Mechanical Reactivity Truth Feeling Emotion Will

An excerpt from the teachings of Eugene Halliday


Truth, to Become Operative in us, must be felt and willed, must be experienced as a real movement within our soul, with definite direction of will.


Let us examine the difference between thinking, feeling, emotional conditions, willing and mechanical reactivity.



Let us begin with mechanical reactivity in order to get it out of the way, for this is the least human of our possible ways of reacting to a stimulus.

If whilst sitting down we cross one leg over the other so that the lower part of the upper leg is free to hang down in a relaxed way from the knee, and we then tap with a little hammer just below the knee-cap, the freely hanging lower leg will react to the tap by kicking out or jerking. This is a mechanical reaction, popularly called a knee-jerk. The energy of the little hammer blow has entered the leg, run up a nerve-line to the base of the spine and then run back again down to the muscle-group in the leg, so causing it to contract and make the kick or jerk.

The thing to note about this kind of reaction is that it does not involve a conscious choice on our part to make the kick. The kick is merely a mechanical reaction to a stimulus, no higher in principle than the reaction of a door­post to a kick. The fact that some nerve-electricity is used to convey the stimulus energy up and down the leg makes no difference in principle to the mechanicality of the act.

When we press the button on an electric bell, if it is in working order, the bell will ring. A large amount of our general activity is of this type, more so than most of us would care to admit. Every time that we react to a stimulus without using our capacity for free choice, we are in principle reacting mechanically.

Of course, in our daily life we find such mechanical reactions useful and economic, precisely because they do not require us to make continuous, conscious decisions. We can brush our teeth, wash our face, get dressed, drive a car, and a host of other ordinarily useful actions, without having to focus our full conscious attention upon them. These are just the ordinary activities of our ordinary existence, “ordinary” meaning that such activities are the result of a collection of orders ”that our body has been given during its training period either by our parents, teachers or ourselves. Ordinary life is the life of previously established orders.

But ordinary life is not what we are aiming to talk about. We need to show the world how to have a more than ordinary life, a more abundant, more creative life, an extra­ordinary life.


We see that human beings really prefer a more abundantly creative life, because we see that they prefer to watch the extraordinary performances of Olympic champions, to listen to the extraordinary singing of great singers, the unusually brilliant conducting of great orchestral conductors, to read the more than usual works of great novelists, to watch in the theatre or on T.V. the great playwrights’ works. Every time we use the word ‘great’ we mean ‘extra-ordinary’.


We can now go on to consider thinking, feeling, emotionality and willing.


Thinking is a process of dealing with ideas in our mind. Each thing that we see leaves in our mind an image of it by which we are able to recognise it if we see it again and remember it. The images of things seen, we call ‘ideas’ which word is from a Greek word meaning ‘form’ or ‘shape’. When we are thinking we are looking in our mind at the forms or shapes or images of things we have seen, and either we are letting them make their own haphazard connections, or we are directing the way they link together according to some purpose we will to fulfil. In this second case we call our thinking ‘directional’.

Directional thinking is the kind of thinking that we use when we have to attain some particular goal, or solve a particular problem. But directional thinking, once established, may not remain conscious. It may, by its familiarity or repetition, lapse from consciousness and yet continue at unconscious depths of our mind. Much of our ordinary thinking is of this unconscious kind. And what we call ‘prejudice’, or pre judgement of things is also like this. To take charge of our own thinking we have first to make ourselves conscious of it. We cannot control that of which we are unconscious.

We will now consider “feeling” and “emotional responses”.


By “feeling” we mean the assessing of things or ideas or mental states by the degree of pleasantness or unpleasantness that we can detect in them. Feeling confines itself to the assessing of likes and dislikes and the balancing of these one against the other in a pattern, the general tendency of which is more or less pleasant or unpleasant. Feeling is an assessing condition in which balancing of likes and dislikes of varying degrees is proceeding.


By contrast with this balancing process of feeling, emotional response is an outward-tending movement of our energies, which arises, either when we have finished our feeling assessment, or when, in spite of not having finished our assessment we have insufficient control over our energies.

This ‘FEELING’ is a like-dislike balancing assessment, and ‘EMOTION’ is an out-moving energy response, either following a completed assessment process, or resulting from insufficient energy control.


Now, willing is something quite different from either feeling assessment or emotion. When assessment in feeling is completed and emotional response is tending to occur, we still have a possibility of interfering with this response. We have a power by which we can stop our feeling assessment or our emotional response. This power is our will.

The school of behaviourist psychologists have tried to discredit the idea of will, but their own writings show evidence that they themselves are not thoroughly convinced of the truth of their own position. If what they say they believe is true, then they themselves could not help writing the books that are written to express their ideas.

The reality we innerly experience is that we have a capacity for interfering with our mental, feeling and emotional processes. That we do not always freely use this capacity does not prove that we have not got it.


There are other capacities that we possess that we also tend often not to use:

  • We are able to exercise our muscles, but this does not mean we always do so.
  • We are able to refine our feeling assessments, but we do not always do so.
  • We can think clearly when faced with a necessity to do so, but we do not always compel our thought into a purely logical form.

Non-use of a capacity does not prove the non-existence of that capacity.

  • So with our will. Its non-use is no proof of its non-existence.



We hear much talk today of ‘motivation’ in human beings, and by this word we mean all the mental processes of thinking, feeling and emotional responses that lie underneath human action patterns.


But we do not hear much of what we are willing to bring into being.

We have been diverted from the will by modern behaviourists’ theories that have no room for it.




We must will to get hold of our will. And this is the most difficult of all activities that we human beings can attempt.

For there is much, very much, against it.

Our physical and mental habits are against it.

Our feelings and emotional tendencies are largely against it.

It would seem on the external evidence alone that the cards are stacked against us. St. Paul and others thought so. “The flesh acts against the Spirit”.


Will is the most mysterious of all powers, for it is not itself definable in any way, yet it is the cause of all things, events and relationships that can be defined.

This is why we equate the Will with that infinite spiritual power which is our own Source.