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Monday, September 29, 2014

Who & What Decide How You Feel?

The extent to which your feelings are influenced by sources external to yourself is generally not appreciated until you make a decision to become aware of it. Undoubtedly you know that if you watch a horror film, you might feel frightened, causing your adrenalin levels to rise, just as though whatever is happening in the film were happening to you in real life, but when it happens in other, less obvious situations such as those that follow illustrate, you may not think of their influence on you as easily as you perceive the horror film's influence:
  • when you receive an email from a friend filled with beautiful images of the earth accompanied  by words that make you appreciate the glory of our world, and then the images catapult into others of garbage-strewn shanty towns and slums, or plastic-filled oceans, with the message indicating what we, as the population that fills the earth have done to occasion this, you will feel sad or guilty or ashamed.
  • when you hear about children dying of malnutrition or disease in sub-Saharan Africa, similar feelings may flood you
  • when you watch a sad love story depicted in a movie, such as the famous Love Story, or Bridges of Madison County, you feel sad. In fact, you may even cry.
  • when you see a film such as Temple Grandin (about the life of a woman who overcomes autism - not in the sense that she is no longer autistic, but in the sense that she creates a wonderful life for herself despite being autistic), or a similar film The Horse Boy about a young autistic boy who is taken to Mongolia by his parents to see if shamans there can cure him - you may feel elated at the end of the film
  • when you hear the news anchor recounting yet another massacre in yet another country, or another suicide bomber who has ended the lives of dozens, you probably feel awful, stunned or outraged
  • when you hear that your best friend has been diagnosed with malignant stomach cancer, you feel sad, perhaps angry, fearful and a host of other emotions
If, however, you are truly awake, conscious and aware, you will notice these emotions, and then you will literally choose what you do about them. And before you call me a loveless cretin, who needs to learn something about compassion, bear with me.

Let's examine the one about your friend who has been diagnosed with malignant stomach cancer. That is, perhaps, one of the biggest on my sample list above of outside sources influencing your emotions because it's closest to you. Of course you will feel one or more of the indicated emotions at first glance. But then you get to choose, if you are aware. And the better you choose, the more you will help your friend. The more you allow emotions to rule your initially negative reactions to the news of the cancer diagnosis, the less you will be able to help your friend. However, should you decide to react with strength and love for your friend, deciding to treat your friend as though he/she continues to be the same as before the diagnosis, in the sense that the diagnosis is not what now labels their existence, but simply one aspect of their existence, that admittedly, needs to be dealt with, but should not define who they are, then your presence in this person's life will be of much greater value, than if you sat at their bedside with a serious demeanor, and held their hand (lovingly).

Feeling elated at the end of the two movies about autism is obviously a much more positive emotion, and yet, if you think about it, as you palpate it within yourself, under ideal circumstances, you should be able to create such good feelings by yourself. I'm not suggesting you don't watch movies or read things that make you feel good - quite the contrary, I'm a great proponent of doing precisely that (see Keeping Your Energy High and Keeping Your Energy High 2) - but that you begin to train yourself to keep yourself in that good place without necessarily needing other sources (than yourself) or depending on other sources.

Said in a nutshell: neither should external sources cause your emotions to go into a sharp decline, nor should you need to depend on them in order to maintain them in a state of equanimity. This, of course, brings us full circle to what I wrote about in Happiness is Bad?. I quoted:
  • Happiness: not minding what happens (Krishnamurti)
  • Happiness: accepting what is (Tolle)
  • Enlightenment: the quiet acceptance of what is (Dyer)
If you don't mind what is; if you accept what is, then neither negative nor positive emotions will hold sway over you. This is not about giving up, nor is it about apathy. It's about equanimity, and equanimity equals inner harmony, inner balance, and inner well-being.

Image: National Geographic - Giraffes walking among gazelles in Africa


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