Conscious Feeling

AJ Dahiya - Conscious feeling

About a year ago I had surgery. I was fortunate to have a wonderful team that, even all this time later, I still recall with tremendous gratitude. Under their skillful care, the difficulties I faced for some time were healed. 

Lately, I’ve been thinking in particular of the anesthesiologist, whose job is to put the patient into a state of unconsciousness. While I am an advocate for conscious living, in the setting of an operating theatre unconsciousness is welcome on the part of the patient. Why? Because in such a state one is no longer in a state of wakefulness and therefore one can no longer feel. 

To truly feel is only possible when we are awake. 

While unconsciousness is welcome when we do not want to feel the pain of the surgeon’s blade, in the realm of social good, compassion, and activism we want the polar opposite – we want to be as conscious as we possibly can.

To be conscious means to be awake, alive, and aware. An alternate definition is to be deliberate and acting with intentionality. Weaving all these thoughts together, then, we can surmise that to feel requires us to be awake and intentional. 

Yet the world is awash in unconscious feelers; those who form strong opinions and become emotionally reactive, clinging to a particular position without ever really examining the identities, fears, and emotional underpinning of those assertions. 

So often, we beat back the feelings we deem “negative,” disallowing ourselves the opportunity to examine or learn from them. In doing so we deny the intelligence of our emotions and create the conditions for disconnection. Unconscious feelers are numb; it is easy to become apathetic and deny injustice if we are continuously training our hearts to reject that which is uncomfortable. 

To develop conscious feeling is not an invitation to become swept out to sea in the current of your emotions. Rather, it is an opportunity to sit with your reactions, impulses, and predilections so that you can see them clearly. 

As Victor Frankl famously wrote: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

The Place Where We Are Kind

This week, I am drawing inspiration from the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai. In particular, his poignant piece “From The Place Where We Are Right.”

From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.

The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.

But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood

In these words I feel a call to humility, mercy, and compassion.

Indeed, so much of our political and social discourse has come to feel like a “ruined house.” Yet at a time of such great division in the world, Amichai’s simple reflection reminds us that even across great differences we have so much in common. We all long for safety, love our children and families, and want to be understood. And perhaps even more fundamentally, I suspect we all have our doubts. We wonder if we are choosing the right paths – whether we are doing enough – both individually and collectively. Yet we hesitate to give ourselves permission to admit that there is so much we do not understand.

If we lead with these “doubts and loves,” perhaps we can stand together not in the place where we are right, but in the place where we are kind. If we choose to listen more, perhaps in this stillness we will hear the whisper of our own consciousness, reminding us of the beauty and promise of our interconnectedness.