In the English language, the words “feeling” and “emotion” have almost the same meaning. Yet it’s important to understand that they represent two very different realities.
Pure, calm feeling is a quality of our divine nature, but emotions are something else entirely.
When we talk about the nature of feeling, it can be useful to think of the unique energies of the male and female.
When a soul decides to be born as a male, it’s often because it wants to grow by experiencing the masculine ability to make things happen in the world.
Years ago, Swami Kriyananda came into a big conflict with the people who were in charge of his Guru’s organization at the time.
It’s a long story, and very interesting, but briefly it had a great deal to do with the fact that the leaders were entirely female, and he was the only man on the board of directors.
(Image: Obviously, a balance between male and female energies is required – not only for a civilized society but to attune our consciousness with God. The image is an artist’s portray of the Iron Man character from the movie of that name.)
His guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, had given him a tremendous commission, as a man, to make a great spiritual work happen in the world. And masculine energy, whether it expresses through a man or a woman, is required to manifest great works outwardly. But feminine energy tends to be more experiential; it tends to draw things to a focus inwardly.
Unfortunately, Swami Kriyananda’s naturally male energy was completely misunderstood by the women. They simply didn’t understand what he was trying to do, and therefore they completely misread his motives, putting the worst interpretation on them.
I’ve learned a great deal about the nature of masculine energy from my husband, David, and from Swami Kriyananda.
When I try to engage David in the small nuances of things, I’m often surprised by how he will just push them aside.
It took me a long time to understand that masculine strength comes by keeping your eye on the horizon, and not paying attention to all the little things in front of you. Whereas women tend to be always interested in the little things.
The woman is the moon. The moon quickly waxes and wanes, and in the course of its short cycle, it pays attention to many little things.
The man is the sun, moving slowly over the course of the year, and its power comes from not being distracted by the small pieces.
But if the masculine, in trying to keep its eye on the far horizon, does so by suppressing his feelings, it tends to make him brittle and incomplete in his understanding, and lacking in intuition.
Certainly, it can make it difficult for him and his wife to get along, and for him to understand his daughters!
At one point, I found myself advising many couples about their marriages. At the time, I felt strongly that it was because God wanted me to understand this difference more clearly.
Woman and man, man and woman – they kept coming to me for help with their relationships. And, for the most part, I was counseling people who were friends, so I knew something of what was happening in their lives.
In virtually every case, the woman was saying to me, “He’s almost a perfect husband, except for this one small area.” And, of course, that one small area was the fact that he was a man.
She thought that if he would only get this little piece straight, everything would be perfect. And I knew that if he got that little piece exactly as she wanted, he would not only be unhappy, but she wouldn’t like him, because he wouldn’t be what he was.
I’ll give you another example from the woman’s side.
Years ago, we published a series of books by Swami Kriyananda. We called them the “Secrets” series – Secrets of Friendship, Secrets of Love, and so on. They were nice little books that people could give as gifts, and they were very successful for our publishing company.
The man in charge of selling the books said to Swamiji, “Women are our biggest market. If you had a book called Secrets for Women, it would sell very well.”
Swamiji’s first response was, “I can’t write that book.” But the next morning, as often happened whenever he would say “no,” his Guru gave him the understanding he needed.
Later, he told us that he woke up in the morning feeling like a woman. He was completely in the feminine consciousness, and for three days he wrote the book, which was quite successful.
In the midst of writing, someone phoned him and wanted him to make certain decisions.
He said, “I can’t, because I’m a woman now, and I can’t think that way. You’ll have to call when I finish this book.”
After finishing the book and coming back to his usual self, he remarked to some women friends, “I became completely involved in feminine consciousness. All of that feeling! – just a seething mass of emotions. It was terrible.”
He said, “I much prefer being a man. I think I’ve been a man for a very long time.”
Those of us who knew him wouldn’t dream that he was prejudiced against women, or deficient in feeling. In fact, he had the tenderest of hearts for everyone, and the greatest devotion.
But emotion is something else entirely. Pure feeling is highly desirable on the spiritual path, but emotion is disturbed feeling and not spiritually helpful.
Deep feeling is our divine nature. When we expand our awareness beyond the little ego and become free in God, what remains is feeling – tremendous feelings of love, bliss, and so on.
So you can say that feeling is rooted in our divine self. In its outward expression, feeling is the power that enables us to enjoy life. Feeling is what makes us hungry for food, hungry for a family, hungry for success, and hungry to have friends, and to explore creativity. Without feeling, we are simply not motivated to do anything.
Where I live, there are many beautiful trees. There’s a huge tree next to our house that, to my mind, is the guru tree of the property.
You can look out the window at the end of a long branch, and you realize that the leaves have emanated from a trunk that is a long distance away.
Now, all of the leaves are nurtured from the same source, aren’t they? In a real sense, there’s nothing different between the branch and the trunk, because it’s a continuous flow of energy. It’s one identifiable being.
The tree has thousands of leaves and many little flowers. But you can see that each one emanates from the same source. There is no way the periphery can grow except from the center.
(Photo: Each leaf of the giant banyan takes its life from the same source.)
Now, the difference between feeling and emotion is that the trunk is pure feeling, and this original feeling can extend out to the little leaves and flowers.
If you work as a teacher, you become enormously concerned for the little children, and your feelings move out to them from the source of your being. Your feelings flow from your heart, and they reach out to nurture the child. But your feelings for each child arise from the same source.
We can do anything we want in the world and still remain centered in that inner source of feeling. But if we move our consciousness too far outward and start to think of the leaves and flowers as realities in themselves, disconnected from the source, that is when feeling shifts into emotion.
You may have a desire for a family. And God can give you a family. So then we have a happy family that lives in a house, and it’s very happy over here at the end of the branch. And if we never forget that it is all an expression of our love for God, and a gift that God has given us, we can always remain centered in the true reality.
When the wind blows and the branches begin to dance, we can endure the storm by remaining with our consciousness centered in the trunk.
But if we have moved our awareness away from our source, and defined the end of the branch as its own separate reality, when the storm comes we will cling desperately to the branch, and we’ll feel as if we’re being whipped about with no anchor.
Or perhaps the branch breaks and our little piece of the tree goes crashing to the ground. What will happen to us then? We will feel terribly lost and confused as we fall to the earth.
People have told me, very sweetly, about their loved ones for whom they have great feeling. And in many cases their feeling shifted from being an extension of their relationship with God, to being a reality in itself. And this is very dangerous, because of death. But if I remain rooted in the awareness of my connection with God, you see, there is no part of life that I can’t participate in fully.
This is how we can become enormous in the Divine, instead of being always small and afraid. And the method is to rediscover our true inner reality as one with the trunk of the tree, which of course is God. And the specific techniques are given to us by the masters of India.
My guru’s paramguru, Lahiri Mahasaya, said, “The only duty that has been given to man is to listen to the inner sounds.” You will find that if you devote your time to loving God, to serving His work and living simply, and to experiencing Him in meditation, that you will be protected by that great Reality, and that it will sustain you no matter what storms may come.