How To Gain Freedom From Your Feelings
By Craig Hamilton
An evolutionary relationship to life isn't a fixed set of tenets, rules or commandments we follow. It's an orientation that naturally gives rise to deeper motivations and wiser choices — in almost any context.
There are so many ways this radically awake, intentional and conscious stance shows up "on the ground," day after day. If I had to tease out one of the most profound core aspects of life lived from the perspective of the "evolutionary self" — a stance that changes everything radically at the highest level of your being — it's an enlightened relationship to our feelings.
More specifically, it's the discovery of our capacity to consciously align our behavior with something other than our feelings, so that we can act from our highest motivations and intentions consistently, regardless of how we feel. You may or may not immediately recognize it, but that represents a radical departure from how most humans beings operate.
Most of us have spent much of our lives assuming that our actions and choices must be to some degree driven by how we feel. Even if we've glimpsed the possibility of some autonomy from emotion, it can seem unrealistic to achieve day to day. You see, most of us can manage a generally positive relationship to life as long as things are going well for us and we're getting what we want — meaning that if we feel good inside, then we can usually act in a more enlightened manner. Yet when circumstances don't go our way, or when we don't feel good, we tend to act accordingly — that is to say, not so enlightened. We may be less interested in other people, less committed to our intentions, more inclined to let ourselves off the hook for our behavior. In our worst moments, we may even be whiny, withdrawn or insensitive to others. And for many of us, this is a real obstacle on the spiritual path. We want to make enlightened choices and decisions, but when strong feelings take us off track — or when we simply lack the feeling of inspiration we think we need to move us — we waver in our commitments.
Moreover, we might even believe that we "can't help it" — that impulses arising from our feelings aren't very controllable. This seems even more true in the face of very strong emotions — intense fear, anger, shame, grief.
But what if none of that is true? What if the automatic, unquestioned bond between our feelings and our actions could be broken? What if we could see "how we feel" and "how we act" as two potentially separate matters? And what if that "unlinking" frees us to act from our highest self regardless of what we feel at any given moment?
What if you being an expression of your highest ideals and deepest insights doesn't depend on your "feeling it" — at all?
An evolutionary relationship to life isn't a fixed set of tenets, rules or commandments we follow. It's an orientation that naturally gives rise to deeper motivations and wiser choices — in almost any context. And this ability can be cultivated. From this part of the self, we make decisions aligned with our highest values, aspirations and motives — instead of compulsively, mechanically reacting. This part of us is beyond the ancient encoding of our animal past, the "old wiring" that we can actually step out of — into the free, powerful dimension of self I've been writing to you about: the evolutionary self.
From the standpoint of this new way of relating to life, how you feel and how you act are no longer necessarily married together — even when you're not feeling great. Imagine for a moment a life in which we consistently do the right thing in spite of whatever feelings course through us. A life in which the outside is essentially the same, no matter what's on the inside. In other words, we know we can be just as committed, generous, energetic, and driven by our deepest motivations when we feel lousy as when we feel terrific — and we are.
We know that feelings are transient, but who we're being is constant. We don't need to feel loving to act loving; we don't need to feel generous to act generous; we don't need to feel good to be good. That's a major breakthrough with far-reaching implications. Why? Because depending entirely on the whims of the feelings that happen to be running through us at any moment isn't a very free, enlightened, or powerful place to come from. It won't get us where we want to go — and know we need to go, individually or as a culture.
Can you imagine how your life might change if you weren't attached to your feelings like a ball and chain? If they didn't drag you around and shove you all over, with you having little to say about it?
Choosing from the part of us that's aligned with our highest values, rather than from the feelings of the moment, shifts our lives in a way that's naturally, organically compelled to integrity. Our wisdom and intentions — not our emotions — lead the way and run the show. We also become more steadfast and effective in our largest aspirations for a greater purpose — no matter how formidable the project or vision might be. Like the impulse of evolution itself, we are undaunted.
When this starts to come alive in your experience, what you end up with is a life in which your negative feelings no longer stop you, and you no longer need a certain kind of positive feeling to compel you to live in alignment with your goals, values and intentions. This is a major aspect of an evolutionary relationship to life, and we hear from many of our participants that this is one of the most liberating and powerful distinctions of the course.
Now, you might be thinking this kind of relationship to feelings is a pretty tall order, especially when feelings can be so overwhelming, and life is chock full of challenges, problems, even tragedies and trauma. What happens then?
First of all, of course bad things do happen, and naturally difficult feelings do arise in response. In the evolutionary relationship to life, we don't deny these. You still have feelings. You still consider them. You simply aren't a slave to them.
Being aligned with the evolutionary impulse doesn't mean being unemotional, detached and distant. Being awake means being in touch with reality, and we're no longer avoiding feeling fully what it is to be alive. In fact, we may experience our feelings even more fully from this orientation toward life, because the evolutionary impulse is alive with passion and care for the world and for the things that matter most. But whether your challenging emotions are triggered by personal circumstances or your expanding care for the whole, they won't fundamentally stop you or cause you to back off. You still show up for life 100 percent, aligned with your highest self.
You won't get distracted from what really matters, what's really true, or what needs to be done. The greater good — and the fundamental goodness in life — won't be eclipsed by the pain. And even though there are times when our feelings are trustworthy and should be heeded and acted upon, we can't read them clearly until our relationship to them isn't reflexive and unconscious.
When we can accurately read our feelings, we're then able to mine their data — without getting sidetracked or confused by our programmed, habitual reactions to them. Once we've cultivated this capacity to see clearly even in the face of strong feelings, they no longer cloud our perceptions or interpretations of what's happening. And therefore, they don't cloud our judgment. This is a foundation for having a wise, even enlightened, response to any situation, no matter how we feel.
Now, this possibility is not entirely foreign to most of us. We've experienced glimpses of this capacity at times — maybe when we cared so deeply about something that we didn't let fear stop us from acting, or allow disappointment to keep us from pursuing a goal. It may seem as if the gift of this capacity is random and out of our hands, but what we know now is that we can harness this impulse into a permanent way of being.
Most people who experience this dissolving of the fusion between feelings and action report that it's a profound relief. It liberates us from the daily obsession many of us have with our inner world. Instead of constantly taking our emotional temperature to see if we're "there," we can plant a stake in the ground and say "I am here, and I'm going to live from this place." Energy once drained by ambivalence can be wholeheartedly given to our highest pursuits.
Not feeling good is no longer a barrier or excuse not to live and act our best. We're not driven by trying to feel good, but the impulse to be an expression of the greatest good no matter how we feel. And in the end, when we live that way, it feels better than good.