I found that to effectively explore emotions to the point of (virtually) eliminating them I had to experience them fully. Only by neither repressing, nor expressing, nor in any way rationally twisting the emotional experience could I meticulously observe, become fully aware of and sensibly contemplate on what is happening in my head, heart and guts and thus investigate the root cause of that particular emotion
The above is important to bear in mind. It is only by being utterly open to experiencing emotions, that the opportunity arises to bring a sincere attentiveness to feelings and to eventually neutralise their worst effects, to virtually eliminate them as Vineeto puts it.
For it is not simply that we have feelings, we are our feelings. Ultimately actual freedom is not about ceasing to feel, but about ceasing to be. So it is not the case that we are trying to eliminate feelings with investigation, but simply to probe them and by doing so, progressively remove obstacles to feeling happy and harmless in this moment. We are able to stay happier for longer. Crucially through investigating we begin to get intimate with the nature of being at its very core. Through the dual processes of getting back to feeling good and investigation we will gradually see that what is standing in the way of untrammelled happiness is nothing but ourselves! In conjunction with PCEs we begin to see that it is only through ceasing to be, that a permanent peace will be available to us, in this lifetime.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves a bit. Simply, for now whenever there is an impediment to feeling good, as a first step, one needs to find out why one is not feeling good. This is especially the case when one has tried to feel good and failed
The Attitude for Investigation
Investigation needs to be carried out with sincerity. Often when one wants to get back to feeling good too quickly, it can lead to a ‘poisoning’ one’s intention and result in a ‘flight into feeling good’ that does not feel genuine. The end result is that the bad feelings that were there all along, unresolved – come back or the feeling good has an ‘unclean’ quality.
There has to be a real curiosity driving the enthusiasm. You become a detective of your soul. Bad experiences are a valuable opportunity to interrogate your being. It’s as if a serendipitous cross-section of ‘you’ has been cut open to reveal who ‘you’ are at the core.
One has to eventually become intimately familiar with this emotional world that one lives in, which is as it were at a tangent to actuality.
Not all investigations need to go ‘deep’. In fact, it is preferable that you try and get back to feeling good quickly once you realise what the ‘bad feeling’ was if possible. However, for triggers that pop up time and again, a deep dive is certainly required.
Once you get the hang of investigation, it can actually be quite fun. You may find yourself investigating constantly, trying to figure yourself out. You might, in a certain way, enjoy your emotional states good and bad, knowing that you can take them apart and make discoveries about yourself. This is the opposite of avoiding investigation, and might be an unavoidable intermediate step. However, you need to remember that actualism is not about investigation but about feeling good. It is the intention to feel happy that does most of the heavy lifting, with investigation being a subsidiary practice.
‘Under’ investigation can also be a problem. This is when one does not bring much awareness to emotions, does not examine their underlying causes, and simply expects to be happy – feeling frustrated when this does not occur. Not being aware of your emotional landscape can make you a sitting duck for recurrent negative emotional states.
Clarification of Feeling and Emotion
Often when one is not feeling good there is a vague sense of unease, unhappiness, anger, sadness and so on. Also one has barely begun to feel something when one starts berating oneself for having dared to have a bad emotion; you feel ashamed for lacking the emotional continence and control you expect of yourself. You may even tell yourself off for being a ‘bad actualist’! Firstly it is important to remember that investigation can be hard and sometimes painful work. Try and bring some kindness and patience to it. Be your own best friend – as Richard would say.
So the first thing we do is get clarity on what we are feeling. Firstly and very simply are we feeling a) bad b) neutral or c) good?
Beyond good there is also feeling d) great e) excellent and f) perfect – but we won’t talk about these here as the point of this lesson is to focus on when we are feeling less than good.
Often there may be all manner of things mixed up in bad feelings. See if you can break it up into component parts e.g. I am standing in a grocery store queue when a dour and angry-looking man cuts the line in front of me without a word. I feel bad as a result, and find that this feeling stays with me long after I have arrived home and put the groceries away. I try and get back to feeling good nevertheless, but the feeling lingers. I decide to investigate. Firstly it's obvious I am feeling bad. At first, there is only a vague sense of unpleasantness. As I look more closely I see bits of anger and shame. I have recurrent thoughts of revenge on this man, things I could I done or said to him. As I dig deeper, I experience sadness at my humiliating helplessness in this situation. I can see a tendency to push all of these feelings aside and tell myself I am feeling better, as they are quite painful and difficult to tolerate. I might have a feeling that I have failed in my efforts to feel good, that I am a ‘bad actualist’.
It is also good to look at the context and the detail. What was it about the man that got you angry exactly, Was it his attitude? The look on his face? When exactly did you experience the emotions in question?
As you can see we’ve categorised the emotion as a ‘bad’ one. We’ve discovered various parts of it: anger, sadness, humiliation, shame, defensive moves to get out of the feeling, shame and morality about being a ‘bad actualist’ etc. There may be various contextual details of where and when it happened. There may be remembrances of other times when I felt similarly being made impotent and angry. It can be a great relief to experience this level of clarity with regard to one’s emotions. Sometimes just this is sufficient to melt the hold that the emotion has on you and make you feel good again.
Shame and morality can be particularly sinister aspects of feeling, as they can cause a ‘white-out’ thus preventing you from getting to the core of the emotion. Also, remember to separate feelings from facts.
3. Going back to Neutral/Good.
Oftentimes a bad feeling is just too intense for us to work with or investigate. No sooner do you start, than you just get rail-roaded by it and find yourself going in circles. If this is the case – and it often is even when you are an experienced investigator – just quit and give it more time. See if you can get back to at least feeling neutral. This is a key thing to remember if you are repeatedly struggling with emotions. If it is a particularly intense emotion, which has a long history of triggering you, it might take several goes before you manage to make sense of it.
However it is key not to simply ignore the incident and feeling once you are feeling good – but to conduct an investigation after the fact. Indeed you can make a list of what got you feeling better incidentally after these times that you felt bad. Was it a certain realisation, a certain change in ‘energy’, something you did? Too often we know very well the reasons why we feel bad, but not why we start to feel good. The list will become a valuable aid in actualist practice.
Going back to neutral (think of it like a gear change) is always something you can do when you need to get back to feeling good and find it difficult to do so. This intermediate step can make it much easier.
4. The Deep Structure of Feeling and Emotion
Over a period of time, you will notice that it is often the same themes that keep repeating. Themes that preoccupy you and cause you unhappiness. Usually, everyone has their own pet themes on loop. In some sense, they are what preoccupies all humans, but one’s own idiosyncrasies, personality, gender, culture and life experience will shape the focus and intensity of these themes.
There may be themes of humiliation, thwarted love, loneliness, shame, feeling disrespected, feeling out-competed, envy, unfairness, discrimination – to name but a few.
It is helpful to find your own major themes or trends in how you feel bad. What circumstances typically trigger these bad feelings? You can diarise these if you like to help you keep track of them. Talking about it on the Slack forum or with a friend can be useful too.
In the example above, I might realise that there is something here about humiliation and weakness. Something also to do with male on male rivalry and competitiveness (or woman vs. male competition).
b) Beliefs, Fantasies, Values and Feeling Structures
Once you have spotted the trends see if you can identify deeper beliefs, fantasies, values or feeling structures. If classifying feelings, unpacking them and identifying themes is like focusing so that the blurry outlines of feelings resolve themselves into definite shapes, highlights and textures - then trying to discern their causes is like identifying the deeper moorings of feelings, the ‘tectonic plates’ causing surface disturbances.
Trying to remember more than one occasion where a particular feeling arose will give you valuable information. Let’s say you experience a feeling of loneliness, sitting in front of the TV on the weekend. Go ‘down the rabbit hole’ with curiosity, like an intrepid explorer. This feeling of loneliness might be one of your ‘Top 10 Themes’. You may remember this familiar feeling in multiple settings, say, when you were at a friends house a week ago or when you were in the playground as a child. This sort of ‘scan’ may help you realise deep beliefs or fantasies that you hold about your self ‘worth’ in relation to others that happens independent of setting. Perhaps it relates to an old wound resulting from a past relationship? Perhaps there is a sense that the presence of another is experienced as nourishing and their absence leaves you feeling ill at ease. Perhaps it relates to a certain societal more that dictates that social dignity mandates companionship on a weekend, or else one is a ‘loser’? See if these beliefs ‘resonate’. There is a danger here of picking too broad or generic a belief or one that is empowering ‘you’ in a clandestine way e.g. ‘society wants me to be ashamed of loneliness, but I am good enough on my own!’ Generally starting from the more particular, idiosyncratic and only then gradually moving to the broader and more societal beliefs is preferable. It must feel ‘real’ and not simply generic.
In the previous grocery store example, there may be beliefs about manhood and masculinity. There may be deep, almost instinctual reactions to do with territoriality.
c) Relating the above feeling themes to the instinctual passions
These are the emotions that can broadly be said to be universal of the human species. They are related to fear, aggression, nurture and desire. See if you can map the feelings above to one of these 4 basic instinctual passions. It must resonate and not be done in a merely intellectual manner. See if you can experience that primal ‘ball’ of nebulous affect that one feels oneself to be at the core. You will realise that with many intense emotions when you get right down to it, they cannot be reduced any further. They are the main ‘flavour’ of ‘you’. Your emotional ‘scent’ in a manner of speaking. The only thing to do then is to accept that this is your fundamental emotional makeup. It is who ‘you’ are at the core. It is what everyone is at their core. And once, you realise this - you simply go back to feeling good again, for now.
While you cannot get rid of your feeling core prior to self-elimination, you can whittle down your feelings down to their basic core. The minimalist version of ‘you’. Virtually eliminating problematic feelings in this way, as Vineeto did to become virtually free, ensures a remarkable degree of ease and delight in everyday life.
In the above examples, I may feel that there was a powerful instinctive sense of male on male aggression and rivalry which the man stoked unwittingly or deliberately.
d) See the good feelings that are maintaining the bad feelings
Once you have some familiarity with investigations and know your broad feeling themes, your basic fantasies and beliefs – then, you can start to explore the good feelings that are often responsible for shoring up the bad feelings e.g. Feeling of loneliness may be due to your venerating of feelings of love and belonging. Feelings of being dejected and ashamed may relate to your prizing of good feelings of status, pride and social respectability.
Becoming sincerely aware of the good feelings, behind the bad feelings can be a powerful experience. Sometimes this realisation is enough to unravel years of bad feelings and painful emotions that you have been experiencing.
In the grocery store example, I may realise that I have been treasuring a certain sense of power and virility as a man. It was only because of these values that I fell on my face when the other man cut in front of me. Taking care not to moralise or lecture myself on this point, I simply acknowledge the realisation and get back to feeling good.
Is it a Fact or a Feeling?
As far as possible you should try to discern the difference between facts and feelings. It may well be the case that I went to the grocery store to buy some milk. It may well be that I was standing in line. It may well be that someone jumped in the line as I was standing there. It may even be stated that I experienced feelings as a consequence of this. However, the swirling mist of anger, sadness and other internal states of mind and heart that caused me so much pain are feelings. Making this distinction, allows me to separate out the actual from the ‘real’ i.e. the ‘reality’ in my head and heart, that if not examined can seem as solid and factual as anything else that was encountered at the grocery store.
Yes, all of this may sound very obvious and simple, but in the throes of emotion, it is all too easy for both facts and feelings to turn into one heady mix.