LOVE IS NOT A FEELING ~ The Article
Published in What is Enlightenment, Volume 4, Number 2, Summer 1995. Reprinted here with permission from What is Enlightenment
I was asked to contribute an article for this magazine. I don't usually mix my teaching with others, but in this case I wanted to respond to Andrew Cohen's personal invitation. Since the magazine title asks the question, "What is enlightenment?" I will address that. Also, as the last issue was devoted to interviews with five distinguished traditionalists, it seemed appropriate to write about religious traditions and the spiritual life. And as I always put love first, I will write first about love.
I suppose the most radical part of my teaching at present is that love is not a feeling.
Everybody suffers from love, or the fear of it, or the lack of it. Why? Why is love so universally and inevitably heart-breaking, whether it be through the end of a love affair, the death of a loved one or being locked in with the habitual casualness or grim indifference of a partner? The answer is because we've been taught and conditioned by the world to believe that love is a feeling.
Love is not a feeling; it's a sensation. Drinking water when you're thirsty is a sensation, not a feeling. Being in nature or swimming in the sea is a sensation, not a feeling. Lying down when you're tired is sensational, not a feeling, although you may say it feels good. Feeling is an emotional interpretation of experience and these sensations don't need interpretation; they are just good or right. Making physical love rightly is a sensation, not a feeling. So is the love of God. The same goes for joy and beauty; both are sensational.
But in our ignorance we emotionalise joy,
beauty and love. We make feelings of them, personal interpretations
based on our old emotions. We put our personal past on the
present with the result that joy, beauty and love don't
seem to last. But it's our emotional substitutes that don't
last and we become bored, discontented and unhappy again.
The sensation or knowledge of joy, beauty and love is of
course still there but it's overwhelmed by these coarser
Feelings, even the best of them, turn to negativity - disappointment, anger, discontent, resentment, jealousy, guilt, etc. A good feeling starts off being elevating, exciting, like taking a drug substance, alcohol or having sex. But what goes up must come down and feelings are no exception. So in a couple of hours or days the down side starts and you perhaps wonder why you feel moody, depressed, suicidal or just plain unhappy. You're paying the piper for yesterday's music. And between the upside and the downside is the no-man's and no-woman's land of boredom, indifference, inertia, weariness and pointlessness.
Okay, so you don't have drugs, alcohol and sex but you love someone, as a feeling. Then it won't be long before you'll be experiencing one or more of the painful feelings I've mentioned above - and thinking it's natural! Wait and see. Even in every day living you're continually interpreting experience via your emotions instead of being the experience direct. "This is good, that's bad," your feelings swing subtly to and fro all day long obscuring the reality, the sensational knowledge or gnosis that it's not bad at all; it's simply life as it is.
All feelings are false and deceptive. And in the spiritual process the area of any person's life where they still have feelings is where the next stage of their unenlightenment will be addressed. So, where I come from, there's the answer to the magazine title, What is Enlightenment? Enlightenment is to be emptied (not empty) of feelings and thus at one with the pure sensation of divine being. And that pretty well sums up the whole spiritual process. But the spiritual process is so little understood that people don't realise their feelings are personal and false and have been misleading them all their life. If that's not true, why is humanity still unenlightened and basically unhappy after all this time - when enlightenment is the completely natural, sensational state of being every moment?
By disidentifying with your feelings you break your attachment to them. When that is done sufficiently you're back at the beginning, in pure sensation or unconditioned knowledge. You've been beating your head against the wall to get some feelings and all you've got to do is break the habit and get used to living anew without pain and conflict. But that's a mighty realisation, and a mighty simple one which few are going to accept - they'll be too busy defending their feelings! So, I guess I'll still be demonstrating this the day I die.
Incidentally, it seems to me that's why Andrew Cohen tells his students to be fearless and deadly serious. It takes that kind of one-pointed commitment to detach from the delusion of feelings and finally discover the blessing of the valiant; once freed of personal feelings the troublesome mind stops forever.
Now to traditions. I'm not a traditionalist and I didn't have an Eastern master. My teaching stems from my own gnosis and love and shares little common ground in practice with other teachings that invariably show an allegiance to Eastern traditions. I never deny the enlightenment of another enlightened spiritual teacher. Every enlightened teacher is doing his best in this matter, in this body of sense. But I am often critical of the hype and mystification that is inevitably associated with Eastern traditions in minds cultured in the West.
All spiritual traditions came out of the East. And the traditional Eastern way, particularly in the ancient Tibetan Buddhist and Indian Brahmic priest-ruled societies, was to seek enlightenment and to give the life, and often the lives of the children, to that pursuit.
This - the search for enlightenment - to me, is and was the beginning of spiritual ignorance. And it is the traditionalists that today unwittingly perpetuate this ignorance.
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© The Barry Long Trust