The natural state is intrinsic to every instant, arising in every moment whether we notice or not. So also is the self that creates separation from fully knowing the natural state. One of the forms of that arising is the natural state disguised as feeling, an endless changing river of emotion to which we have endless reactions. Most likely we don’t notice every nuance of that current, every dancing eddy of response as it arises, because we are busy with what happened in the last moment or the next moment instead of being with what is happening now. We can also ignore, suppress or bury ourselves in a thousand ways of not paying attention to what is arising in this moment. Dull awareness is easy. True clarity is more difficult.
Ironically, the more we become attached to a single feeling or even to a more complex set of feelings, the more this attachment becomes a distraction, diverting our attention from the amazing diversity of the inner process, a kaleidoscope of noticing, responding and labeling everything that comes our way. Surely you have noticed your capacity to endlessly examine particular emotional states, going off on complicated conceptual journeys about them? In so doing, we remove ourselves from what is happening right now.
And even more ironic is the tendency to divorce ourselves from emotions that are not convenient, that are unacceptable, overwhelming or even merely unexpected. As if we cannot be bothered. In more intense moments, we are acutely aware of feeling in great depth, intensity and variety; more so than in routine moments. But regardless of whether that depth is accessible, it is always present. It may not always be so evident or part of our immediate awareness, but if we focus our attention on the body and the flow of feeling in a more deliberate way, we would notice that a continuous flow of feeling is always present under the surface of everyday life.
Reification narrows our full experience and fixes our attention on a few feelings in any given moment or, if done consistently, a small handful of dominant feelings that then take on the power to run our lives and relationships, directing and progressively limiting our actions and expression, the variety of people we associate with, even where our attention is going at any given moment.
The more we immerse ourselves in feeling, the more we are able to notice. Most importantly, our practice also builds our capacity to reflect on what we are doing with feelings as they arise. The spontaneous arising and dissolution of feeling, without any need to reify or attach our selves or any beliefs whatsoever to any of it, to examine, catalog and store for future reference, is described as an aspect of the natural state. To arrive at this capacity is what brings us more deeply into all that is in the present moment.
To release feelings, allowing them to come and go freely, is an acceptance of the true nature of our humanity in the fullest sense. The subtlety of that letting go, however, is to recognize when we are actually denying experience as opposed to accepting and not being hooked by it. Resolving and letting go is not a denial of being human.
The path to liberation is not to free ourselves from feeling; quite the opposite. We are freeing ourselves to feel more, but to attach less, to identify with our feelings less, to reify less and to release more. The release into the true depth of feeling is a release from the characteristics of our personalities, our histories, our identities to which we cling constantly, relentlessly and habitually, so much so that we are completely unaware of the degree and consistency of our attachment to the separate Self we believe we know, the Self which is our only reference point for reality.
Feeling is the gift of being human. From the absolute view, all feeling is positive. Even feelings that we label negative, the most difficult feelings of all, are all regarded equally: they are all positive. From the view of liberation, the occurrence of feeling is constant, unlimited and unwavering, one feeling flowing and dissolving into another and another, all a completely insubstantial display, seemingly random in variety and in intensity which, if viewed independently of acquired habit and bias, arises from nothing.
Some of it has to do with our personalities, our personal histories and the relationships of the moment. But the degree to which we attach ourselves to feelings is what defines the limits of our lives, the differences by which we identify ourselves and others, a limitation of our capacity to fully experience and express the impulse toward generosity and selflessness, the bodhicitta motivation.
Our teachers ask us to make a distinction between healing practices that address our feelings, personalities, our unique challenges in working through our personal version of the obscurations from the natural state, and those practices that are associated with liberation. And yet, all of the work we do with feelings, all of our investigation and release is part of accessing the true depth, the constant flow of feeling that is occurring. The opportunity to experience every instant of its variety and intensity from a joyous and profound perspective is something much bigger than the isolated self.
Stabilizing in the intrinsic clarity of mind, mind essence, is a signpost of liberation. Resting in clarity of mind, however, is not a denial or avoidance of feeling at all. It is a change in our relationship to feelings of the body from an isolated and personal perspective to a more connected and universal view. We are no longer adherent to particular feelings, but able simultaneously to joyously experience feeling, arbitrarily labeled positive and negative, and to release the grasping quality of the self-cherishing “I.”
That process of realization is one of becoming more present, being in the present without the baggage of the past and without fear of the future. Is that not the true dawning of bodhicitta, the capacity to experience the feeling of our feelings and to effortlessly transmit that experience to others as a release into the joyous view of the natural state? Immersion into feeling is part of the path of liberation.