Tuesday, August 6, 2019

A Note about the Yoga of Feeling and Thought, Part Two

A Note about the Yoga of Feeling and Thought, Part 2

Connecting to our feelings is no small task. It’s going to take more than a deep desire to want to do the work that explores our feelings. We’re going to have to push through, use and become more aware of the processes that make us human as individuals formed by nature, family, society, and our own conscience. The tools of yoga have often been used to attenuate or dissociate from feeling but just as well may be used to connect in ways that bring those deeper sources of experience into thought and language. We’ve explored that ever so briefly in our Part 1 of this note.

The thesis is this: we can learn how to parse our feelings into more feelings, we can work to identify the complexities that originate in the primal stuff of living as embodied beings. Here we will consider again briefly how thought and ideas brings us to feelings, directs feelings, informs and creates feelings. The thesis is that the process we described from feeling to thought likewise takes us from thoughts to feelings.

Words matter. Humans have language, complex speech helps define us as a species, we are talkers and thinkers. Can we think at all without words? Are words our thoughts? If thoughts are types of feelings what is the connection between the ideas we have and learn and what we feel?

Indian tradition has about as many answers to these questions as we have in western philosophy and modern cognitive science. It’s well-worked and complex territory but that shouldn’t stop us from trying to make a few remarks of our own. Academics always begin everythieng they write by saying it’s provisional, that there is more research, by doing extensive Cover Your Ass so that they feel safe from themselves and their critics. Let’s just care a bit less about that for now.

If I just persuaded you to try on this idea and to care a little more about working on the thought-to-feeling matter then I’ve already made my point. What we say to ourselves and what we hear, read, and learn gets inside us. It may be a long and winding road to the soul but words and sounds and images and ideas matter so much that they can go directly there before we know it. In other words, we have the word-sound-image experience even before we register the experience, much less interpret it, understand it, or even know what is happening inside. Words and thoughts, like sounds and images, cut to our core and it is only after that happens we begin any process of understanding, interpretation, and meaning. The soul gets it before the Self recognizes it.

The processes and tools by which we then create meaning need to be learned. This is one of the meanings of yoga itself: that the engagement is not just natural or intuitive, learning isn’t just going to happen because we breath or live another day. It’s going to take work, the proper tools, and connection not only with one’s self but in relationships involving conversation that compels us to reach further into our critical capacities and meaning-making abilities. In short, you can’t do this alone no matter how much of the work only you can do on yourself. That is at the heart of yoga.

No amount of asocial, misanthropic introspection will give you all that you need and nothing about learning in the conversation is going to be particularly easy: it will take useful sources, good teachers, and more time than you ever budget. It’s not going to end either, so give up on that past-participle nominal enlightenment that tells you that you are awakened or perfected.

It’s impossible to ignore the trauma of this age too. We are experiencing leadership that has used words to incite violence, to dog whistle and connect with genuinely evil and malicious persons. We are in a test of character that takes us from words, sounds, and images into actions based on feelings and, dare I say it, indoctrinations. We humans are as vulnerable to words as we are to feelings because language is not something added on or extra to our nature, it is a part of what makes us human. We are also individuals and by definition isolated as experiencers of our own bodies and minds. But these experiences are never really apart from the contexts of our being human, that is, from family and upbringing, from circumstance and history, from the fact that to be an individual is to be social and made by forces greater than our individuality.

Life is not just the choices we make but the complex seen and unseen processes that create our choices. Americans don’t like to be told we are made but that we make ourselves—and yogins have said much the same. But the truth is that we use (and sometimes need) this delusion to remind us that we are responsible for ourselves and stewards of our soul whether or not we understand how we have been made and how choices are structured for us and not always by us.

Thus, words, sounds, thoughts, images not only matter but they can determine more about our feelings and emotions than we are ever aware. This is because the connection between thought and feeling like mind and body is indivisible while the process by which we comprehend, investigate, understand, and interpret those connections is learned and requires hard work, soul work.

Yoga is soul work. Yoga is the connection to meaning and meaning is hard-won, it is on-going, and it is always incomplete, unfinished, provisional, and in pursuit of more. Soul work means that we understand prima facie that the things we experience through our mind and cognitive processes go right to the body, to the core of feeling, through emotions, there and back again. When we haven’t done any soul work, when we aren’t learning how to connect the world to our inner selves, then we are especially vulnerable to indoctrination, to propaganda, to ways in which we accept “truths” without knowing how to consider what is true.

The key here, if I may conclude, is this: the connections we experience between feeling and thought (let’s just call it that) as it is between thought and feeling are organic and direct. Feelings become thoughts and language. Language and thought go directly into our feelings. But which feelings? And what happens then? When we don’t care for each other then we are easily manipulated and moved to take the easy paths. Hate is an easy path because it connects desire to fear and anger. But the difficult path leads us through and with all of our emotions, the feelings that we experience in the complex matrix of thought-experience.

We can learn and explore how we have all been made, “indoctrinated” as such by history, society, family, and personal experience. We can use language and thought and images with greater care to impress upon our feelings, to make the samskaras as we might term them that take us to empathy, compassion, and care. We will need thought, we will need imagination because my experiences are not yours and we must somehow connect. When we do this poorly there is no limit to the horror or the venality that can appear: humans are capable of evil and that is because we have not cared or nurtured the connections across the great matrix of experiences, we have not learned how to connect to our feelings, honor the power of language, understand and interpret their relationships. What we think will be what we become and what we feel will take shape in what we say and what we do because saying is doing too.

Perhaps this is enough for now. There’s always more, of that I feel quite assured. In the meantime care for your feelings and care for your words because they will converge in your soul and that is the place where meaning is made and becomes life’s choices.

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