The Difference Between Feelings & Feelings of Emotions

Question: When I get into an argument with my husband, I always get caught up in my feelings and end up saying things I don’t really mean. Then, this makes me feel guilty and I sulk for a few days because I feel so bad. During these times, I just want to make things right. How can I keep from getting too much in my feelings and having these outbursts?

Michael Richardson-Borne: Two ways.

First, you can begin to get more familiar with the contents of your mind. You can take the time to notice that the nature of your mind is one composed of stories. You can take the time to discover who you are and who you think you are have yet to be differentiated. One is a conglomeration of stories, the other reveals the limited nature of these stories. After you know the limited nature of your mind and its collection of stories, you can begin to get more familiar with the layers and individual components that make up your story. The more familiar you get with this story, the better you will be able to understand what you are attached to and therefore what you are fearful of and defending when you have your outbursts. By knowing your story, you are less vulnerable to reacting when the moment feels intense.

Just remember that knowing your story is a short term fix that will leave you less reactionary but still suffering and feeling the lingering pain of separation. If you truly want to solve the suffering that causes your outbursts, you’ll have to remember Non-separation – which leads us to the second way.

So second, you can control these outbursts by not trying to control them. The trying just leaves you convinced that you are an autonomous person when, in reality, you are under the illusion of a separate self locked in a world distracted by change – in your case a change of behavior. Individuals are obsessed with change – the apparent shifting this way and that is a convenient hocus pocus that stabilizes the belief in separation.

But who you truly are is not worried about changing anything having to do with an individual’s behavior and, oddly enough, surrendering to this lack of worry, surrendering to that which is impersonal, is the only way to change the behavior. I know this sounds counterintuitive, but cracking the code to why I’m saying what I’m saying is the key to solving your problem. By seeing your outbursts for what they are, coming to understand how they are lived into being, you can transcend them – eradicate them rather than pretend control. This takes being consciously lived as an impersonal expression of what I call Non-separation.

Also, I noticed you used the word feelings instead of emotions. Most people in our culture use these words interchangeably. So let’s take a closer look and gain more clarity.

So what is a feeling? A feeling is the immediate shock of separation felt by the foundational assumption you are living as – a separate self that has an independent “I-am-ness.” Feelings arise from the surprise immediacy present when the story of a separate beingness is felt in your awareness. This separation places you in a world that continually reinforces the perceived space between you and other dream figures rather than in one that feels the solidity that infuses the thrust of stillness, Non-separation. The belief in a separate self allows you to lie about life and to live in an unknown place full of objects – it confuses you about your contact with otherness. You feel the immediate spark of separation with every interaction. This is why relationship is so important to you – it causes feelings that are dumbfounding, episodic pinches that disturb your mind. They are telling you something, but you don’t comprehend. You don’t know the foundational assumption your life is built upon, the belief in a separate self, and hence your feelings remain the mysterious cause of all your suffering.

The aftershock of this initial pulse of individual feeling is what I call an emotion. An emotion is the interpretation of what this feeling of separation is according to the mind. Emotions are just as mental as any kind of intellectual pursuit. They are stories. Emotions are not just “feelings in the body,” far from it. Emotions are objects in your mind that have been attached to the object feeling your illusion of separateness. They are the interplay of the original division from your true being with the collection of stories that you believe make up who you truly are.

And it’s these objects in the mind that lead to a second set of feelings which are what I call the “feelings of emotions.” It’s at the level of feelings of emotions that most people think of when they talk about the experience of being stuck “in their feelings.”

So, first, there are feelings at the level of the “I am” from the initial twinge of separateness. Then there are unconscious mental interpretations of that feeling where more stories are added to this near neutral pulse. These are your emotions. Last, come the conscious feelings of your body and mind, your feelings of emotions. You bundle this process up without knowing it and make it a foggy experience you call “feelings” or “emotions” – which is how a vast majority of people experience their feelings and emotions in the culture of separation.

But there is a deeper experience available to you. You can move underneath the feelings of emotions. You can move underneath emotions and the original feeling of separativeness. You can do this by moving into the experience of what I call “the impersonal.” There are two types of impersonal experience. One is the impersonal without the personal. The other is the impersonal that includes the personal. The former can be found in spiritual teachers or detached spiritual types you have seen that seem overly stoic and checked out from the overall pulse of global affairs. The latter is Non-separation where the depth of feelings, emotions, and feelings of emotions is felt in and as the total context. The full range of feelings and emotions is felt, even the writhing, while being lived as the peacefulness of the movement of Non-separation.

Q: My daughter has a book at home about emotions – it teaches her how to better recognize her emotions. But, now that I hear you speak, maybe this book is inadequate. How would I teach what you just said to my daughter? She’s only ten – is there any way to begin teaching her this way of thinking about emotions to her now?

MR-B: Yes. But it’s nothing that you will be able to teach her intellectually from a book. You must actually become what I just pointed out – you must be lived by the realization. From here, you will understand that she needs you more than a separate person reading her a book that teaches her the separative ways of the world. Children’s books are designed from a perspective of separation unknowingly passing on the necessary memes to nourish future generations to believe in separation. It’s a ghoulish industry that is believed to be all warm and fuzzy. These books could just as easily arise in a context of Non-separation, helping children be held as they grow into remembering that the separate self happened to them and that they’ve always already been welcomed and loved as that which has always been.

What I am pointing out is not solely a way of thinking, it’s a way of being that includes the thinking. Just as I stated that the impersonal includes the personal, this impersonal way of being includes the personal thinking. You are free to notice in this moment, right now, that there is an observer of your thoughts. Just as I am an object in your external field right now, your thoughts are objects in your internal field. So notice how what is observing your external field is also observing your internal field. This observer is the seat of the initial shock of feelings we just discussed.

But remember, this observer should be held lightly as the truth – as lightly as Santa Claus, Leprechauns or the Easter Bunny are held as truth in your current experience. Why? Because it is still necessary for you to locate why these myths are the myths of a myth. You must question the observer and seek what is living the observer.

Not knowing this observer or being able to question the observer leaves the adult world incapable of teaching our children who they truly are or what relationship truly is. They leave our children hanging out to dry, not knowing what feelings and emotions are and who it is that is experiencing these emotions. This means, relationally, we are still nascent at worst, adolescent at best – and accelerating into a future that will remain exactly the same. Take an honest look at the “adult world,” the world of politics, the world of business, the world of marriage, family and partnerships – and tell me with a straight face that we have graduated beyond an adolescent way of relating to one another. We still relate to one another from the surface, in a way that can never truly touch, where the depth of our offerings to one another are mere “feelings of emotions.”

Getting to the relational quality of the original feelings before emotions is the beginning of discovering who you are. To do this, you must question the experience of your autonomous responses to objects outside of yourself and grow into the space where you can truly “be there” for your daughter. Otherwise, you are a ghost in her field that’s teaching her how to be a ghost – and feeding her a story about both of you that she can make her own and carry with her into a culture of separation that is sure to result in the suffering you’re desiring not to replicate in her life.

Q: Buckminster Fuller said, “Our children and our grandchildren are our elders in universe time.” So I guess, according to this, my daughter is already more emotionally intelligent than I am.

MR-B: Children are no more or less emotionally intelligent than their elders. They are resting in the exact same place, the belief in a separate self – each are at the same depth and neither make it beyond the surface of emotions and the feelings of emotions. These emotions and feelings of emotions may become more seasoned, but they are still the same at their core. There is not much difference if you use old paint or new paint to color a white wall.

Fuller was focused on the external world and the rate of technological change – and how children live in a “more advanced” iteration of the culture of separation. They live in a world of technologies that you don’t relate to in the same way – and some that will exist in their futures but not yours. He is pointing out how you and your daughter are separate individuals that live in separate worlds – that your daughter lives in a more youthful translation of the experience of separation. This difference is interpreted as the younger being more advanced in “universe time,” when in actuality, universe time or not, both of your experiences are exactly the same with different external characteristics believed to be more important than what is underlying them – the remembrance of Non-separation. As Non-separation, there are no elders in either direction.

All that being said, there’s an emotional quality to children that is more innocent and open than that of adults. A term I am remembering from Zen Buddhism, I think, that describes this is something called “beginners mind.” It’s a return to the mind of a child – the openness and wonder before all of the woulds, coulds, and shoulds were foisted upon you.

The concept of beginner’s mind is described in the Zen tradition with a great story called “the overflowing teacup.” In the story, the Zen master begins pouring the student a cup of tea. As it reaches the brim, the master keeps pouring so that the tea over-runs the cup and leaks onto the student. When this happens, the student yells, “Master, there is no more room in the cup!” The master responds: “Exactly.” And in that moment, the student sees that there is no space in which the master can pour his wisdom. His cup is already over-flowing with his own thoughts, assumptions, and projections. He, then, knows he needs to empty his cup, to fall back into his beginner’s mind before he will have a chance to hear what the master is truly telling him.

This is why adults can’t drop the bullshit and begin exploring their depths – their cups are already full with the way things are and the way things are supposed to be. There is no room to place anything else in or to challenge what is already in the cup. This leaves the culture of separation in a position where the best it can claim is: “Our children and grandchildren can potentially become our elders in universe time if it is they who collectively remember, and become living invitations of, Non-separation.”

Q: That actually makes sense to me. Especially when I think about the vast majority of relationships I’ve had and known about. I often think about my daughter growing up on this planet and it’s scary. When it comes to her emotional well being, how do I protect her from a world filled with so much pain and negativity?

MR-B: You worry about her well being while not asking yourself if you know what emotional well being is. Would you know it if you saw it in her? What would it look like, feel like?

Q: Now that you ask, the only thing I can think of is truly feeling happy – smiling, laughing, enjoying life.

MR-B: Right. So you are worried about your daughter being happy, not her emotional well being. If you get to the bottom of your thinking, you will find that your current definition of happy is “to not be touched by negative feelings,” on the level of feelings of emotions.

But there is only one way not to be touched by emotions, which is to be fully touched by emotions, the hope you seem to have for your daughter. And that way is by holding a space that allows her to relax in an environment that relates to her non-separatively as she is lived into the journey of remembering who she truly is as an expression of Non-separation.