Light in the dark: pure awareness and feeling your feelings

If you’ve had a lot of trauma in your life, sweeping unpleasant feelings aside is probably second-nature. Yet experts and common sense insist that lasting happiness can’t be practiced while also pushing against negative emotions.

If we aren’t fully feeling it, we are to some extent pushing against it, and vice-versa.

But how does feeling our feelings relate to the practice of pure awareness? At face value it seems contradictory: pure awareness is like standing under a beautiful sun and feeling the light shine on your face. By contrast feeling your feelings can be like crawling into a dark and narrow cavern deep underground.

Yet the two are not only reconcilable, progress depends on working the two together.

In Daoism they talk about cultivating both life 命 ming and nature 性 xing. My understanding is that life or ming refers to our biological, biographical life. The details, dynamics, and peculiarities of our bodies and minds and experiences. Xing or nature is the eternal, essential part of us, the pure awareness we have been playing with.

Uniting our nature with life means bringing pure awareness to whatever is going on in our bodies and minds, without reservation. It means feeling our feelings in the light of pure awareness.

Pure awareness brings clarity and elevation to our experience of life. And at the same time life brings depth and resonance and individuality to pure awareness.

The Dao De Jing tells us that thirty spokes make a wheel, but it is the hole in the centre that makes the wheel useful. If pure awareness is the hole, then life is the thirty spokes and the rest. Without a hole the wheel is not useful, but the hole alone doesn’t make it a wheel.

When the burden of trauma and feelings is too great, pure awareness can be a temporary escape from life. But beyond being an escape, pure awareness and life belong together.

As we become strong enough to handle the residue of past trauma, we can turn our pure awareness towards those feelings, take the light down with us into the caverns underground where parts of us have remained stuck and lost in the dark.

Uniting pure awareness with life brings the clarity and security and wisdom of pure awareness into all the twists and turns and trauma that form the layers of our life experience.

In practice it means invoking pure awareness and then feeling our feelings. For me it means the mini-practice I’ve developed, and then allowing any and all feelings and thoughts and physical or mental artefacts to arise and simply be in the space and light of pure awareness.

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