Taming Our Emotions

Stefan Carey and Andrew Rooke

Imagine going on safari to a psychological savanna and watching the wildlife of the emotional lower self come and go. A black rhino of anger suddenly charges the car, while a lion of laziness slumbers in the shade of a thorny tree. A giraffe of gratitude strides by. Hyenas of hysteria break the stillness with their incoherent cackles. An eagle of devotion drifts high above, riding the warm gentle breeze. Like animals, some emotions are harmless, others give us a real sense of the infinite and of our inner self. Rogue emotions need to be kept firmly on a leash or even locked up. If we give way to any of them too much, we become their prisoners instead of their masters, and it’s essential we don’t end up trapped inside a cage with our untamed emotions!

In our spiritual searching we’re often tempted (and told) to be jailers and suppressors of our emotions — a tired, narrow view. Emotions are vital to our functioning as healthy, vibrant human beings — even the rogues, such as anger. Setting up the right balance in our emotional and spiritual lives is vital because emotions permeate right through our outer and inner constitution, affecting both our mental and physical health. How then do we get in balance and control without destroying ourselves and our self-confidence in the process with unproductive guilt and simplistic rules? How turn a raw energy into something useful? As we experience life and unfold our better selves we have to work with and through emotions — conquer them sometimes, and transform them when we are able. To adopt a different analogy, like good farmers we need to gently but persistently cultivate our finer emotions by using a healthy self-control. Otherwise we’ll get an angry, selfish paddock full of unpleasantness and negativity, not the bounteous crop we thought we’d sown, not the person we had hoped we would see in the mirror.

St. George, sword in hand, sitting astride the Dragon, is also a useful image of what we need to do. St. George (our better self) has his sword’s point poised above the terrified eyes of the dragon (our lesser, impatient, and easily-angered self) — and the dragon below him is under control as a useful servant. Killing the dragon would mean losing an ally in disguise: a part of ourselves. The ancient Egyptians expressed the same idea on a grander scale in the carved body of the Sphinx, with its human head and leonine body. Here the semi-divine human is locked into a body with its animal self, ideally with the human fully in charge of the animal aspects of its nature. Both figures symbolize an old, old combat that every person on the planet has to deal with — and win, or come back in other incarnations to meet again.

How quickly can we get to a state of balance between emotion and spirituality? We can’t expect to evolve overnight. A big tree takes many years for its roots to spread to full size so its crown can grow to its potential. But at least we can aim high: try to act compassionately, intelligently, positively, and kindly — inwardly and outwardly to be our better self, the person and friend to ourselves we’d like be.

The Chinese philosopher Mencius, speaking of spiritual growth, said that we couldn’t pull young shoots of grass out of the ground to make them grow faster. We must have patience. We cannot force our good emotions, or destroy or totally suppress our harmful emotions, without paying a heavy price. It takes time. We must accept who we are — as human beings, not less, not more — and work from there. This even-handed way of treating ourselves can make it easier to move along the path to our inner divinity and find the nobility that we are in our highest aspect.

But do our emotions end with us? They are not singular events that happen only inside our range of thinking and feeling. No, they travel, for as Grace Knoche wrote:

Thoughts and emotions of whatever kind circulate swiftly through the inner atmosphere of earth, to return in kind upon the individual, and upon the nations and races, that sent them forth, degrading or uplifting untold numbers responsive to the same wavelength. — Sunrise, Aug/Sept 1979, p. 323

So we have a responsibility to others for the quality of our emotions. We might picture one invisible energy moving through the cells of our bodies, through memory and emotion, and on outwardly to neighbors, families, and nations. If we extend this idea, then all nature is penetrated and interconnected by the circulations of these vital forces and vibrations — some of which are emotional energies. This interconnectedness carries a real responsibility in our emotional life. As Grace Knoche explained further:

By our thoughts and feelings we are either creators or destroyers; inevitably so, for inner health is dependent upon the proper balance between the impulse to dispose of that which is outgrown and the impulse to regenerate, to renew that which is essential for progress — in private character and in our associations with others.
. . . When we cannot forgive, and harbor ill-will and resentment, by so much are we death-dealing, retarding the transformation of negative elements into life-building energies. Conversely, when we can empty our natures of that which is mean and limiting, we are creators, life-givers — to ourselves and our fellow men, for there is no living unto oneself alone. — Ibid., pp. 322-3

Emotions are important. Let us support the positive things inside and outside of us, and use our emotional energy in positive ways. Let’s be human, the best human being that each one of us knows how to be. Our emotions can poison us or help us in making this a better, kinder world. For we are the zookeepers, St. George — and also the dragon!

St George

(From Sunrise magazine, Spring 2007; copyright © 2007 Theosophical University Press)

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