By J. Donald Walters, author of Education for Life and co‑founder of the Living Wisdom Schools
How many adults, what to speak of children, recognize the difference between emotion and feeling? Very few. And how many children, consequently, are taught that calm, sensitive feeling is an invaluable tool for the complete understanding of most subjects? Or that turbulent feelings — that is to say, the emotions — and not feeling per se prevent clear, objective understanding? Again, very few.
Few children, again, are taught the extent to which reason is guided by calm feeling, but distorted by the emotions. And few are taught that by developing calm feeling they will improve their understanding of objective reality on every level.
Feeling, when it is calm and refined, is essential both to truly objective and to mature insight. There are ways of clarifying feeling, just as there are principles of logic (already taught in the schools) for learning to reason correctly. Feeling can be clarified, for instance, by learning how to distance feeling from one’s personal likes and dislikes, withdrawing one’s awareness to a calm center in the heart. Feeling can be clarified by directing the heart’s energies upward to the brain, and thence to a point between the eyebrows that was anciently identified as the seat of concentration in the body. Clarity of feeling can be assisted by calming the flow of energy in the spine, by means of certain breathing exercises. These exercises are a priceless contribution of the science of yoga to the general knowledge of the human race. It would be a grave error to ignore them on the grounds of one’s unfamiliarity with them.
Only by calm inner feeling can a person know definitely the right course to take in any action. Those who direct their lives from this deeper level of feeling achieve levels of success that are never reached by people who limit their quest for answers to the exercise of reason. Reason, indeed, if unsupported by feeling, may point in hundreds of plausible directions without offering certainty as to the rightness of any of them.
Children need to learn how to react appropriately. This they can never do if their reaction springs out of their subjective emotions. Considerable training is needed to learn how to harness feeling and make it a useful ally. What children are taught, instead, as they grow older, is that feelings are inevitably obstacles to correct insight. The scientific method is offered as a model. “If you want to see things objectively,” they are told, “you must view everything in terms of cold logic.” I remember a professor when I was in college who boasted, jokingly, that X-rays had shown his heart to be smaller than normal. This, to him, was a sign of intellectual objectivity, which he prized.
Ignored is the fact that, usually, the greater the scientist, the more deeply he feels his subject. Or that, as Einstein put it, the essence of true scientific discovery is a sense of mystical awe.
Feeling can never in any case be suppressed. Shove it out of sight at one point — where you can at least see it and try to deal with it — and it will only pop up at another, often a place where you least expect it. Many times, when long-suppressed feelings have at last burst upon people’s consciousness, those feelings have assumed terrible and unrecognizable shapes. Sometimes they have actually incited to riot.
Right feeling is an important tool for achieving maturity. It must be cultivated, and not merely ignored, suppressed, or treated as something about which nothing “reasonable” can be done.