotions so that thinking about an idea or feeling activates the same neurons as were activated when you experienced those thoughts or feelings.
The first insight this affords is that the way you feel is by re-experiencing how you felt before. This may sound obvious and simple, but is anything but. The twist lies in appreciating the nuance of memory.
You don’t really remember any “thing”—you build memories on-demand to represent experiences you’ve stored away in some coded form. You may think you remember a red car on a dirt road or a friend’s face on a summer evening, but you really don’t. You remember the idea, and you recreate the images with whatever is at your disposal.
What you remember are assembled conceptual bits that are just enough to trigger your thoughts. If you’ve forgotten what kind of car it was, if you even ever knew, this won’t stop you from remembering the red car. You’ll just substitute any old car. If you’ve forgotten the details of your friend’s face, you’ll just airbrush in whatever you find in your memory.
If you were to focus with laser-like precision on that red car or your friend’s face, you will “see” what you recall is your current notion of a red car, or what you now think your friend’s face looked like then, and you will paste these into your construction of the dirt road or the summer evening. And this is just fine because it’s sufficient. How often is your faulty memory ever tested, and so what if you and your friend’s memories don’t exactly agree? In fact, they never do and we never really care!
This is all cute and interesting. I think it’s obvious but it’s rarely mentioned. We confront this in dreams every time we find ourselves holding a newspaper but cannot read anything that’s written on it. Or in a dream when we’re holding a telephone but cannot see the numbers or cannot recall what we’re supposed to dial.
The important point that’s overlooked is that we really don’t have memories per se; we have collected bits and pieces that we reassemble like decoupage when we’re asked to describe past events.
The Missing Bits
The reason this is important is that some of us are missing certain bits. We lack certain pieces that are essential for the reconstruction of certain feelings. It is as if we’re lacking Lego pieces that are crucial for the construction of certain models. And the reason we’re missing these pieces is that they are disturbing. They are like matches or firecrackers—we either lock them away or we dispose of them entirely.
And so it is that some of us, perhaps all of us, cannot feel things that others feel, or we cannot feel them in the same way. Why is it that some people are triggered so much more intensely than others? Why do some people flip out entirely when triggered by things that you think are minor? And why are some people so lacking in affect that they just can’t love at all?
Here is the crux of the matter: there is much that you are missing. There is much more that you could feel. How do you feel? By exploring the depth and breadth of your emotional repertoire. Can you expand your emotional repertoire? Yes, you can. Do you wonder why you have not yet reached the golden ring of life’s contentment? This is why: you have not known it or you cannot recreate it.
I need to go one more step to make you see. We all have buried certain pains and frustrations, states of sorrow or anguish from our childhood that brought us to despair. These may have been so extreme that we’ve forgotten them entirely, or they may have been only extreme enough for us to forget parts of them—the sharpest edges, as it were.
But these bits and edges, like sharp pieces of colored glass, are essential in the reconstruction of the full stained-glass windows of our emotions. Without them we’re painting in soft earth tones and cannot recreate the blooms and bright sunrise.
You may be able to recover, uncover, or release these if the strongholds of your personality are willing to let them go free. This is the fundamental question of your transformation: are you ready for it? This is not a rational question because its answer is not to be given by your rational mind. The forgotten pieces are guarded by autonomous, subconscious aspects of yourself that will do what they think is right, regardless of what you want.
Psychotherapeutic methods such as rational emotive therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, psychoanalysis, and other forms of talk therapy cannot make progress with those aspects of your personality that neither speak nor listen to you. These are effectively other personalities which, in many cases, have been shut out of the conversation or have set up shop outside your consciousness. It is because of them and your separation from them that you find yourself going around in circles, looking for a path you cannot find and a doorway that doesn’t exist.
There are paths forward and there are doors, but they are in other dimensions. Here are four ways that you can find them.
Crisis: the most common way.
Reason: a long and repetitive road, like digging out of prison with a spoon.
Hypnosis: a direct jump into another dimension.
Psychedelics: the human cannonball approach to opening the doors of perception.