Feelings Aren't Real

Originally published by Shut Up & Yoga - January 2018

“Feelings aren’t real because they change with new information.”

The first time I heard this statement from my teacher, Nevine Michaan, creator of Katonah Yoga, I was a little offended, to be honest.

“What do you mean my ‘feelings aren’t ‘real’?” I thought. They’re real to me…and they MATTER, damnit.

But, after she elaborated, my own little personal planet I’d been living on for 27 years shifted on its axis. From that point forward, I started to realize that feelings are incredibly important, yes. They contribute a lot of insight into our moment-to-moment experiences and interactions with others. However, emotions embody the archetype of a wave waving. Just like the changing tides, emotions, too, ebb and flow. Anything that is by nature ever-changing, is not a universal truth. In other words, your feelings are true, but they are not the only truth. So then, to measure the quality of one’s life, or to write one’s life story in direct response to fleeting emotions, is not only unproductive but naive and reckless.

Emotion, in fact, is chemical and often based on past experience and conditioning. In fact, we often cling to what we know, even if it is uncomfortable, because unconsciously we like to surround ourselves with the “known.”

Most people are dissatisfied in life because they are stuck recycling the same emotional responses that lead them to familiar patterns of behavior, which do not direct them to where they need to be or even want to be.

That is to say, what most people need to do in order to achieve personal happiness is not what they know. (If they knew it, they’d do it already.) So, the magic of yoga is that it provides the opportunity for one to see another angle, or a new perspective, that might take one’s experience beyond the personal and into the universal, where infinite possibilities for happiness are available.

The question is not,“is this true or is that true?” It’s all true. All of it. The question is, “why are you seeing this truth and not that truth?

Because of this, when I’m in a yoga class and I hear a teacher preach something to the effect of, “Follow your feelings,” or, “Do what feels good,” I want to jump off my mat, grab them by the shoulders and scream, “No! Feelings don’t take you where you need to go! YOU do!”

You see, a deadly error we often make is to think that our feelings are out of our control, and that they come from an external source – that they happen TO us, rather than because of us. Negative.

Nothing is happening to you. Things happen in your awareness and through awareness, you can make things happen.

Personally, I teach that you should follow your feelings until you find the source of them, which is always you. Then you can redirect your feelings to tell whatever story you want.

Taoism, as well as many other esoteric practices and religions, play with the idea of “trinity” as a tool to understand personal empowerment. In the middle of every polarity, there is a center (you) mediating your experience of it. (Ex: For every up, there is a down. For every left, there is a right. For every front, a back, and for every circumference, there is a center.) You, the sutra atman (the threaded self), have the power and pleasure to decide how much up to how much down. How much left to how much right. How much yes to know, good to bad, happy to sad, etc. You write your life story by playing polarity, whether you’re conscious of it or not. (Here’s a good video of my teacher Nevine explaining this.)

All of this said, I do encourage my students to explore their feelings, because “every piece of you is a part of your narrative,” and creating space to explore one’s own interior landscape is at the core of why we do yoga in the first place. However, I also challenge them to consider that these feelings could easily change with new information – a new perspective. Change the direction you are looking, and you’ll change the memories behind you. Shift your focus and you’ll change your narrative. Churn up your body’s alchemy through movement, breath, laughter, and healthy food, and you’ll begin to hone the skill that is responding to your circumstances consciously, rather than reacting to them as if your immediate truth is the only reality that exists.

Now, let’s recap. What did we learn today, readers?

Ahem. Learn to feel your feelings, wholly and completely! Explore them, move them, and be enriched by the insight that they give you about your experience in this life. But do NOT “follow” them under the delusion that they will take you to where you need to go. Don’t let your feelings tell you what to do. Don’t let them rule your work, your relationships, or your yoga practice.

You decide what truth you would like to subscribe to in each and every moment. Because, after all, you are the author of your own story.