Notes on Soul as Feeling

Paul Ricour= “..feeling is ontological. It shows us something about the nature of being. It reveals that we are a part of being, and that being is therefore ..the medium or primal space in which we continue to exist” [p 118, ‘Fallible Man’, 1965].

In ancient Greek and in ancient Hebrew, ‘feeling’ belongs to soul– not to heart. The ancient traditions, in both everyday language and in religious theology, would have said, not= ‘I feel in my heart’, but= ‘my soul feels.’

Feeling is to be distinguished from emotion — which belongs to the shallow side of heart — and feeling is to be distinguished from passion — which belongs to the deep side of heart. Passion is not ‘intense feeling’, for feeling has its own rhythms and variations, its own gentleness and strength.

Moreover, feeling is richer and broader in its ‘reading’ of reality than thought. Feelings do not follow from, but precede, cognition. Nietzsche= “Thoughts are the shadows of our feelings– always darker, emptier, simpler.”

Basically feeling is part of soul because feeling is a unifying kind of communication that connects the person and other persons, or even the person and things. A person who cannot feel is separated from persons and things, and being thus at a distance, has to use the mind to speculate on what is out there. Feeling establishes an immediate bridge, such that there is no longer the gap of separation, but a contact, even a ‘touch.’ When we say, ‘that touched me’, or ‘that was touching’, we are referring to being reached in our feeling. When we ‘feel our way’, it is as if our rational eyes are closed, but our arms are outstretched and we are literally sensing our way ahead; thus do we refer to the need to ‘feel our way into situations.’ Feeling is, as Anita Harmon told me once, “a trust sense.” We must trust to feel, because if we have no trust at all, we pull our feelers in. Where emotion is stupid, crude, and explosive [like the genie in the bottle who cannot be contained but must break out], feeling is intelligent, subtle, and can ‘hold’ many things in tension without having to be relieved of them. With emotion, we have an outburst and forget it, but feelings are long lasting, holding things over time. Emotions are threatened in basic ways, but feelings can be hurt, and hurt in very sophisticated ways. Emotion ‘has to do something about it, right now’, but feeling can savour it, ponder it, sift it, digest it, over long stretches of time. There are only a few crude emotions, but feelings are as complex and varied as an artist’s palette, full of not only many colours but even more shades of colours. Emotions tend to go in one direction, so there is only room for one emotional tone at a time, but multiple feelings can co-exist, nuancing something, even holding it in ambivalence. Feeling is the two-way dialogue of spoken and unspoken, and totally embodied, relationship [if the words do not convey the feeling, then look at the body postures and movements]. As Jung argued, feeling is not only intelligent about the two-way relationship always going on between the feeler and the felt, but feeling is inherently ‘evaluative.’ This makes the feelings in the bonding process between mother and child a major source of true morality, not super-ego social control, for it is in feelings that the child is first empathised with and as a result learns to empathise. To be able to feel what you are feeling tells me you are a sentient, vulnerable, being as I am= and this caring about the feelings of others starts to be learnt early in childhood. But in feeling it is even more immediate and direct= I feel you, you feel me, this is our relationship happening in the here and now, it brings us closer together, and is thus a process of ‘befriending.’ There is in feeling a ‘welcoming of the other’ [welcoming many things is a soul function] that creates friendship. People who cannot feel do not real friends make.

All this means that it is through feeling we draw close and unite with Otherness, be it person, thing, creature, even idea. When we feel an idea, we do not just think it objectively, but it invades our subjective being, and therefore inter-subjectively we can dialogue with it on a different, more holistic level. We feel ideas that are dead and deadening, just as we feel ideas that are alive and enlivening. Heidegger called ‘contemplation’ a state of soul where we are ‘ravished by the being of the other.’ This immersion is a type of baptism in the very life of that which we contemplate. This happens through a kind of soul ‘vision’ saturated in and grounded in feeling. Again, there is an openness in this amounting to a trust and befriending. Through feeling, we are immersed in life, not spectating it at a distance ‘intellectually.’ In feeling, we ‘participate’ in what we encounter. We do not spectate and speculate, we immerse and participate. The metaphor is water= we swim in water, and the water is itself a medium of connectivity. Water flows between us, and we bathe in this same water, not merging but losing separation; in the same water we are at one, and thus share life.

Feeling is ‘situated’; it tells us about the complexity of the situation we are in. Through feeling we ‘pick up what is going on’, on all levels, and whether this is harmonious or discordant. To convey what feeling really is, Heidegger had to invent a new word for it in German, which reads something like ‘how I find myself in this situation.’ This implies we do not know what we will feel until we are in a situation, in a relationship with someone; we can hypothesize what it will be like, but the reality can be, and often is, very different. We imagine we would like to be in love, but when you are there with the person, your feeling tells you what it is really like. Through your feeling you find what it is like for you with someone, or what it is like for you in a certain setting; feeling discovers how it is for us, as well as how the other is. Feeling is an inter-subjective bridge, connecting objective and subjective in an active two-way relationship. When we ask, another or ourself, ‘what was it like for you, with so and so, or in such and such a situation?’, we ask= what did your feelings discover there, in the actuality, never mind any ideas or imaginings about it from outside, not ‘in’, it. Feeling reveals what is like to be there and undergo it, be there and go through it. This is why in everyday parlance, as in psychotherapy, the term ‘feeling’ is often used interchangeably with the term ‘experience.’ It is often feeling that first tells us what we are experiencing with people or with situations.

This, then, is more accurate to the ancient Greek and Hebrew traditions= ‘the feeling of my soul tells me..’

Feeling knows by participation. That desire dynamizes soul with thirst, longing, yearning, for ‘knowing’ — the knowing of God, the knowing in sex which is likened to mystical congress with God, knowing nature, knowing the world of culture, knowing life — means that feeling’s intelligence, evaluation, fullness, is constellated round the meta theme of participation= whether we participate or not, and the richness of content of our participation. Feeling pushes us, via desire, towards a fuller participation. This makes feeling ‘full’, ‘rich’, ‘fulfilled to overflowing.’ For feeling, harmful damage separates, and thus the urge in the healing of feeling is to reunite that which has been cut asunder. Because feeling can ‘feel’ anything and everything, so the breaches to be healed in the damaged feeling life include not only the family, or society, but different and mysterious ontological levels and kinds of being, such as that referred to by St Maximos as paradise and the world, male and female, sky and earth, invisible and visible, God and creation. We speak in too facile a manner of the ‘bonds’ of affection uniting us; we should realise these bonds are real threads of fate linking us and linking many things around and above and below us. Feeling is a ‘fabric’ of woven connective threads. The soul can use multiple gifts, like imagination, to un-weave and re-weave these threads of personalness, of society, of the cosmos. The soul is rooted in the ontological, and feeling is part of the connective threading that makes the single fabric. People, nature, invisible spirit, God, are bonded in complex fabrics of togetherness. Feeling knows this is so and contributes to making it more so. Damage to feeling is damage to the fabric of being. When our feeling is hurt, stunted, twisted, or as in Shamanism, ‘lost’ [spirited away= soul loss], then all we can do is lose all sense of this fabric we are really part of, and due to that, we will probably inadvertently rip it to shreds wherever we go, and whatever we do. Our very un-feelingness rips the fabric that bonds together people, nature, cosmos, invisible spirit, God.

A psychologically and spiritually acute account of feeling comes from a book by John Heron called ‘Feeling and Personhood.’ Heron is critical of Buddhist metaphysics, and thinks they have confused the duality or separation created by ego with the necessary personal distinctness or otherness of relationship= the ‘inter personal’ I—Thou. The only genuine non-duality is not oneness as fusion, but the twoness that makes possible genuine ‘dialogue’ of person with person ala Martin Buber. Thus Heron speaks of feeling as unitary but not merging= his favoured terms for feeing include ‘attunement and resonance’, ‘indwelling and participation.’

L. Hyde takes up the same theme. He says it is feeling through which we “place ourselves in communion with what we find outside ourselves.” Thus the Christian theme of ‘communion’, even the Trinitarian and mystical ‘being as communion’, can only be incarnated in and realised through feeling. ‘Beingness’ is articulated through feeling. When our being is in communion with other beings — indeed when in that more radical condition our very being is, and lives by, communion with all being — then this will be manifested and even dynamised by feeling. Feeling will be, and already is, the waves in a vaster ocean.

Heraclitus= “You could not discover the limits of soul, even if you travelled by every path in order to do so; such is the depth of its meaning.”