The Role of Emotions in Perpetuating the Illusion

Emotions are like weather. One minute you’re enjoying life, basking in the sun’s warmth, gazing up at endless blue skies. The next minute, an ominous wind stirs up the leaves next to your feet, and dark thunderclouds roll in. One minute you feel light and happy, the next minute you feel heavy and contracted.

As human beings, we’re programmed to seek out pleasure and avoid pain. We don’t like negative emotions because they create unpleasant contractions and agitation in our bodies. If food has been your drug of choice, when a negative emotion erupts in your body, your first impulse is to numb out with food.

But the discomfort doesn’t stop with the sensation of contraction. When a negative emotion hits, you step out of the joy of beingness and identify with your ego. It can feel like you are possessed by a crazed demon. Not only does this unseemly creature bring suffering, it actually feeds on it. The minute a negative emotion takes you over, it demands to be fed, and pushes you to create more pain, either for yourself or for others.

Identifying with your ego and a negative emotion causes you to become a pain magnet. You either pick fights with others, provoking them to identify with their own egos or you stoke your internal emotional fire with more stressful thoughts. With your help, the ego pens an even more painful story of woe than the story that created the emotion in the first place.

To better understand emotions, let’s look at how the ego operates. The ego is a phantom that only exists as the “I thought,” and the belief, “I am a separate entity.” Essentially, the “you” that you have come to know yourself as—the ego—is really just a concept—a concept holding other concepts. In other words, “ I am a person, who is separate from you, who believes this, that, or the other thing.”

Because the ego is not real, it can’t exist in only place that is real, the timeless present moment.  Instead, it uses thoughts and feelings to move you into its unreal, time-bound world of past and future. Notice that thoughts and feelings refer only to what happened in the past or might happen in the future. It judges, characterizes, and compares the present moment with its story about past moments, but it can’t actually enter and experience the now.

The more dramatic the thought and the feeling, the more the more it demands your attention, and keeps you identified as a separate “me” or ego. As long as you are paying attention to thoughts and feelings, you are living in an illusory world. From this place, rather than experiencing life directly, you are cut off from natural joy of your true self. This is hell.

Like everything else, the ego wants to exist, to stay alive. Every minute it is working overtime to keep you out of the present moment, because it doesn’t exist there. With the present moment safely obscured by a thick veil of thoughts and feelings, its survival is assured, and it can go on about its business, convincing you to heed its advice, and pretending to commandeer the ship of your life.

Hence emotions, because they manifest powerfully in our bodies, are the ego’s most potent illusion maintaining tools. Like the ego, they are phantoms—nothing more than painful thoughts that we christened with belief. Once you sprinkle the magic fairy dust of belief on a thought, you create an emotion and it lodges itself in your body. In other words, the ego presents you with stressful thoughts, one after the other, hoping to get your buy in. As soon as it has it, as soon as you believe a stressful thought, “voila,” an emotion is born.

Happily, there is a silver lining in this dark world of negative emotions. Whenever a negative emotion arises, it is a hopeful sign that you are ready to heal the conditioning that triggered it and gave it life. Somewhere, buried deep within your psyche, lives a mistaken core belief there that you are ready to see through. You do this by shining the light of your consciousness onto it so that it can be transmuted back into that consciousness.

The word, “emotion,” comes from a Latin root meaning “to move through or out.” Thankfully, when you feel sad or angry or afraid, that emotion is just passing through. Ramana Maharshi, a great south Indian Saint said, “What comes and goes is not real.” Because emotions and thoughts come and go, ultimately they are not real. Thankfully, like everything else in the illusory world of duality and impermanence, emotions don’t come to stay. They are just passing through, temporarily obscuring the reality of your nature, like a thunderstorm momentarily covering the blue sky.