In the Patheos Hindu channel, Ambaa gives her perspective on Jedis and gnosticism, inspired by the same essay by Brother Humbert that prompted me to write “Emotional Weapons for a More Indifferent Age.” Ambaa explains that there’s a middle road between abandoning emotions and abandoning yourself to them. Quoth she:
I don’t think Hinduism calls for anyone, even ascetics, to not have emotions. But a practiced monk can see the emotions playing out over his psyche and know that they are shifting and temporary. He does not necessarily have to act on each emotion he feels, as most of us do. He knows that the emotions are a storm that the small self gets caught up in, but the true Self observes it without getting swept away in it.
The problem with Anakin was not that he felt love. Love is the cause of creation. What he felt was attachment. He had to own and possess and hold onto the object of his love. It twisted pure love into something dark because he had to take this woman and make her into a possession. Pure love is something that flows freely.
Krishna urges us in the Gita not to be attached to our actions and the same is true of our emotions. It’s fine to feel them, just remember to take them with a grain of salt, and to let them flow one to the next without trying to grab hold of an emotion we like and force it to stay.
Ambaa explains that we can experience strong feelings without getting locked into a feeling of possessiveness and need for control. If she weren’t talking about emotions specifically, I might think she was cribbing from Christian ideas about stewardship. Metaphors about stewards — people who have had property or responsibilities left in their care, to safeguard, but not enjoy, abound in Christ’s parables.
But it makes more intuitive sense for me to think about being the steward of physical objects or even of other people than it does to imagine having that kind of slightly removed attitude toward my own emotions. Once I imagine emotions as something that simply happen to me and then pass away, I get a little confused about how much ‘me’ there is for them to happen to.
My character and my identity is defined by my thoughts, my habits, and my feelings. I’m not defined permanently by these reactions; I can adjust and improve my disposition just as I could (entirely hypothetically) improve the muscle tone in my arms by doing push-ups. But there’s some kind of continuity that links my previous reactions up to my current ones and I have a certain ability to direct my path.
And when I’m choosing, it’s always tempting to make things simpler. I don’t get in charge of cleaning things as often since my friends noticed how much I cajole them to throw things out (“Do you really like having this object more than you like never having to think of cleaning it again?”). Detachment can be a bit too attractive to me, since by making one choice for indifference, I can limit the amount of noise that distracts me while making future decisions. But then I might also be choosing to give up a signal I don’t get from any other source.
It’s easier to talk about things to ignore (all data is a bit noisier than ideal!) than to come out and say what we do want to cleave to. It’s little use in talking about cultivating proper distance from some feelings or philosophies unless we talk about what we do want to be ruled by.