I saw an ad recently about how to handle our emotions. It suggested the way we are designed is to stay planted in consistency and watch our emotions go by, acknowledging them and addressing them. It described our fundamental human task as sitting and waiting while the circumstances and feelings fly by us.
Where we get into trouble, the ad claimed, is when we follow a particular emotion or experience too far. We jump off our stoop of consistency and run after one particular thing, trying to catch it, subdue it, or defeat it. And since these tasks are beyond our scope of ability, all we end up doing is wasting our time, getting lost, and ignoring all the other entities flowing through our lives.
It has really got me thinking about how we handle emotions. I don’t think the ad has it all right, but there is a lot of good there. Mostly, I find applicable the idea of chasing after something particular – with near obsession – at the cost of appreciating what else is going on around me.
Attention Versus Attachment
The real struggle we face when dealing with emotions is how long and how intensely to hold on to them. We mess it up on both ends.
On one side of the spectrum, we try to ignore or rush through our emotions. We do not give them the proper weight and attention. Our emotions are important, immensely important. They let us know when a value is being pressed. They are the first line of defense in protecting who we are and what matters to us most. If we just gaze at them passing by without any interest or without significant consideration, we are exposing ourselves to endangering our values and vision – either by neglect, complacency, or confusion.
On the other hand, if we attach ourselves to a particular emotion and/or a particular circumstance, we become enslaved to it. Our emotions don’t know what to do. They just know how to express, not how to act. In order to figure out how to respond to our emotions, we need to release our grip on them and invoke the help of other internal resources – thought, etc.
Some of us, all of us at times, know what it is like to obsessively chase after an emotion or a particular circumstance. We want to control it, but it ends up controlling us. We want to conquer and defeat it when its very nature is to dissipate and make way for other entities.
The way we choose to process our emotions is important. It helps sets the course for the kind of life we are going to live. Many of us have decided to live a life devoid of emotions, to try our best to not deal with the complexities they bring to light. Others have decided to worship our emotions, to treat them as all-important, all-knowing deities that need to be followed unto their last dying breath and then resurrected in the frightening void that follows.
Emotions our powerful. How we feel is an essential guide. It isn’t nothing. And it isn’t everything. Like most things in life, the key is in striking the right balance, following them just long enough to discern where they came from and what value they are alluding to. And then, letting them go as best we can as our perspective shifts towards discerning how to respond.