Many people consider their ‘emotions’ and their ‘feelings’ to be generally the same thing. In truth, our ‘feelings’ exist to guide us through reality, whereas our emotions are an accidental byproduct created by the illusion of thought. If an ‘optical illusion’ is what tricks our ‘sense of sight,’ then ‘emotions’ are the thought-based illusions that trick our ‘sense of feeling.’
As an example, as newborn babies we could not lay in our bassinets at the hospital ‘envying’ another baby’s beauty, or height because to do that we first need to learn a whole bunch of words so that we can form some thought-based idea of what qualities we’re ‘supposed’ to have. Only then can we use even more thinking to compare our measurements to theirs. “I wish I was as thin as her,” “I wish I had money like that,” etc. etc..
All of that ego-based thinking literally creates the illusion of ‘envy,’ or ‘jealousy,’ which our brain inaccurately interprets in reality as: ‘a lack of reciprocity.’ A baby can’t feel ‘envy’ without the ability to create narratives using words the baby does not yet know. But, if we put both babies in one crib and we keep giving one a bottle but not the other, an instinct toward survival—and a subsequent desire for reciprocity, would soon see the unfed baby generating ‘feelings’ of anger about the feeling of hunger, which in that moment represents their lack of reciprocity.
The baby’s ‘feeling’ of desire for reciprocity happens in the moment the experience is happening, but will not be reconsidered ever again. In short, without word-based thoughts to keep the past alive in their minds, the baby cannot recreate the emotion of ‘resentment’ toward the other baby, or the nurse doing the feeding. If the baby is fine now, the baby is fine. And once we learn to reduce our illusory thinking, we start to realize that we’re almost always fine.
Even when the reality of the present moment is fine, a thinking human ego can take a perfectly good moment and we can invest it in creating unpleasant brain chemistry by investing ourselves in constructing a narrative about the future or past that leaves us hating someone else, (or ourselves), long before, or long after, something happens/happened. Just think about it: all of that suffering stretched-out to the length of a lifetime, all thanks to the illusion of thought.
It is those thought-based illusions create the ‘jealous’ or ‘envious’ emotions that are not a part of reality. The baby is right: the feeling of hunger happens in the moment, and ‘needing’ food is a part of reality. Resenting others for long periods of time because they didn’t feed us, or ‘wanting’ a house as nice as someone else’s; or ‘wanting’ to weigh as little as them; those are all time-travelling, suffering-filled, thought-based illusions.
The challenge for our brain is, words are relatively new, evolutionarily speaking. So our brains don’t yet understand that we have accidentally created an illusory layer of reality. It thinks in terms of needs like ‘fire,’ or ‘three valleys further.’ But our brain is still wrestling with words like ‘time,’ or ‘beauty,’ or ‘character.’
Our brains know the world in animal-based feelings, so our brain’s only option with ‘envy’ or ‘jealousy’ is to convert those thoughts into a feeling of ‘anger,’ or ‘extreme desire.’ We then express that angry desire towards another person as ‘resentment,’ or towards ourselves as ‘self-hate.’ Either way, all of the negativity only occurs due to the illusion of thought. In reality we are well fed and healthy, while we are also forever better off than some, and worse off than others.
Our often painful layer of illusion is optional, and humans can learn to see past it. But we do not want our ability to create these illusions to go away completely because, in a modern, complex society that includes many people, we do need some shared illusions in order to function successfully together. But we’ll talk more about those shared illusions later. For now, our next question is: if our ‘emotions,’ are illusions, then how did they ever get confused with our ‘feelings?’
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.