Bliss, Impermanence, and the Emotional Body: Using Feeling to See the World As It Truly Is
Bliss is a sort of siren song in the spiritual community. Its evocative power is deep, immediate, and luscious. Even its physical pronunciation is lilting and intoxicating, beginning tenderly on the lips and ending with a gently sustained vibration of the soft palate.
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Bliss is a sort of siren song in the spiritual community.
Its evocative power is deep, immediate, and luscious. Even its physical pronunciation is lilting and intoxicating, beginning tenderly on the lips and ending with a gently sustained vibration of the soft palate.
Many ancient, sacred languages were engineered to keep the formation of sounds focused on the upper palate in order to keep communicative energies directed upwards towards the higher chakras (the throat, third eye, and crown).
Many yogis even believe that striking or vibrating these areas of the mouth’s upper portion is akin to activating keys or triggers for the body’s subtle nervous system.
So it’s probably not a coincidence that the word bliss hits a lot of these spots perfectly.
But despite the aura of illumination, fulfillment, and joy that surrounds the concept of bliss, it can also be a trickster and a seductress.
The Germanic root of bliss is related to the word “blithe,” which connotes a drifting, careless, and heedless quality, and the Old English derivative was specifically used to refer to “earthly merriment.” This is a far cry from the word’s ubiquitous use in yoga studios and spiritual retreat centers.
But this kind of linguistic nitpicking is beside the point. All that’s really needed is an honest awareness of bliss’s many faces and shadows.
Our experience of the spiritual path should certainly be filled with deep joy and ecstasy (as bliss often promises to us); we just need to be careful not to forfeit true spiritual ecstasy for superficial enjoyment.
Timothy Leary supposedly said that “if it feels good, it probably is,” and well…I’m sure you can see the holes in that argument.
Your feelings are a finely tuned instrument
We almost never give our feelings enough credit. And even when we do, it’s because we’re allowing them to control us, rather than leveraging them as a tool of higher awareness.
In yogic doctrine and the ancient, sacred sciences, the emotional body was considered the bridge between the lower and higher realms. It was revered as an impossibly meticulous interweaving of physical material and etheric forces, a perfectly choreographed dance between matter and Spirit.
It is the search after the Choreographer that leads the seeker deep into the Mystery of existence, and the experience of the dance that illuminates the seeker’s way.
All metaphors and parables aside, one thing is clear: our feelings (the phenomenological outgrowth of our emotional bodies) are powerful tools for peering deep into the transcendent realm.
And yet, emotional mastery is simply not recognized as a necessary or “substantiated” practice…and thus our inborn emotional intuition often atrophies by the time we reach adulthood.
In the Spring 2014 edition of Tricycle, Chris McKenna comments on the paucity of emotional training in our conventional education system: “You go through a mandated educational system for 18 years. How much of that time is spent learning about the inner life—how the mind and emotions function, how reactions come up, how you engage with challenging life situations? For most youth, the answer is: almost zero. These are aspects of your experience that were with you when you were born and are going to be with you long after you’ve forgotten everything that was taught in school. Yet there is no time during the day to give kids this owner’s manual for themselves.”
If we can overcome this societal disposition towards ignorance, we’ll find that taking the time to train and develop our feeling awareness can lead to a deep understanding of spiritual reality…including the illustrious and uncertain road to bliss.
Let’s explore the domain of bliss via the emotional body. We’ll tease out our experience of feelings, and why they can lead us into attachment and illusion if we’re not cautious.
You are more than your thoughts and desires
Call to mind your moment of greatest bliss, and try to identify what made it so special.
What were you feeling? If you’re truly honest with yourself, you’ll find that the magnificence of that feeling-state had nothing to do with conditional fulfillment, but rather an alignment with our core frequency.
A great meal can’t induce true bliss, because you’ll eventually get hungry again. A tropical vacation won’t do the job, as you’ll have to go home at some point. Even our loved ones can’t be relied upon as a source of unmediated elation, because the day will come when our soul’s path must diverge from theirs, if only for a time.
So how can we tell the difference between egoic delight and the true bliss of self-actualization?
The trick is to avoid being elated by the impermanent.
We can certainly experience our undying core intentionality through our worldly experiences. Indeed, this is one of the highest wonders of incarnating in the physical realm. But we need to isolate and recognize the deepest, most fundamental driver that makes an experience blissful, so that we can learn to separate the thing from the essence of things.
Otherwise, if we become attached to the things that we believe bring us happiness, we exchange the bliss of our core frequency for fleeting, material infatuation.
It’s not just about cookies
Experiencing the world “essentially” dramatically enlarges our view of the Self, and is thus the doorway to both personal and transpersonal bliss.
Transpersonal experience reminds us that we are much more than the foods we eat, the company we keep, the thoughts we think, and the experiences we share. We are reminded that our being is suffused and supported by a rarefied essence, a resonance pattern that thrills us, defines, us, and actually is us.
There is perhaps no better expression of this principle than Marcel Proust’s famous “bliss via cookies” passage in Remembrance of Things Past:
“An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory—this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me, it was me. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I sensed that it was connected with the taste of the tea and the cookies, but that it infinitely transcended those savors, could not, indeed, be of the same nature. Whence did it come? What did it mean?”
This is feeling immersion at its best. Proust’s emotional body becomes a tuning fork struck by the force of his own quintessence.
So how can we learn to experience this kind of state at will?
The answer to the riddle lies in his recognition that essential experience arises not as an external thing, but rather the recognition of one’s own Self. To put it another way: true bliss is the momentary apprehension of all things as coextensive expressions of your own core frequency.
Bliss doesn’t emerge because something has made you happy; it emerges because you see that you are that thing, and are made happy by this realization.
Be a daily observer
So take at least a few moments each day to examine your feelings. Learn to tell the difference between monkey-mind tribulations and true self-awareness. Here’s some questions that might be helpful for you to ask…
What am I feeling?
Why am I feeling it?
Are these feelings caused by external things?
Do I believe that I am separate from these things? If so, why?
What would it mean if I and these things were One?
How does this Oneness make me feel?
Don’t accept that bliss is a state to be achieved, or that external things can ever deliver that state to you. Instead, affirm that you, the things that are external to you, and your experience of those things are all One.
When you’re able to experience your own Proustian unfolding of essential consciousness, rejoice and be grateful. Breathe, smile, and laugh.
In fact, make sure to laugh even if you haven’t yet experienced this kind of opening. This process is definitely one that shouldn’t be taken too seriously. “Be ye as children,” as Jesus liked to say.
Because in a way, that’s what bliss is really about—the childlike return to the original language of emotional instinct and intuition, the homecoming to joyous, simple repose in awareness.
Isn’t it crazy how much work it takes us to get back to where we started?
 Emma Varvaloucas, “The Buddhist Life,” Tricycle, Spring 2014, 21.
 Proust, Marcel. Remembrance of Things Past, p. 48.