The Secret Core of Insights: How to Feel Rather than Think Your Way Through Ideas

By Adam J. Pearson

Insights and ideas are intellectually ‘interesting’ when they pop up in the mind or we encounter them in others, but so long as we only grasp them on the conceptual level, they remain basically flat and superficial. We graze their surface, but we miss their essence. The secret core of every great idea and realization is more than a concept; the secret core of all great ideas is a mode of experience, a way of encountering existence, a way of feeling and perceiving.

To enter into the core and the adventure of an insight, we need to do something that may sound surprising to those of us who are firmly rooted in our intellects. We need to feel rather than think our way through it. We need to try the idea “on for size.” How exactly do we do this? It’s a simple two-step process.

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Practice: Feeling Through an Idea

1. First, choose an idea, insight, realization, or epiphany to consider. It can be a metaphysical idea, like that “all actions are determined by causes and conditions” or that ‘human beings possess some degree of free will.” It can be the idea that you are the universe. It can be a view of human beings, like that “human beings show masks to one another and conceal their true feelings” or that “peoples’ bodies tell the truth their tongues hold back” or that “people are basically good” or “people or basically evil.” Any meaningful idea will work.

2. Hold this idea in your mind and intently watch the feelings and bodily sensations that come up in response to it. Carefully and attentively  inquire into how this idea shapes your view of the world and your bodily and emotional feelings. Place some attention on the idea and see what sensations come up in your body while it is there. Note how your feelings change in response to the idea. Notice how the insight changes the way you perceive yourself, others, or the world in subtle or drastic ways.

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Each great idea presents a vision of the world and shapes your experience in definite ways. Inquire into what this idea’s vision feels like.  How does its view of you, other people, or the world feel in your body, in your gut?

The great idea you are considering may sound “reasonable, and logical,” but does it also have the feeling of truth, genuineness, sincerity, or authenticity? How does it make you feel about and relate to other people and yourself when you hold it to be true?  Does it inspire tension in your body or relaxation? Does it give rise to comfort or despair, peace or aggression, love or hatred, interest or disinterest?

The more you feel through your ideas, the more you come to see that an insight can be more than an idea; it can be a lens through which to see a facet of reality, a microscope or a telescope onto a new view of the universe. To experience it in this vast way, it is necessary to feel and experience it rather than simply to think about it.

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