Emotional Self-Control PART II.
by Fr. E.S.Q.S.
Examining the Bases
The next method, more difficult than the first, is examining the bases. What is meant by this is that you take the time to examine your feelings, subject them to critical analysis. Very few people do this; in fact, most people just let their feelings run amok – their inner emotional life, an utterly chaotic maelstrom of insensible, reactionary, mechanical patterns. They say that, “It is natural” – and by this they probably mean to say that it is “normal” or “common”. Common, indeed – but a man who has set before his sights a higher ideal can no longer settle for “common”. He is done with being tossed about like a dinghy on a stormy sea; as such, he needs to begin examining the bases.
The majority of our feelings (especially those falling within the lower emotional molecular kinds 48:4-7) are insensible, reactionary, mechanical patterns. They are altogether useless, if not a hindrance, to the growth and development of consciousness. For example, envy. When has envy ever been useful to anyone? It has its roots in our wanting and desiring something that we do not have and our becoming upset when seeing someone who already has what we want and desire. Then we throw up our hands and lament, “It’s not fair!” All of this is entirely insensible, reactionary, and mechanical. None of it serves the growth and development of consciousness. Actually, in many cases, it counter-acts the growth and development of consciousness by increasing our feelings of hatred which serves to drive a wedge between us and our fellow man. It increases the illusion of separation or isolation.
As such, the root of a great many of our emotional problems stems from desire – which is why the study of desire is very important matter for learning emotional self-control. Desire can be considered as follows:
• Desire can be for either (or both) of the following:
o What we want (future)
o What we had (past)
• Desire is (apparently) never a matter of the present moment. The present moment is almost always accentuated by a sense of desirelessness or contentment; also, gratitude and gladness.
• Desire can be both positive or negative, can be either wanting or not wanting as follows:
o Wanting what is not present, whether in the future or in the past
o Not wanting what is present
• One further note: desire for higher things, such as higher types and kinds of consciousness is not properly desire; rather, it is aspiration. To aspire is the highest kind of desiring there is.
Thus, let us return to our example of envy above. Say that we had felt it in seeing our neighbor pull into his lot with his brand new car. As he pulled into his lot, a pang of envy struck us and perhaps we thought to ourselves, “Grrr – that should be my new car! I’ve been working so hard to get a new car and, yet, my neighbor – who hardly works – has got a new car before me!” Or something to that effect. So, let’s begin. What happened? Well, we were envious of our neighbor because he has got something that we had wanted. Thus, the root now is actually our desire: we had desired a new car – we had wanted something that we did not yet have (future); as such, when we saw our neighbor pull into his lot with a new car, we were envious, we were filled with hatred. Is that hatred justified? In reality, and in hindsight, we know that hatred is never justified; however, we may note that – at the time – we had indeed tried to rationalize our hatred. We had tried to convince ourselves that our envy was an acceptable response when we had thought, “He hardly works!” This is the way that lowly emotions work. This is the way that insensible, reactionary, mechanical patterns work. This is the way in which we hold ourselves and others down by our unthinking “conscious” expressions.
One step further: what about that new car? What about that desire? Why do we want a new car in the first place? Do we need it or do we want it? Is it necessary? Is it essential? In most cases, we probably do not actually need that new car; rather, we just want it. We also want what (often) goes along with it: peoples praise, peoples admiration. We want to appear wealthy, successful, and/or important. This is what we are grasping at: glory. All of it is vain. All of it is an illusion – and, as such, we suffer. So long as our desire goes unsatisfied, we suffer. What’s worse is when our neighbor pulls into his lot in his new car: someone else has got what we had wanted and, so, life just seems so unfair.
To want, to desire, is to suffer. This is something that men have yet to learn – even though a similar thing was taught by the Buddha ages ago. Desire for worldly things leads to suffering: wealth, glory, and/or “power” (I say, “power” in quotations to indicate that this “power” is only an appearance of true power). This is why the Stoic philosophers of old encouraged those of their school to get a hold of their desire. It is the fastest, most effective way of exercising emotional self-control – and you do it by examining the bases, constantly. You do it by thinking. You do it by analyzing your emotion responses to the world around you and seeing them for what they truly are as opposed to what they appear to be. What the Stoic learns is that nearly 90% of our emotion responses are insensible, reactionary, mechanical – and, in a word – useless. The other 10%, the noble feelings, the right aspirations, are the only things worthwhile – and those must be cultivated intentionally (see above).
TBC in PART III.