At the Kiloby Center, we are working with new, experimental ways to relieve suffering. Many of our clients participate with us precisely because nothing else has worked. They are truly at the end of their ropes, having been in addiction or even in recovery or involved in spiritual methods for years. For this reason, we have to be inventive and really listen to how and why a client is suffering still. Often it boils down to a confusion they are experiencing in their internal world of thought/emotion/sensation. In short, they are trying to think about emotions/sensations and trying to feel thoughts.
Let’s first discuss the difference between thinking and seeing thoughts. When you only think thoughts, you often experience emotions/sensations velcroed to those thoughts. This creates suffering. Seeing thoughts is different. It’s a matter of “stepping back” and actually looking directly at the thought. Once this seeing of thoughts begins to take place, you can go deeper with the exercises below.
It’s then important to really distinguish between how thoughts, emotions and sensations are actually experienced. A thought cannot be felt. Thoughts are either words or pictures. We can’t feel them in the way we feel emotions/sensations. We can only see them come and go, just as we might see birds coming and going within our visual field. Seeing thoughts is our only option. Test this out for yourself. Look at a mental picture in your mind. That’s a thought. Make sure the picture contains content that creates emotional pain for you. Notice how it seems as if you are feeling the picture. The moment you are trying to feel a picture, you aren’t seeing it directly for what it really is. You are mediating the picture through an emotion/sensation. Now, take a different look. Notice that you can’t actually feel that picture at all. You only thought you could. You can’t feel that picture any more than you can hear a color. You can only see the picture. There may be an emotion/sensation happening at the same time as the picture, but the picture itself cannot be felt, only the emotion/sensation can. The picture can only be seen. So see the picture while feeling the emotion/sensation simultaneously. Notice the difference between seeing a thought and feeling an emotion/sensation. They are completely different ways of experiencing. Once you see this, you will likely stop trying to feel the thought. There is a kind of surrender in realizing that you can’t feel pictures and that you can only see them. Energy that was being spent feeling every picture or every set of words streaming through the mind can finally relax. Thoughts often fall away when you realize all you can do is see them.
Conversely, an emotion or sensation can only be felt. It is energy. Once we are thinking about an emotion or sensation, it is not truly being felt directly. Our attention is on the thought we are having about the emotion/sensation, not on the emotion/sensation itself. In order to feel an emotion/sensation, you can’t think about it. Once you start thinking about it, you are not paying attention to the emotion/sensation directly. You are not feeling it. Try this out for yourself. Notice a sensation arising in your body. Notice that you can only feel it. That’s all you can do. Once you notice that, it may be easier to just relax and feel it, without thoughts (i.e., without trying to think about it).
This way of looking is particular helpful for those who experience emotions/sensations as having shapes around them. Those shapes are pictures. Trying to feel into those shapes creates a kind of resistance to them. Notice that you can’t feel into the shape of an emotion or sensation. You can only see it. This creates a relaxation as you see the shape melting away. Then the pure energy can be felt directly, without the shape on it. This allows the energy itself to relax.
Once we take clients at the Center through this experiential approach, it becomes easier to rest and inquire. If you are using the inquiries on your own, take a look at how you may be confusing how thoughts, emotions, and sensations are actually experienced. Once this clears up, watch how suffering begins to dissolve much more easily into the restfulness of the present moment.