This is Post 29 in the ‘Meditation Guidance’ series. Summaries of the other articles in this series can be found by clicking here.
The psychological function of Feeling, is symbolised in the Western poetic imagination, and in the esoteric lore of Western tradition, by the element of Water. Whereas the Indian imagination generally uses the element of Fire to symbolise Feeling, as I have described previously (here), I would like to now draw on Western tradition to very briefly acknowledge something that the symbolism of the Water element can teach us about the nature of Feeling. As the parallel with Water might suggest, Feeling is a phenomena that is almost always in a state of flow and change: like tides, or waves, or the tributaries of a river, or the eddies in a sparkling stream, or like a stormy ocean.
Feeling, like Water can seem chaotic, but it carries energy and moves with purpose – a purpose that may sometimes be hard to discern, but is nevertheless always present. Just as the Fire element in the symbolic language of India, can be seen to be reaching consistently upwards towards the Divine, so the Water element in the West can be seen as relentless and purposeful in its downward course towards the universal ocean.
Psychological Parts – the Apparent Persons behind our Currents of Feeling
It is perhaps helpful, to see Feeling as analogous to currents or tributaries in a body of Water, because Feeling is certainly not single. Feeling is also much more like a surging wave that recedes and appears to disappear, only to surge again when we don’t expect it. When we examine our experience carefully we notice that it is inaccurate to say “I feel sad” or “I feel afraid” – and worse still to say “I am sad” or “I am afraid”.
Both sadness and the fear are actually only single currents among the many currents of feeling that surge in us from time to time – but more importantly, if we look carefully at our experience, we have to acknowledge that the ‘I’ in both those statements, is always separate from those currents of Feeling. It is never the ‘I’ that feels sad or afraid. The ‘I’ is the imperturbable field of Consciousness within which Feeling is experienced. The conventional verbal forms “I feel …….. “, “I am feeling …….. “, or “I am …….. ” followed by words identifying the category of our feeling state, are not only inaccurate, but very unhelpful psychologically – because they encourage identification with Feeling rather than self-empathetic connection with it.