Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Category 6: Emotions and Ethics > Chapter 3: Discipline Emotions
Higher and lower emotions
The emotions are uppermost in primitive man. With time and evolution, reason begins to mix with them and eventually to rule the lower ones. With further time and further evolution, intuition appears as the fruit of the finer ones. This is the place of emotional life in man.
Few persons can separate--in their consciousness--emotions from thoughts. The capability of doing so is essential both to self-knowledge and to self-conquest. Therefore it is important to every Quester.
We must keep the emotional issues separate from the intellectual ones. But this is not to say that the intellect is to live an emotion-proof existence. Such separation always needs to be kept up only so long as the lack of it is likely to impair the quest of truth. This danger arises only during the earlier stages of man's seeking. When he has attained a balanced personality, cultivated a serene disposition, and mastered the egotistic urges within himself, then emotion and reason join forces with intuition in producing the quality of intelligence. Henceforth he feels what he thinks and thinks what he feels, his emotions are rightly directed and his thoughts are truthfully formed. They work together harmoniously, satisfactorily, and unitedly.
He who seeks to arrive at the truth about a matter must banish his personal inclinations and egoistic desires about it during the time that he contemplates it. He must make his emotions submit to the facts which displease them and he must compel his reasonings to accept the conclusions which surprise them. Otherwise, his emotions may betray him and his reasonings delude him, so that white will appear black and illusion will appear as reality.
There is a special quality which we will do well to develop during this particular period in which we live, and that is calmness. For wherever we turn our gaze, we perceive great upheavals of thought and emotion, great stirring of violent passion and bitter hatred, mass excitement and mob restlessness. In such a disturbed atmosphere we are liable to be swept off our feet against our better judgement and may thus injure the true interests of ourselves or of our country. We should remember that to keep a cool head is the way to act wisely and successfully, whereas to yield to hot impulsiveness is to act rashly and often wrongly. We should also remember how the unfortunate younger folk of Germany were cunningly swept into the Nazi current of blind impulses and became the bomb-fodder for the insatiable ambitions of a hysterical maniac like Hitler. Let this be a lesson on the need and value of calm judgement and levelheadedness.
We may also draw a further lesson from Germany, that is, the importance of practising goodwill to all. The continent of Europe could never have arrived at the present unhappy condition of its people had it realized this virtue. The more we try to be kindly and helpful to others, no matter what class or creed they belong to, the more others are kindly and helpful to us. Therefore, even from the purely selfish point of view it pays good dividends to practise goodwill. Moreover, it will help us as much as anything else to get on in life, for it will bring friends, gratitude, and even opportunities.
Once engaged on this Quest it becomes necessary to attend closely to the emotional and mental movements within himself, rejecting the lower ones and consenting to the higher. He must study carefully the differences between them, so that he may be able to recognize them.
He must come to the discipline of passion and emotion not through fearing their bad effects but through willing consent to the truth that his real being is above them and that it is better to live in reality than in illusion.
We hear much from the new moralists about the need of encouraging young men and young women to express themselves and of not letting society impose its will upon them, as we hear much from the psychoanalysts about the need of liberating them from secret inhibitions and of satisfying their repressed emotions. Both these movements are excellent. They are antidotes to the tyrannic soul-crushing, hypocrisy-breeding, and self-deceiving conventions of the old society. But a good overdone may become an evil, a virtue stretched too far may become a vice, and a method which ignores all the facets of the diamond of psychological truth except a single one may become unbalanced. The new morality may free people to the point where liberty is merely license and expression a dangerous disregard for the knowledge yielded by experience and age. The new psychoanalysis may free them to the point where mental liberation is mere lack of self control and emotional satisfaction is dangerously anti-social. This is not to say that we would belittle the value of either. Both standpoints may be philosophically used, which means they may be used in a balanced manner as a part of a wider one.
The whole man is the natural man. Whoever sets up a cleavage between the intellectual and emotional functions, and would ignore the latter in order to enthrone the former, is unnatural and cannot attain that truth which is the voice of nature. This is not to say that emotion or reason should run riot; it is proper and necessary to give reason the reins, but this done, any sharper division will lead to unbalance, distortion, and error.
Yes, the emotions of a person who is called hard and dry may need to be released, but this applies only to the positive ones. The negative ones are not worth releasing and should be got rid of.
Anger and hatred are dangerous emotions to carry about with you. Whether or not they lead to actions harmful to the person they are directed against, they are certainly harmful to you. Conquer them quickly, get these psychological poisons out of your system.
There is another kind of negative trait which, although unaggressive, is only less unpleasant by a matter of degrees than the aggressive ones. It is the black and bitter mood of sullen coldness, of the self-centered, self-tormenting, self-pitying sense of being wronged by the other person, the introverted, withdrawn, sulky, resentment at being hurt, a resentment so deep as to find no fitter expression than gloomy, frozen, and tense silence. He places all the blame for the situation on the other and consequently adopts a grieved unconciliatory attitude towards the other. He wounds by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being boorish. The atmosphere around him is full of sustained and hostile emotional tension. It is, of course, an adolescent trait and cannot endure when spiritual maturity is really attained.
What the unawakened man feels as fear, the awakened one transmutes into needful caution and careful forethought.
It is a feat of emotional surgery to relinquish attachments and to renounce possessivenesses.
Emotions unchecked by reason may become our betrayers. Beware of them when exceptionally strong and unduly excessive.
The fears which are natural or necessary should not be confused with the fears which are neurotic or excessive.
If the aspirant is to remake himself effectively, he must begin by attacking the lower emotions. They must be killed and eliminated from his life-scene. So long as they dominate it, so long will experience yield poisonous fruits instead of health-giving ones. Every fresh situation will only give fresh life to his ego because those emotions will involve themselves in that situation and cause him to misread it. The first enemies, the hidden sources of his own difficulties, are within himself.
To take the attitude in a depressing situation that the only action is to sit down and be depressed by it is unphilosophical.
He should never give himself up to despair, although he may give himself up in hard situations to gravest reflection and deepest resignation.
He may become so sensitive as a consequence of meditation that other people's thoughts, feelings, or passions may reflect themselves into his own nature temporarily when he is physically near them or mentally dealing with them. In such cases he will probably mistake the result for his own, thus expressing what is really alien to his mind or acting outside of his individual pattern of life. This is particularly true when a strong emotion like anger is directed against him. He may then feel instinctively angry with the other person. Unwittingly, he may become disloyal to the Ideal merely through being ignorant of what is happening psychically, and unguarded against it.
The longer he lives the more he discovers that real peace depends on the strength with which he rules his own heart, and real security depends on the truth with which he rules his own mind. When he leaves his emotions in disorder they bring agony--as the accompaniment or the follower of the happiness they claimed at first to be able to give. When he lets his thoughts serve the blindnesses of his ego, they deceive, mislead, or trouble him.
The aspirant must not act, live, or think under the sway of merely sentimental, emotional, and self-centered feeling alone but should strive for mature truthful feeling. This is intuition. When dealing with a complex personal situation, he should detach himself and follow such intuition instead of emotion. Then it will be solved rightly. He will not be karmically free of an unpleasant relationship until he has mentally freed himself from all negative thoughts and negative acts concerning it. Then the outer karmic forces will free him, or else he may be shown inwardly how to free himself outwardly.
Of what use, in such serious matters as survival, to live in so many illusions? Sentimentalists and emotionalists who desert reason at the bidding of well-intentioned, high ideals or religion to preach unrealistic attitudes do not know the difference between religio-mystic ethics and philosophic ethics. Only the latter is practical in the highest sense as well as the worldly one. Foolish teachers, professors, and those whose lives are spent in academic circles are suborned by these emotions more easily than are other people, just because their distance from the world of practical decisions and realistic affairs have made them one-sided.
All this emotional energy which neurotics waste in self-pity, hysterics in crises, and unwary ordinary persons in trivialities and negatives, is to be conserved, controlled, and constructively redirected.
If it be observed that young people and women at times display emotional instability, let it also be stated that to them is given by Nature tasks which can be fulfilled only in great love, and which call up in them commensurate emotional capacity. Where much is given, much is required, and they in particular need to learn control and wise use of the emotional drive so generously placed in their keeping.
Emotion is an unreliable adviser but refined, purified, and liberated from egotism, it becomes transformed into intuition.
This quality of a continuous calmness--so highly prized by the Brahmins of India--is hard to come by but exceedingly precious when gained. He who possesses it, who is unfailingly one and the same not only toward others but also toward himself, becomes a rock of upholding strength in their crises, an oasis of hidden comfort in his own. This beautiful serenity makes many other qualities possible in his own development while leaving a benedictory afterglow of encouragement with all those who are still struggling with their own refractory emotions and passions.
An excessive humility or a morbid self-depreciation may prevent a man from seeking outside help. This too is a manifestation of the ego, which cunningly uses such emotion to keep him away from a contact which threatens its rule.
As all worries and fears are aroused in the ego, they are lulled when, by meditation, the ego-thought is lulled and the meditator feels peace. But when the ego is rooted out by the entire philosophic effort, they are then rooted out too.
There are two kinds of inner peace. The first is somewhat like that which the ancient Stoics cultivated: the result of controlling emotions and disciplining thoughts, the result of will and effort applied to the mastery of self. It brings with it, at best, a contentment with what one has, at least, a resignation to one's lot. The second is much deeper, for it comes out of the Overself. It is the blessed result of Divine Grace liberating one from the craving for existence.
To attain this inner equilibrium, the emotions need to be brought under control. It is not enough to repress them by will alone: they need also to be understood psychologically in a far deeper sense than the academic one. It is not enough to analyse their obvious surface causes and workings: their relationship to the real self at the centre of being must become quite clear. The `I' who experiences them must be sought.
To sustain this inner calm will not be easy. Many a time, in test situations, he will fail. But even when the negative, explosive, or depressive emotion asserts itself strongly, he is not to show it in behaviour nor express it in speech. For this is a step towards that control of self, that impersonality, which is what the quest means. If mind influences body, body also influences mind. From the physical control he may proceed to the mental.
When calmness has been well practised for a sufficient period, it will occasionally of itself lead the practiser into sudden brief and ecstatic experiences of a mystical character.
He should calmly recognize that suffering has its allotted function to perform in the divine plan, that other people have their lessons to learn through it when they will learn in no other way, and that the spectacle of its operation should, in such cases, be met with intelligent understanding rather than with neurotic sentimentality. He should face the fact that many people will not learn from reason, intuition, or teaching and that no one can really liberate them from their sufferings except themselves. Every other kind of liberation is a false one. Others may effect it today only to see the same condition return tomorrow. He should not, in certain situations calling for hard decision, for instance, show unjustifiable weakness under the belief that he is showing forbearance, nor submit to antisocial egotism under the thought that he is practising love, nor abandon his highest duties for the sake of making a false and superficial peace with interfering ignorance, nor passibly accept a flagrant wrong because God's will must always be borne.
The lower emotions and the moods they produce are his first enemies. Every antagonism and envy, every wrathful temper and animal lust, every self-injuring desire and socially harmful greed bars his way. And it will not move out of the way without a long fight.
This spiritual quest takes the aspirant through many moods. He will alternate at times between blank despair and exalted joy. Though naturally affected by these moods, he ought nevertheless to try to keep a certain balance even in their very midst, to cultivate a kind of higher indifference towards them, and patience towards their results. This can be achieved more easily by obtaining a firm conviction of the transient character of such moods.
Both emotion and reason have their proper place in practical life, but in the philosophic life where the Quest is for truth alone and not for satisfaction, there is no place for emotion other than a secondary one. Its power over man is so great however that it will continually come into conflict with this ruling, it will struggle desperately to resist reason and to silence its voice, it will contradict the dictate of calm considered judgement and seek by sheer force to dominate the mind. Again and again the uprush of emotion will disturb the would-be philosopher and destroy his equanimity, thus rendering impossible a correct appreciation of the truth he seeks.
The melancholy feeling that he is missing something joyous in life, that a happiness which so many others have captured is running away from him with the years, is one of the emotional snares likely to beset the aspirant's path. If he yields to its self-pitying suggestiveness, it will weaken his resolve and disturb his peace. From that it is only a step or two to descend into a painted and delusive animality.
When he is tempted to be angry with some irritating person, he is faced with two choices: either to identify himself with this lower emotion or with his higher aspirations. If, following bad habit, he succumbs to the first, he weakens himself still further. If, following good resolve, he overcomes the temptation, he strengthens himself for the future.
With the pressures brought down upon them by his total philosophic effort, the grosser desires will gradually be flattened out anyway. But it will not be to his detriment if he deliberately and directly assists them to enter that condition.
We must command our thoughts if we are to command our deeds, but much more, we must command the emotional impulses behind those thoughts and those deeds.
Those who waste themselves in emotional excesses weaken themselves spiritually, for the power of feeling is an essential part of the higher nature.
Strong emotional attachments to another person may only tighten the ego's hold, may narrow, limit, warp, or prevent the seeing of truth. This happens all-too-often in family relationships and in the affections of the young. It can even happen in guru-disciple relationships.
Until that joyful time comes when negative moods or thoughts have ceased to cross the threshold of his consciousness, he must struggle with them by a combination of different methods. First, his will must follow them at once after their entry and remove them forcibly. Second, his imagination and reason must attack them in the meditation period set aside each day for that purpose.
Whether or not it is possible to attain a perfection of calmness that is secure against all assaults, it is surely possible to attain sufficient calmness to keep off many or most of the emotional disturbances and mental turmoils which derive from the petty incidents of everyday life.
Some have to learn that rashness is not courage, and only the painful results of their actions may succeed in teaching them this lesson.
The personal emotions entangle us in the events of life, whereas the impersonal intuitions enable us to see them from above.
Even if the intuitive leading or reasoned reflection opposes his wishes, the imperativeness of following truth and preserving integrity will force him to desert his wishes.
Emotion is valuable as a driving power, but doubtful as a means for discovering truth. If unbridled by reason and ungoverned by will, it may even drive a man to foolishness and disaster.
The neurotic introduces emotional factors into purely business matters, creates hysterical scenes, and cannot take a single word of constructive criticism or admonitory counsel.
Look through the miserable emotions of the ego and go beyond them to the smiling serenity of the Overself.
It is not the emotions which are to be kept out but the disturbances to which they may give rise.
Do not respond to negative or base emotion with the like. The greater the animosity shown you, for instance, the greater is the inward calm with which it should be met.
There is a vital difference between being merely callous in the presence of other people's suffering and being philosophically calm.
A settled composed disposition will be one of the fruits of perseverance in rejecting negative moods and undesirable thoughts as soon as they arise.
Self-control is your greatest friend through all the incidents and accidents of life.
Shanti means not only peace but also tranquillity, calmness, equanimity.
Whoever prolongs resentments belonging to past years and chapters long left behind, himself adds to the injury he suffered. Such brooding brings on negative moods.
Personal feelings must be studied and analysed, not to become more neurotically self-wrapped but to correct, discipline, and lift them to a higher level.
The more emotional a person is the more easily is she (or he) hurt. The way to lessen such hurts is to bring up reason to the same strength and to deepen calm.
The more he practises keeping calm in the confrontations of worldly stress, the less difficult will it be to practise meditation. The practice not only makes it easier for intelligence to operate but also for thoughts to come under control.
A panicky feeling disorganizes the whole of a man, throws him into confusion. This is avoided if one cultivates inner calm constantly.
He cannot afford to imitate those who show a calm exterior while raging furiously within themselves. Not necessarily--nor only--for the sake of appearances or personal advantage does he remain calm, but also because the ideal of self-control is very close to his heart.
But although philosophy refuses to accept a wild emotionalism or an unbalanced one or an egotistic one, it would be a grave mistake to think that it refuses to accept emotion altogether in its own sphere. On the contrary, it asserts that without the intensest possible feeling, a genuine devotion to the Overself cannot be given. And without such devotion, the Overself in turn is unlikely to give its Grace. What philosophy does ask, however, is that emotion should be balanced, purified, and deepened.
Pessimism will corrode our better nature, optimism may disillusion itself in the end. The middle way is the better way--and also the truer way--for it gives both sides of the case.
It is not only in practical life that emotional control will be needed but also in mystical life. The very intensity of his emotions--however noble and aspiring they be--will confuse the reception of the truth during meditation and mingle it with the meditator's own preconceptions.
We believe first and think out our belief afterward. This is because emotion rather than reason is our driving force. Reason actuates us from a deeper level and is therefore slower to arouse and harder to keep going than feeling.
The Stoics in old Europe tried to put the emotions under the absolute control of reason. The Buddhist yogis in old India tried to do exactly the same. But whereas the Stoics did this in order to meet the everyday alternations of fate, health, and fortune with great courage, the yogis did it in order to escape from those alternations. The Stoics were practical men who accepted the world but sought to conquer it through the power gained by conquering themselves. The yogis rejected the world and, like the desert monks of early Christianity, wanted to be done with its struggles and afflictions.
If he sulkily takes constructive, well-intentioned criticism as if it were a personal insult, if his emotional self falls discouraged into a slough of despond at the smallest discovery of his own faults and weaknesses, then he is likely not ready for this quest. Some self-preparation is first needed.
Merely to recollect that he is on the quest should soften his angers, if not quickly subdue them.
They should deliberately face whatever it is they fear. When they become frightened, they should not seek escape, but, in times of meditation and prayer, should turn full attention on its cause. Then, they should call upon latent resources and if the call is made in the right way, the response will appear in their conscious will. Thus equipped, they will be capable of compelling fears to subside and, in time, of overcoming them.
This inner quiescence, this emotional calm, this being at peace with oneself, this refusal to be upset or feel hurt, is one of those conditions which make possible the discovery of the true being.
The truth crushes all the falseness and all the deceptiveness in sentimentality and emotionality, but leaves intact what is sound in them. The ego eagerly wants to nourish itself with these pitiful illusions, therefore.
It is even helpful in certain cases to put the physical body under the strain of hard manual labour, or hard physical exercise for some weeks. This counterbalances the mental tension.
To eradicate anger he should cultivate its opposite--forgiveness.
According to ethics of the hidden teaching, hatred and anger are twin branches on the same tree.
Conduct is a deliberate, consciously purposeful, and willed activity whereas behaviour is general, casual, and not specifically directed.
How far is the moral distance from Buddha's purity to the modern pseudo-Zen plausibly concealed laxness! How immense the distance from self-mastered Founder to self-indulgent follower! The often used word "freedom" is conveniently misunderstood, its true meaning twisted to suit their sensual appetites.
Security of earthly possessions is hard to find and harder to keep in the quick-changing world of today. So anxieties and worries get multiplied. Because of this, inner security, the close friend of inner peace, becomes proportionately more valuable. If it is to be attained, the first practical requirement is to train oneself in the art of keeping emotionally and mentally calm.
This deliberate practice of calmness is a preparation for the deeper state of Mental Quiet, which comes by itself when meditation is sufficiently advanced. It is effort consciously and quickly made to keep a hold on passions and emotions so that the work of getting nearer the realization of ideals is not hindered.
Whether, or how much, philosophy removes fear must depend on either his capacity to withdraw part of awareness from the body or on a higher level to remain unmoved in the non-dual identity. Most people are captive, in different degrees, to some kind of fear. It may be caused by their surroundings, by their religious upbringing, by those in authority over them, by their bodily condition, by suggestion received from others or self-made.
It is prudent to keep away from temptation--at least until enough positive strength has been developed to risk the test. But if development is not sought and obtained, then untempted and unproven virtue may be merely negative.
Many aspirants pass through fluctuating moods, because they have yet to face the battle of Reason against Emotion, and to make their emotions the servants of their thought-out principles of living.
If he has strong emotions naturally, his problem is to check, guide, and rule them where they are of the lower human kind. But of course, the highest and noblest emotions need not be checked, and he may safely give himself up to them. He must get a better balance of temperament by disciplining his feelings, cultivating the moments of calmness which come to him, and by developing the reasoning faculty. He should also practise the exercise of constantly thinking over his past. But his thoughts should be tranquil, impersonal, self-critical, and he should be eager to learn the lessons to be gained from this practice. Especially should he look for the mistakes made, the faults displayed, and--by studying the results to which they led--try to get rid of these weaknesses of character.
There is nothing wrong with the human desire for affection, companionship, and marriage. But he who has embarked on the spiritual path should remember that more is expected from him than from ordinary people. He is expected to have a definite measure of control over his emotions and impulses and must not be carried off his feet into extremes where he loses balance. It is not possible to make good progress on the spiritual path unless some triumph over the impulsive nature is secured.
Evenness of temper is a valuable possession where it comes from self-mastery and not from a low vitality physically.
When you feel these fits of depression and despondency coming on, you must learn to stand aside from them and refuse to identify yourself with the emotions which express them. They are simply other forms of ego manifestation. With time and practice, you will be able to do this. The Short Path affirmations and meditations are essential at such a time, for they help you to acquire the detachment necessary to recognize the moods for what they are.
One student asked: "But how can one identify oneself with something one doesn't know?" Another one replied: "That is where faith in something beyond the intellect comes in!" P.B. said: "Yes, if that faith is intense enough it will be sufficient to lead to the desired result. If not, if one cannot have faith in the Overself, then a Teacher is necessary. It is through faith in the Teacher that the student is helped to knowledge of the Overself which he finds so difficult to reach by himself."
In this matter of sadness and depression, one should also be careful not to take on the moods of others. Sometimes, people who are sensitive do this. If extra-sensitive, they can even take on for a short time the symptoms of their ailments.
When critical moments arrive in a man's life his best recourse is first to calm not to panic, second to remember and turn towards the Overself. In that way he does not depend on his own small resources alone, but opens himself to the larger ones hidden in his subconscious.
So long as anyone lives in a state of uncontrolled emotion, and especially of ungoverned desire, so long does he remain unready for entry into the higher consciousness. For he is unable to bring his mind into that unruffled balanced state which is necessary to reflect like a mirror the truth and peace of that consciousness.
When anyone is carried away by an emotion, in most cases it happens before he knows it. This is why some sort of training in self-awareness, self-observation, and self-control becomes a requisite. All of these can be practised during the day at odd times more easily and effectively if the day itself is reviewed at night.
The emotional agitations will certainly come to an end when he finds his real inner peace, for he cannot have the two together. To have the peace he has to give up the agitations.
There will be no relief from this continual oscillation between opposite moods until he reaches the sixth degree.
His capacity to recover quickly from, and react positively to, the unexpected shocks of life will be one of the benefits of this cultivation of calmness.
When uncontrolled, emotion may be very destructive to oneself and to others, but controlled it becomes constructive and beneficial to all.
If they uselessly seek to achieve moral perfection, they may hopefully seek to achieve inner peace.
The man who holds to this discipline of the emotions will not be easily embarrassed when friends desert him or enemies attack him. Where the hands of another man may tremble, his heart bleed, and his eyes fill with tears, the philosopher will know peace.
The impressions which other persons make on him are to be separated from the emotional and personal feelings they arouse in him. How else is he to know the truth about them?
The practice of calmness frees a man from the fretful, nervous tension so many carry around with them; he brings a pleasant air of repose with him.
This coolness where other men might see them with passion or emotion, this detachment from events and persons, things and places, is exacerbating to those who misunderstand it.
Why was it required of candidates for entry into the Pythagorean School of Wisdom that they be of a "contented disposition"? Why does the ancient Hindu Scripture Svetasvatara Upanishad forbid the teaching of the deepest knowledge to one "who is not tranquil in the mind"?
The practice of calmness means that no emotions are squandered, no negative thoughts entertained.
Walter Hilton, the medieval English religious mystic, remarked on the fact that the advanced Christian is no longer bubbling with religious devotion or weeping with religious fear, since emotional feelings are subject to changes, hence unstable, for he "is now wholly at peace, and there is little outward indication of fervour."
The pathological resentment in their hearts contributes toward the ideological resistance in their heads to truth.
He who values inner peace will resist being swept away by strong negative emotions, will try to keep in command when the pressure of fear, anxiety, wrath, or hate threatens this peace.
As we win control of our feelings they become less a source of negative thoughts and more of upholding ones.
We use the term "emotionalist" in the same derogatory sense that we use "intellectualist."
Only an unflinching devotion to truth and an unyielding exercise of reason can see through these insincerities of sentimentality.
Intelligent generosity is philosophical. Sentimental generosity is not.
So long as he mistakes his own longings for actualities, so long will disappointment wait for him in the end.
If we let it stay in the mind long enough and feed it often enough, a worry can easily become an obsession.
The passage from jealousy to hatred is not a long one.
Baruch Spinoza wrote in his Ethics: "Human power in controlling the emotions consists solely in the Understanding, it follows that no one rejoices in blessedness because he has controlled his lusts, but contrariwise his power of controlling his lusts arises from this blessedness itself."
The negative, discordant, and disruptive emotions require treatment by psychological means just as much as the physical body may require treatment by medical, surgical, herbal, naturopathic, magnetic, or manipulative means.
The first step is to deny every form of outward expression to those emotions which are definitely harmful to his spiritual progress: to resentments, wraths, envies, and hates.
How can he discover the truth that some of his strongest desires arise out of imagined needs if he lets them envelop him in a haze of excitement or of emotion?
If the value of a calm stability in our emotional life could be sufficiently known and appreciated, we would have less unhappiness, less tragedy, and less inefficiency.
In moments of unusual calm, he may recognize the truth of these statements, but never in moments of personal agitation, whether it be painful or pleasurable agitation.
He must learn to master his baser emotions and to free himself from emotional frailties which, while not objectionable in common everyday life, may weaken his capacity to comprehend the truth.
The free indulgence of undesirable personal emotions leads to neuroticism. Those who most need the excellent discipline of checking such emotions by the power of will and eventually extinguishing them by the activity of reason, are unfortunately those who are least ready to submit to it.
He may put each irritating situation of his life in a truer perspective if he asks himself whether when dying he would like to remember that he had reacted to it in a negative way when he could have reacted positively.
To keep emotion under control is one thing; to keep it altogether out is another. It is well to be cautious about how we feel, but not to be so over-cautious that the day comes when we can no longer feel at all.
The individual who is touchy and irritable should beware lest his traits flare up into open anger, still more lest anger grow by degrees into intense hate and aggressive spite.
These neurotics seeking comfort, who invade mysticism to its detriment, display their self-willed, petty egotisms by resenting the discipline of their emotions, and thus contribute to their own further suffering.
The man who is constantly petulant and consistently pessimistic obstructs the inflow of higher forces.
Sentimentality may enfeeble a person and mislead his impulses.
Since a kind of order reigned in Nature, argued Confucius, it should be made by men to reign among themselves. They ought to live in an orderly manner and thus they could live in civilized harmony. This requires them to control emotions and not allow themselves to be swept hither and thither.
The emotional moods between which so many undisciplined men and women oscillate, with black despair at one end of the scale and golden joy at the other, belong to the ego.
It is not enough to create these new ways of thinking. They must be supported by emotional steadiness if they are to be maintained and not lost again. Emotional enthusiasm is not enough.
Diderot took this view, too, and asserted in The Paradox of the Actor that a good actor is inwardly calm and self-possessed even in the most passionate moments of his roles.
He finds that this serenity can be kept only if he drops many previously held superstitions, such as that it is necessary to be liked by everyone he meets everywhere.
If he starts with wildly unbalanced over-appreciation, glorifying and magnifying only its good points, he will probably end embittered in inevitable disillusion. But if this is pointed out to him, he is affronted.
Two men may be blood-brothers and yet greedily fight each other where property inheritance is at stake; two other men may be close friends and yet treacherously betray each other where a woman's love is at stake. Where personal desires or ambitions are at stake in the conventional world, such insincerities are always possible.
When the response to these teachings is merely emotionalist then it is also mostly untrustworthy.
He who follows such a regime finds he is more and more the master of himself, better and better able to subdue passions.
Don Quixote found his frightening giants were only windmills after all. So exaggerated are many of our fears.
To look only for pleasant effects upon the ego's feelings, whether it be our own or other people's, is a mistake.
Emotion is expert at inventing reasons for its aversions and dislikes.
One of the very important tasks of the Quest is to bring the emotional nature and the passional nature under control. If this is not done, it is certain that the man will be so affected by the various persons, so changed by the various environments he meets with as the days move forward, that he will not be able to achieve that serene poise which is the Quest's goal, nor depend on what he will be like tomorrow. That is, he will not be able to depend upon himself.
There are feelings which should be distrusted. There are reasonings which should be discarded. Only when the philosophic discipline has purified the heart and tranquillized the head can we safely rely on ourselves for judgement.
Most people are, in fact, very far from the stage where they can sagely trust their emotions or indiscriminately yield to their instincts.
Is it not better to take counsel of reason than to yield to the ardour of impulse, the throb of emotion, or the stir of passion? For if these are leading in a right direction, they lose nothing but, on the contrary, get confirmed by being reasoned out.
If one has to meet other persons who tend to put one into a condition of unease, then the most practical wisdom is to have as little personal contact with them as possible.
Emotions must be held within bounds. Intuition and intelligence must set those bounds. Otherwise imbalance, fanaticism, narrow-mindedness will thrive like weeds in the human heart.
Young James Dean, brilliant cinema-acting genius, was not protected by the golden Saint Christopher medal, given him by Pier Angeli, which was found close to his battered and broken body at the scene of the auto accident which ended his short life. This tragic result was directly caused by his own reckless temperament; it was the bitter fruit of a defect in his own character. No religious medal could avert the result itself; only a modification of temperament, a correction of weaknesses, could have done so. To believe otherwise is to believe in superstition.
Incompatibility is inevitable, but not unconquerable.
Our private emotions need not less control than our public behaviour.
The aim of the self-denial and self-discipline is to bring the aspirant through the period of emotional adolescence into the healthy state of emotional maturity.
No aspirant is asked to remain emotionally neutral regarding his personal hopes and fears. He is asked to strive for impartiality in his decisions, to recognize that it is wrong action which secures his own enjoyment at the cost of other people's suffering or his own gain at the cost of their rights.
He is to try at all times to see directly into his own personal situation without being misled by emotions, blinded by passions, or confused by suggestions; that is, he is to see it just as it really is. This practice is intended to help disentangle him from his ego.
The same human characteristic of emotion which enslaves and even harms him when it is attached to earthly things alone, exalts and liberates him when it is disciplined and purified by philosophy.
Just as inordinate fear evoked by sudden catastrophe could drive someone quite insane, so calm resignation evoked by sudden bereavement could bring a glimpse of full spiritual sanity.
In the case of an ordinary man, the emotional reaction to a situation is all he is conscious of during the situation itself. The intellectual or intuitional judgement of it comes some time afterwards, if it comes at all. But in the disciple's case, his self-training should be directed toward a side-by-side working of the two at one and the same time.
There is the caution which comes from timidity and the caution which comes from experience. They are not the same.
He must keep a part of himself in such reserve that no event and no person can ever touch it.
He who keeps a silent tongue in his head when the air is filled with anger is on the way to holding down his own wrath. But he who keeps a silent mind will conquer it more quickly and easily.
The silent, taciturn, reserved man makes fewer friends but guards his present and future better. To be cautious in speech and writing today--whether private or public--is to save trouble tomorrow. A single indiscretion may mar a lifetime's honourable reputation.
The same act which is wrong when done in anger and on impulse may become right when done in calmness, after due reflection. Such an act might be, for instance, the protection of other persons against an unjust invasion of their rights or a violent aggression against their bodies.
At a certain stage of one's evolutionary development, personal emotions form the greatest obstacle of all. It is extremely difficult and painful to stand aside from one's emotional nature at a time when it wants most to be insistent--but that is the very time the quickest progress can be made, if he does.
One should try, so far as possible, to avoid anxiety about his problems, whether they are of a worldly or spiritual nature. It is necessary to develop a calm, hopeful attitude toward the future.
Anything that may be written or thought at a time when one is plunged in pain or grief must be evaluated again after enough time has elapsed to allow the upheaval of emotions to subside, lessening the hurt. Only then can a calm, philosophical appraisal of the entire situation be satisfactorily achieved.
Inner strength of a remarkable nature can be shown in the manner in which one responds to disappointment. One could so easily become wildly hysterical at the breakdown of his hopes. We are forced into admiration for the way in which another may take the breakdown of his dreams.
Nothing should ever be done in a great hurry or in a sudden outburst of enthusiasm. He should sleep on his decisions and discuss them with older people who have themselves demonstrated by their own success that their judgements are worthwhile.
In one's relationship with others, the emotions involved in carrying out a duty tend to confuse the duty itself with unnecessary matters.
The emotional hurts which meant so much and felt so deep when he was spiritually juvenile, will come to signify less and less as he becomes spiritually adult. For he sees increasingly that they made him unhappy only because he himself allowed them to do so, only because, from two possible attitudes, he himself chose the little ego's with its negative and petty emotionalism as against the higher mind's positive and universal rationality.
There will be times when he, who built on philosophic coolness through the years, who thought himself proof against tears, will yield to them all too readily and all too helplessly.
He should keep a cool, philosophical perspective even when everyone else seethes with violent emotion and bitter prejudice. He should preserve his independence even when everyone else submerges his own in a fashionable party or a popular group.
Whilst utterly and apologetically patient with other people's pitiful or romantic illusions, he should firmly and austerely have none of his own. His needs are too high, too distant from those of fools and weak beings, to be satisfied with anything less hard than reality itself.
Small minds are the victims of every trying situation because they are the victims of every immediate reaction to it. The student of philosophy, with his metaphysical powers and personal self-discipline, is not. He looks many years ahead of it and much more deeply into it. He does not blindly accept the first feelings about it that arise within himself or are suggested to him by others.
The need is to live according to principles, not according to impulses.
Men who seek a higher kind of life must practise self-restraint whatever faith they hold or whatever religious society they belong.
Those who demand the freedom to live as they wish, who seek to be undisciplined and unregulated by any authority, ask too much.
No one can avoid sometimes reacting badly to outer experiences or circumstances, but the aspirant should not react without trying to practise self-control.
With regard to the emotions, the path is a crucifixion of the personal ego. The aspirant's heart must be searched and searched until it is free from all reservations and utterly surrendered to the higher self. It is impossible to pass through such a process without undergoing the terrible ordeal of crushing some feelings and surrendering others. The adept is indeed the man who has triumphed over his emotions, but it would be an indefensible and inexcusable error to think he lives in a complete emotional vacuum, that he is a man without feeling or sensibilities of any kind. Bulwer Lytton has pictured for us in his brilliant novel Zanoni a character of this type, the Rosicrucian adept Mejnour. This picture is close to reality in certain respects but it is far from reality in other respects. Let us not make the mistake of believing that the adept does not know the meaning of the words affection, sympathy, compassion, joy, enthusiasm, and even ecstasy. He does, but he knows them all within the higher self, which rules them. The only emotions he does not know are those lower ones, such as anger, resentment, hatred, prejudice, bitterness, lust, pride, and intolerance. Yes!--the philosophical life does not lack emotional content but it is not the kind of narrow, selfish, vacillating emotion so many human beings are accustomed to.
If a man is to attain a durable peace, he must commit emotional suicide. But does this mean he is to become utterly devoid of all feeling? Not at all. It is only the lower emotions that have to be liquidated. Yet it is these which play so large a role in human life today, whether in their grossest form of hatred or their most refined form of romantic nonsense miscalled love.
The frenzies of passion let loose, the manias of the lower emotions run wild are never again to be known to him. This high standard is the goal. It may seem unattainable to a human entity, yet history and biography prove that it is not.
It might be thought that the philosophic discipline seeks to eliminate emotion. The truth is that it seeks to maturate emotion. The disciple's feelings--no less than his thoughts--must grow up and assume their philosophic responsibilities.
It will be easy for critics to misunderstand the statement that he is to become intellectually feverless and emotionally passionless. We do not mean that he is to be deprived of all feeling, bereft of all enthusiasm, incapable of all affection. We mean that he is to seek an inward serenity which no feeling, no enthusiasm, and no affection can distract.
The adept who attains perfect inner serenity can do so only by paying the price of forgoing the emotional agitations, attractions, and repulsions which constitute much of the inner life of most people. Having attained it himself, he can lead others to it only by pointing towards it as a reachable goal for them, too. He may not yield to personal favouritism or egotistic caprice based on likes and dislikes in selecting those whom he is to help. Indeed, because of this it is said that he is more interested in mankind collectively rather than as individuals. Now if he had to commit emotional suicide to reach his present height, it is unreasonable to expect that he should flatter or encourage those who, although seeking the same height, seek also to preserve or nourish their egoistic emotions. The latter are nearly always closely linked to egoistic desires. An inward detachment from all eagerness for earthly life is the grim price that must be paid before entry into the kingdom of heaven can be got. Such detachment requires soft sentimentality to yield to hard recognition of the impersonal realities of the human situation. And this recognition must assuredly lead the seeker far away from conventional points of view concerning his personal duties, his family relations, and his social behavior.
It is not that he will not feel desires and aversions, attractions and repulsions, but that he will not be moved by them. They will be under control, not only of the ego but of a power higher than the ego. Thus the tensions which agitate the uncontrolled man and stresses which animate him, will not be present.
To talk of his condition as simply being one of controlled emotion is not quite correct; much rather is it one of balanced emotion--which is markedly different.
It is an error to regard him as inhuman, as lacking in feeling. What he rejects is negative feeling: what he seeks to overcome is animal wrath, lust, hatred; what he affirms is positive feeling of the best kind--delicate, sensitive, aesthetic, compassionate, and refined. Thus his stoic imperturbability is not rigor mortis.
The idea of a philosopher being an utterly aloof person, coldly indifferent and quite unapproachable, a man who restricts his human feelings to the degree that hardly any are left, is applicable only to those who follow narrow, rigid, and incomplete systems.
The notion that a philosopher is melancholy is arguable: there is no reason why he should not show joy and appreciate humour. But since he is a balanced person, he will put the governor of deep seriousness to control these qualities.
If a human price has to be paid for such emotionless behaviour let us remember that it must also be paid for too emotional behaviour.
A portentous gravity is not at all a hallmark of the sage.
Is mental tranquillity indistinguishable from emotional death? Is it not better to guide feelings, educate desires, and uplift emotions into the proper channels than to kill them? Such questions show a confused comprehension of the philosophic discipline. The latter's aim is not to produce an insensible human stone but a true human being.
The Notebooks are copyright © 1984-1989, The Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation.