Oliver Page

The 3 levels of truth – thought, feeling, action

19 March, 2022
3 Levels of Truth Featured Image

Photo by Mike Lewis

While reading the book Blue Truth by David Deida, I came across a passage on the nature of ‘truth’. It was articulated with such lucidity that I got chills:

The mind is more malleable than the emotions or the body, and so the mind is relatively swift to change.

After your mind has grasped the truth, your emotions are next to change over time. Yet even highly developed emotional intelligence – your capacity to feel the truth with great sensitivity and nuance – is not sufficient for growth.

The last part of you to be transformed by truth is your body. Being more solid than your mind or emotions, your body changes last. Your body’s habits – the motions you go through – are the most stubborn, the most rigid, and the least yielding to truth.”

The process of surrendering to truth may not be as linear as suggested, but this passage quickly shifted something for me.

For many years, I have been stuck on the first level – mind/thought. I believed that if I can just find the right framework for spiritual and psychological growth, then my life will click into place. All I had to do was acquire more knowledge – the truth was ‘out there’ somewhere.

I also believed that analysing, discussing and witnessing my emotions was transformative by itself. But time and time again, my stubborn body refused to yield to my hard-won insights. I now understand that truth must be embodied and lived. The body is the final frontier when it comes to genuine, lasting change.

As Deida says, knowledge is the easiest. It’s much harder to live the truth than to feel it or know it. Everybody knows the truth about something, but moving from abstraction to action is a leap of faith.

I find this encouraging. I can now move forward without feeling as though I’m deficient in Vitamin T (Truth). In fact, I’m practically drowning in it. Only my embodied reluctance to integrate the various threads of truth stands in the way of my transformation.

For the rest of this article, I explore each level of truth – thought, feeling and action – through the lens of a commonly expressed truth. One which is beginning to percolate down into my emotional core, and is thankfully being reflected in more of my actions over time: that life is short.

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Level 1: Thought

We’re all swimming in a sea of truth already. Take one of the most profound truths: that life is short. Repeated ad infinitum, this saying is bound to get eyes rolling. But perhaps our collective apathy is a sign of bodily stubbornness; a refusal to surrender to the finitude of our existence.

In the abstract, the brevity of life isn’t hard to grasp. It only takes a few seconds to do so. For instance, approaching this truth from an intellectual frame, we could run a simple thought experiment such as the Cosmic Calendar.

The Cosmic Calendar works like this. If we condensed the universe’s 13.8 billion years down to a single calendar year, there would be 38 million years per cosmic day, 1.6 million years per cosmic hour, and 438 years per cosmic second. At this scale, anatomically modern humans came into existence on 31st December, at 11:52pm… which means your own lifespan represents the fraction of a second before midnight.

So yes, in comparison to everything that came before, our lives are mind-bogglingly short. Yet this thought-level truth may never touch you at a level sufficient to prompt any inquiry about what that might mean. For instance, what will you change as a result?

If truth remains at the level of thought, we’re probably resisting its emotional implications.

When I worked as a doctor, I quickly came to realise that information does not equal transformation. It often seemed as though the more I used information to try and educate people into eating healthier, or smoking less, or doing more exercise, the less likely they were to change. Real, lasting change only seemed to come about in people ready and willing to receive the truth at a deeper level.

This goes for all of us. It’s only when we relax and open to truth that we create the space to accept it without judgement. In this space, we can develop the capacity to dance more intimately with the truth, allowing it to descend into deeper levels than cognition alone.

Level 2: Feeling

I remember lying in bed one night as a 5-year old boy. Ever the night owl, my mind was racing with thoughts and questions about life.

Having watched The Jungle Book earlier that day and crying when Baloo almost died, I found myself wrestling with the concept of death. I experienced wave after wave of intense fear and sorrow on imagining that one day my parents would die, along with my sisters, friends, and of course, myself.

The thought that time was going to snuff everything and everyone out conjured feelings of grief that I didn’t know how to contain. And so I ran into the living room, flooded in tears, and I wailed at my parents, “I don’t want you to die!”

Over the next two decades, I gradually lost touch with that tender sadness within. Like many, I found it easier to harden than to stay connected to the startling reality of how short this trip actually is. Stopping to express emotion felt dangerously self-indulgent, hysterical even.

Authentic truth doesn’t necessarily feel pleasant. It has equal potential to provoke existential dread, as it does to bring forth bliss, joy and revelation.

What makes the difference is how we learn to work with the emotions we discover in ourselves. This takes bravery, commitment and the cultivation of stillness. With all the demands on our attention, it can be much easier to focus on our daily errands, what our colleagues think of us, or some other trivial thing.

It’s tempting to repress and defer grief and anxiety to a later moment. But we don’t have to wait for tragedy or personal crisis to feel into the truth, whether to do with our impending mortality or something else.

But as Deida warns, feeling the truth is no guarantee of growth. We can even become addicted to it; the fireworks show of our emotional landscape can bedazzle us for years on end. There’s no substitute for heeding the call to take authentic, aligned action, which is the hardest part of all.

Level 3: Action

We can philosophise about life being short until we’re blue in the face, and feel it deeply, but so what? Based on the truth, what are we committed to changing?

It’s the rare person who acts from an enlightened place of truth. To this person, the resonant thoughts and feelings associated with “life is short” might lead to a vow to live fully and cherish each moment.

Consider the many possible implications of this vow. Putting this stake in the ground could lead to self-compassion, resetting of priorities and wiser decisions born out of inspiration rather than fear. When we actively live our heart’s truth, the potential ripple effects are almost limitless.

Personally speaking, my decision to leave medicine came from this place. Not everyone understood it, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was the truth – I was unhappy, and I was headed towards further unhappiness. I felt it deep in my bones. What more was there to think about?

It was a scary move, as action based on authentic truth often is, but it generated an enormous amount of self-respect. What’s more, I now feel more able to honour and act upon my truth than ever before.

Final words

Thought and feeling alone are insufficient for personal growth, but they do have an important role to play. We need to honour each level of truth and also have the courage to follow through with aligned, purposeful action.

“Knowing the truth is nearly useless. Feeling it is profound. And living it makes all the difference.”

~ David Deida

To finish the article, here’s an invitation: be bold enough to allow the truth in, and watch as your life transforms.

That said, here are two questions to reflect on:

  • What do you already know – or feel – to be true?
  • To what degree do your actions reflect that understanding?