When I was 6 I got a bicycle for my birthday. Overjoyed, I proudly took it to school where I met a girl in my class. She took one look at me and said;
“Is that all you got! On my birthday, I got a bicycle and a tape recorder and a whole outfit with patent shoes and everything!”
By the time she’d finished, my bicycle seemed a minimal gift and rather unworthy and my joy had turned to envy. On reflection I doubt that she had received any of those things and I suspect she was extremely envious, but unable to own her feelings, her reaction to me was one that in fact passed her envy over to me.
Emotions are a transferable commodity.
She walked away feeling good and I walked away feeling envious of her. Envy is an emotion passed easily in this way, as are fear, anger, and guilt… indeed all our most challenging emotions. People can behave in ways that literally give us their experience and pass us their unwanted emotional package.
Likewise, emotions are contagious, passed in ways that spread and magnify.
With happiness, the outcome is marvellous, we all feel good! However, with more destructive emotions like fear or anger, when misused, these emotions can spread like an epidemic with individuals, communities and whole nations overwhelmed and swept along in the power of the collective tide, losing sight of any capacity for reflective thought and personal choice.
We see this within our own lives and on a more global scale. The tragedy being that when powerful emotions are discharged without awareness, in lashing out, not only do we hurt others but this kind of emotional reactivity inevitably fuels even more of the same powerful emotions.
We are living in a highly reactive world and as far as I can see it’s an emotionally reactive world.
This morning as I considered the global problems that we as humanity face, I divided them into roughly two categories. The first, natural disaster; the difficulties we encounter in the face of drought, earthquakes, and other natural phenomena. The second, which far outweighed the first, were man-made problems; arising as a direct result of our own actions. Violence, war, hatred, prejudice, starvation…. The list goes on….
I came to the conclusion that almost all man-made problems could be resolved if we could only relate to one another. Living in mutual responsiveness with respectful recognition of each other’s feelings, with mindful awareness of powerful emotions informing considered actions rather than unconsidered re-actions.
Our mind is a gift. Our capacity to thoughtfully process information leads to more mindful relationships, however without emotion our mind operates from logic only. When disconnected from feeling we become disconnected from our ability to discover what matters to us.
Central to living a mindful life with personal responsibility is our ability to understand and engage with emotions, not as an enemy to be feared, but as an ally, bringing us an emotionally enhanced experience of living that takes us literally to ‘the heart of the matter’. Values are never simply a question of thought, they arise from both thought and feeling. A meeting of both heart and mind.
If our mind disconnects from any specific emotion, then that feeling within us will lose its voice! When suppressed, emotions inevitably come back with a vengeance, the more we silence them, the more they will strive to be heard! In consciously developing mindful connections with our emotions we increase our capacity for considered, responsible choice.If our actions cause a ripple effect that impacts the wider world, we can each create a more responsive, reflective humanity where care and consideration form the basis of all of our relational exchanges.
It fascinates me that in a war zone, if a natural disaster occurs, like an earthquake, on humanitarian grounds a ceasefire is called and all parties step up and help one another. In the face of external problems mankind unites in mutual support.
And not only do we support one another, but we enjoy it.
This demonstrates to me that at a core level of being, we fundamentally enjoy relating with one another with compassion and kindness. The recipients of help feel good... and those who are giving feel good as well! However, with the immediate crisis over, all parties return to the primary position of war. Back to fighting, with intention to cause damage, potentially to the very people that the week before they dug from a pile of rubble in an attempt to save lives! They’ve returned to doing what they perceive and believe to be the only solution to their differences!
As an emotionally orientated person this makes no sense to me, it doesn’t ‘feel’ right! If I disengage from feelings and approach this from purely logical thinking I can find no logic here either!
Central to this is an innate inability to resolve problems that sit between us! Facing an external problem, we demonstrate that not only can we override our differences but that we also all benefit from doing so, and yet faced with a problem between us, we demonstrate the exact opposite.
Curiously, working with couples, I see exactly the same problem replicated. Faced with an external problem they support each other and yet with a problem between them, there’s a complete inability to talk with mutual respect and consideration of one another’s position and more importantly to consider and be responsive to one another’s feelings; as if emotions can only be heard and expressed when directed outwards at a common enemy.
An inability to hear one another creates an arena of competition between us, whether in intimate partnerships, within families, friendships, communities, in government and between nations.
Perhaps we are all so desperate to be heard that we have forgotten how to listen to one another.
When someone behaves badly it’s instinctive to re-act but this inevitably perpetuates and fuels even more of the same unmanageable emotions. On a larger scale, in retaliation we see entire nations swept along in a frenzy of emotionally reactive behaviour often with desperately destructive consequences.
Imagine taking time to listen to and understand the nature of our emotions; how to channel the extraordinary power and energy that they generate to good effect, not only for ourselves but for the larger world beyond us. This choice is available to each of us, right here and right now. We can re-act, creating greater challenge, or we can choose to reflect, consider our own part in any situation and respond with respect.
It is within the immediacy of our own lives that we hold our greatest capacity to initiate and create change.
If We Wish to See Peace in the World, We Will need to Be Peace in the World.