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How we feel is the central concern for people because emotions mediate between our bodies with their physical perceptions and images of the world and our minds with their concepts and ideas. Physical experiences and the biochemical reactions in our bodies trigger emotions, and the conscious and subconscious responses of our emotional feelings stimulate biochemical processes in the body. Human beings are well integrated systems, and any separation between the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual is artificial, merely for purposes of analysis. We have seen how memory and imagination relate to physical experience and yet transcend sensory perception. Feeling-tone colors all our memories and imagination, and again emotion in its depth and power goes beyond the astral plane as a major expression of its own which I call the emotional realm. (Eckankar and John-Roger refer to this as the causal realm or causal body, but in Theosophy the causal body and plane is above the mental. Thus to avoid this confusion I have adopted the term “emotional” as most descriptive.)
Because they are central and unite our physical feelings or gut reactions to our mental thoughts, emotions represent a confluence of our whole being. Our feelings are at least as important in perceiving our relationship to a situation as our sense awareness or our mental concepts. Emotions tell us how we really feel about something, even though our rational analysis or our physical behavior may differ. Although individual thoughts are faster than feeling responses, they are more short-lived. Emotions are not usually passing flickers but often overwhelm our consciousness for a considerable time. Yet feelings are more adaptable than a mind-set and habitual behavior patterns. In this way feelings are often more responsive to change than the mind. Understanding our emotions and feelings is essential to self-knowledge and good social interaction. We perceive the emotions of others with our own response to their expression, enabling us to understand much about them and the situation. By learning how to be sensitive to our feelings and how to master them without repressing them, instead of being enslaved by irrational and primitive reactions, we can learn how to master consciousness itself.
Emotions are closely related to motivation because they have the power to move our consciousness. They are also the most powerful aspect of our response to experiences. We feel emotions surging through our bodies because of the chemical stimulation of the endocrine system. Emotions can be active or passive, positive or negative, depending on how we interpret them. We can have positive feelings about negative things and vice versa because of varying value systems and personal conditioning toward them. Generally love, joy, hope, and surprise are considered positive, while dislike, fear, sorrow, and regret are negative. Anger, pride, humility, desire, and greed can be interpreted either way depending on the circumstances; observers probably would consider most of them as negative, although the experiencer of these emotions usually feels them as positive or energizing. These basic thirteen emotions will be discussed along with their specific variants and their more continuous qualities.
Love is the basis of this whole philosophy; not only is it a cosmic reality or divine principle, it is also the root of all emotion. We are moved by love of something, and every response is based on love of something. What and how we love qualifies our feelings. First of all we each love ourselves and what we consider to be conducive to our well-being. Most people realize this also means loving others, if not from the cosmic realization that we are one, then at least because of the desire to be loved in return or to have companionship to feel secure and happy. Love comes from the soul through the heart, mind, and body. As the divine energy is stepped down into a personal expression, love is experienced as an uplifting emotion of caring, concern, honoring, enjoying, sharing, etc. Unconditional love has been discussed in the chapter on motivation.
Love as an emotion is a good feeling that is actively directed toward someone or something. Love brings enjoyment to what we do; we say, “I love to do that.” Love for a person aims to make that person feel better. In loving we merge with another consciousness in a union of spirit, and we identify with other people’s viewpoints as though we are they. Love is empathy; we feel their emotions and concerns. Love uplifts people into a higher joy and greater spiritual awareness. Because God is love, the more we love the more we experience Spirit.
However, as we shall see with various emotions, the feeling of love is not always pure and holy. Often our selfishness limits our love to the objects of our personal desires and ambitions. A grasping, insecure love can make us jealous, envious, greedy, resentful, etc. Love is easily twisted into something else. Although love is the root of all emotion, these various limitations can take our feelings for a ride.
Liking is a love that is conditioned to specific people, qualities, or things to which we are attracted or with which we have previously had pleasant experiences. We selectively love what we like, which implies that love is free and based on choice. We may decide that we no longer like what we used to like; love can be fickle.
When we place a special value on someone, then we respect them. If we love particular qualities in a person, then we admire them. Respect and admiration may be expressed toward someone we feel is superior to us in some way or at least equal to our self-esteem. Loyalty and devotion are a feeling of commitment to continue loving, serving, or supporting a person, institution, or cause. Adoration and worship imply a religious love that is subservient toward a deity from a mere creature. This devotional love places the recipient higher than oneself.
When we feel someone is below us, lacking some particular need, or suffering misfortune, then we feel pity. We love them, because we feel sorry for them and want to help them. If we take on their particular feeling or circumstance in some way, then we are in sympathy with them. Unlike empathy, which is uplifting, sympathy can pull the person who gives it down into the emotional troubles of the recipient; empathy implies a detachment which enables the person to feel and understand the other person's problems without being negatively affected by them.
Compassion treats everyone as an equal, a fellow sufferer of human experience. Compassion also implies not only feeling for other people but also giving them one’s heart-felt love, often by some specific action. We can pity, sympathize, or empathize with someone without doing anything about it; but when we feel compassion, our consciousness is enlarged by this love and we fully take this person’s situation into account whenever we act. Compassion enables us to expand our feelings of love beyond our personal sphere into a love for all humanity and the Earth with all its creatures.
Dislike, Disgust, and Hatred
The opposite of love is dislike, of attraction aversion. Studies of all cultures have found this basic emotion of dislike and disgust expressed universally by wrinkling one’s nose as when one is turning away from food that smells bad. Thus turning from something repulsive is the opposite to being attracted by love. Most personal decisions tend to be based on what we like and dislike. The feeling is often immediate and may lead to other more complicated emotions and thoughts, or it may be based on a comprehensive evaluation of numerous factors. Usually our feelings of dislike are based on previous conditioning, although sometimes it is instinctive such as perceiving a bad smell or dangerous situation.
Disgust is a stronger feeling of dislike and as the word implies may be a question of taste. Things that are perceived as unhealthy are usually repugnant and disgusting, and a person who acts in ways that bother us may seem repulsive. We feel disgust at something we definitely want to avoid or that makes us feel uncomfortable.
Extreme dislike that builds up over a long period of time can harden into hatred. Hatred is not only anger against someone but also fear—fear of loving them, fear that we cannot obtain justice in relation to them, and fear that they might hurt us. Hatred is probably the worst of all the emotions because it is active and energizing in a negative way. Hatred places severe blocks in the consciousness, preventing loving, joy, communication, honesty, justice, forgiveness, and tolerance. Ironically, the person who hates is dragged down into negativity and unhappiness far more than the object of the hate. Thus to hate is to bottle oneself up in a prison of anger, fear, suspicion, doubt, anxiety, mistrust, and despair. Yet even hatred can be dissolved with love, as the Buddha said long ago.
The root of the negative emotions is fear. Often we are motivated by fear that our needs, desires, or ambitions will not be met. We may be afraid of losing what we have, afraid of pain and sorrow, as well as being afraid we will not get what we need or want. Fear is a feeling of lack, doubt, insecurity. Hope is its opposite, and loving is its remedy. By actively loving we overcome our fears.
Fear originated in the basic evolutionary instinct for survival in perceiving and avoiding life-threatening dangers. Thus fear warns us of dangers and moves us to take adaptive action. The immediate and extreme fear of danger is terror. Such situations automatically stimulate adrenaline to activate the body’s emergency response system of flight or fight. Rarely do civilized humans confront such extreme circumstances, but nonetheless the many dangers and threats of modern society from diverse sources behoove us to be cautious and wary in situations with automobiles, weapons, poisons, etc.
Fear can be used to manipulate motivations in order to control people’s behavior. Fear of punishment is the main weapon of social control by threatening either to do something negative or remove something positive. Such methods are dehumanizing and violent by trying to force people to conform to standards like animals instead of educating them to understand justice and harmony and to behave accordingly. Fear is used because of failure with love. With more loving we will have less fear. Using fear to solve social problems is primitive and simplistic, and its machinations and rationalizations may be convoluted.
Anxiety is experienced when many fears, which are not clearly perceived or understood, are felt subconsciously. The complexity of our contemporary society tends to promote anxiety because of the dangers which are difficult to understand, remedy, or avoid. The threat of war, especially nuclear war, which seems to be beyond the individual’s control, the dangers of pollution and environmental deterioration, political and economic instabilities, alienation from family or neighbors especially in urban settings, turmoil and conflict among religious philosophies and worldviews, flux and superficiality in personal relationships, all seem to make our current period the era of anxiety. A variant of anxiety is related to desire and is impatience or being anxious for something to happen or afraid of what might happen.
Worry is a continuing fear or an anxiety that is focused on a particular concern. Worry comes from a lack of faith, a negative view of the future, and a failure to take the needed steps in the present. Fears warn us to do something or avoid something; but if we fail to act, the fear continues to worry us. If we are wise, worry is completely unnecessary. At any given time, either we can do something to help solve a problem or we cannot. When we do what we can, we do not need to worry because we are working to solve the problem. In fact people find that action dissolves worry or at least channels that energy constructively. If the problem is not within our control, then it is useless for us to worry about it. Our conscience is clear; it is not our responsibility. If we are worrying about someone else’s life, which we cannot control, we need to let go of our attachment and love the person unconditionally regardless of what happens.
Joy, like love, is a divine principle and a purely positive emotion. Joy naturally and spontaneously arises out of our being when our consciousness is clear. This sense of well-being gives us an inner joy that can transcend any circumstance because it comes from Spirit and is always potentially within us.
We express joy when we love and when we feel loved. We also feel joy whenever we achieve success, pleasure, or good fortune, and one may feel joy after achieving a negative or selfish goal. However, to experience joy as an ongoing process is to enjoy what we are doing by loving what we do. Like most basic emotions, joy is contagious, spreading by social contact. Nothing communicates good feeling quite like a smile.
Humor and laughter are a special kind of joy that are immediate, usually explosive and brief. Laughter is often a sudden release of tension between the mind and the emotions, which may be artificially set up in the telling of a joke. Laughter can relieve inhibitions and concerns in a moment of relaxation and delight. Humor often results from a peculiar and unexpected insight, a cleverness that takes us by surprise. Laughter is one of the easiest ways to release emotional karma.
Enthusiasm is joy for a particular thing or situation. The word derives from the Greek en theos, meaning “full of the god.” Enthusiasm is uplifting and motivating, like a bubbling spring. A dignified and attractive enthusiasm can be a main factor in a person’s charisma. The good feeling naturally emanates to others.
Happiness is usually thought of as an enduring joy or pleasant state of consciousness. Aristotle held that happiness (or being blessed) is the ultimate end or goal in life because unlike other goods it is never a means to something else; rather everything else is a means to happiness. Happiness implies calmness, peace, feeling centered, satisfied, and content. Happiness results from an acceptance of the present as it is, although we can also be happy working to bring about changes in the future. The happy person is in balance and harmony with the universe, in love with life, and feeling healthy and free.
Sorrow is the opposite of joy, as sadness is opposite to happiness. Sorrow is emotional pain from having suffered some psychological hurt, which may be caused by a wound from a personal attack, a loss of something held dear, a failure to achieve one’s hopes or desires, or a concern for someone’s misfortune. We feel sorrow, because we are emotionally attached to the results of these situations or pursuits. No one can make us feel sorrow; we feel it because of our own psychological clinging. These feelings of concern pull us from our spiritual center of joy. Through pity, empathy, and compassion we can identify with the sorrows of others, but our hardest tests are to handle our own personal sorrows.
Sorrow teaches us that love with attachment is not free of pain. Only unconditional love for ourselves and others maintains freedom. If we care too much about the results of our actions and others’, then we become emotionally enslaved by those effects. Loving God and the souls of people never causes sorrow by itself. When we judge situations as good and bad, we set ourselves up for sorrow. As we shall see in the next chapter, we need to evaluate in order to choose; yet it is difficult for the mental evaluations not to affect our emotional responses. Depending on the circumstances and our psychological state, these sorrows can turn into resentment and anger, jealousy, envy, guilt, or shame. Loving unconditionally and finding our center of joy and harmony are the remedies of sorrow. In the process, the karma of the emotions can be released through crying and grieving. When joy overflows our emotional capacity, weeping can also occur.
Disappointment happens when we have expectations, wishes, hopes, desires, or ambitions that are not met or adequately fulfilled. If we artificially lift our consciousness with these hopes, we often are let down when reality sets in. These patterns can put us on an emotional roller coaster. Through experience we learn that while it is good to hope for the best, it is also helpful to prepare for the worst. Ultimately we learn to do our best without placing excessive expectations. Thus the experience of disappointment teaches us about our creativity and responsibility by means of our emotional responses to the process.
Thus sorrow can be one of our greatest teachers because we usually learn more from our mistakes than we do from our successes. With life’s diversity and change we naturally experience periods of happiness and sadness. However, if we are sad more than we are happy, and if our face usually wears a frown, then we may need to examine our entire life-style to see how it may be improved. Continued and serious sadness is depression which may require therapy. The psychologically healthy person is generally happy or at least even-tempered.
Suffering people may use misery to try to get attention and love. Such people certainly need love very badly, but they also need to learn how to give love in positive ways in order to break their negative cycle. Ultimately, to love unconditionally is to love wisely and freely, not allowing people to play upon our emotions in order to manipulate us. Because of loneliness misery loves company. Sadness will try to drag people down like gravity; it is the heaviest emotion and very passive. Activity with purposeful motivation is often the antidote to get love and joy flowing again.
Anger is very active with forceful emotional energy directed toward someone. Anger is usually triggered by some outward event which provokes a reaction. This event may be a direct attack, threat, or insult or the frustration of a desire or attempt to control or manipulate a situation. In anger we feel strong or above the situation such that we try to force our emotional will, as opposed to fear and sorrow which are weak and passive.
Anger comes out of a primitive and often misguided sense of justice that what we feel or want is right, and any opposition to it must be punished. However, our response is an emotional reaction, and a rational evaluation is usually lacking. Such righteous indignation is an absorption in our own subjective values and purposes. If we find through rational consideration that we are justified, then our anger can be constructively channeled through loving and determined action. Love is not weak, and anger can often tell us when we need to strengthen our resolve in confronting difficulty.
Unfortunately most anger is not sublimated into constructive action but rather lashes out to hurt, punish, or get revenge against the object of our wrath. Such behavior is often promoted by the pride of playing like God, the boss, master, or authority. We even become angry at ourselves for not reaching our own standards. To become excessively angry is to get mad, which literally means to be insane. Extreme anger is a temporary insanity when we lose perspective and are caught up in our immediate frustration. Nonetheless the expression of anger releases some of the tension, although some harm or further karma may be caused in doing so. Thus vengeance perpetuates karma by trying to take an eye for eye.
Jealousy is a specific kind of anger resulting from possessive love, attachment, suspicion, mistrust, fear, and selfishness. Some say we are jealous because we love too much. I say that it is impossible to love too much. Jealousy is a bondage where we place chains on our love and try to hold on to someone or something by restricting them. Basically it grows out of insecurity in a relationship and fear of losing the object of desire. Jealousy may or may not be justified by the actual facts. Some are jealous of the slightest thing; others may not become jealous until they feel their entire love has been lost and betrayed.
As with anger, we can be jealous in a good way if we use it to be vigilant of our concerns and values in order to protect and cherish them. Zeal for virtue to keep ourselves to a responsible standard is commendable, but what right do we have to make someone else toe the line? Communication to clarify the commitments of relationship is a great aid in removing the poison of jealous suspicion. Jealousy can grow out of strong loving and caring, and we must watch to see that it does not limit and confine our feelings. The excessive attachment of jealousy can turn love to manipulation, doubt, suspicion, fear, anger, and finally even to hatred. Relationship can teach us to love freely without trying to enslave ourselves and others.
Often anger is not expressed but is internalized as resentment, either because we do not feel strong or superior enough to direct it at someone because we believe it is wrong to be angry, or because it seems too minor. Nonetheless if the anger is actually felt, it is harbored within us as a canker sore of hidden hostility against the person toward whom we are afraid to direct it. These resentments poison our inner feelings and block intimate relationship.
The antidotes to anger, jealousy, and resentment are complex, involving patience, tolerance, love, compassion, forgiveness, understanding, poise, confidence, security, and even zeal for true justice. To pretend we are not angry when we are is self-deception and not a solution. We need to look at our resentment and ask ourselves why we are bothered by this situation. Are our desires overextended? Are we trying to dominate, control, or manipulate someone? Are we too attached to something? Has someone hit one of our buttons where we have temperamental attitudes? Are we taking out our own frustrations on someone else? Resentment tells us much about the disharmonies within ourselves. If after examining ourselves we feel fairly clear that the other person is at fault, then can we understand where they are coming from and why they are expressing that way? If we can empathize with them and see their viewpoint, we may not be so hard on them. With loving understanding we may realize a real need to communicate with them how we feel about what they are doing. If this is not possible, we may choose to withdraw from the situation or take corrective action. Often anger implies the need to do something. To clear our own feelings about the person we can forgive them, letting go of our karmic feeling toward them. We may choose to act in a different way because of what we learned, but we can still love them unconditionally as a soul.
Hope is an optimistic feeling about the future, a poignant mixture of our present discontent with a faith that things will get better. Hope can console us regarding our current difficulties by lifting our spirits toward a promised future. As such it is not nearly as positive an emotion as love or joy, but it does attempt to rise above our situation. However, unrealized hopes can later turn to sorrow. Nonetheless it is positive as compared to the negativity of fear. Hope is the feeling that accompanies a daydream of imagined success or perfection; the only present reality it is based on is our inner joy and faith. Yet if we trust ourselves, God, and our doing what is right, then we can hope that eventually good things will come to us. Hope is like a star that can keep us going in our darkest hours.
Trust is a more specific faith in others, that they will be honest, good, fair, kind, loyal, etc. Generally people who have these qualities themselves tend to trust others unless they have specific knowledge to the contrary. Some believe they are happier living in a consciousness where they trust others and hope for the best from them. Others believe they are safer and more secure by trusting others as little as possible. The first may suffer occasional disappointments; the second are much more restricted in their relationships. Knowledge and communication can help us to evaluate whether a situation is trustworthy or not; yet the basic feeling of trust or mistrust will play a key role in many decisions.
Most important is that we trust ourselves, our own feelings, thoughts, and intuitions. Self-confidence expresses feelings of optimism, trust, security, enthusiasm, poise, and calm. To be confident is to trust ourselves because we know ourselves and are true to ourselves. This confidence can be reassuring to others who may feel insecure. Thus confidence is a key aspect of charisma and leadership. Yet it can be abused to mislead people. The “con artist” uses these feelings in a confidence game in order to deceive others and take advantage of them. To some extent such people are also deceiving themselves, for they may believe some of their own lies. They play upon people’s hopes and willingness to trust by telling them what they want to hear. Such schemes are eventually exposed. While those who suffer may be wiser for the experience, they usually become more mistrustful and suspicious also. Thus we must not only be innocent as doves but also as wise as serpents.
Regret is sorrow over a past action we feel could have been different. We are sorry it happened; we regret it. Regret has a futile quality because we are wishing to change what is past. Regret is broader than shame and guilt because we can regret something even though we do not feel responsible for it occurring. In fact we may feel regret that we did not know about something so that we could be responsible. We also regret our own actions when they turn out to be mistakes or unfortunate. The feeling of regret helps us to learn from the past so that we can correct our actions in the future.
Unlike the mild connotation of regret, shame and guilt imply a more serious feeling of remorse. When we feel shame and guilt, we feel responsible for something bad and are blaming ourselves. Shame is a combination of personal guilt and embarrassment for it before others. When we feel ashamed, we feel bad particularly because of what others may think of us. We can also feel ashamed of someone else with whom we identify. Thus feeling ashamed is the opposite of feeling proud.
Guilt is based solely on self-condemnation. We feel guilty even if no one else knows what we did. In these circumstances we could only feel shame at what people might think if they knew. In guilt we judge ourselves; in shame we presume that others are judging us. Shame is much more prevalent in societies where the feelings and attitudes of relatives, neighbors, friends, and the community are very important, such as in Asian cultures. In Western societies where individual responsibility is more emphasized than social cooperation, guilt tends to play a larger role.
These unpleasant emotions are valuable in teaching us responsibility to ourselves and our society, urging us to correct and improve our behavior. Sincerely felt guilt or shame can lead to repentance and a change of heart so that true rehabilitation can occur. The loving antidote is forgiveness. If someone repents and promises to do better, we can help them liberate themselves from the past by forgiving, which means to let go or release the karma. In doing this we enter into the grace of God, a loving and free consciousness. With guilt we need to learn how to forgive ourselves to relieve the emotional burden. Since we judge ourselves, only we can release ourselves from that judgment. With shame, an apology helps to clear the air so that we can communicate to the people whose judgments we fear. Our shame releases somewhat as we commit ourselves to correcting our behavior. Ultimately our guilt and shame do not dissipate until we have shown ourselves and others with our actions that we have learned the lessons. Memory of the feeling of guilt and shame can help us to keep from falling back into that old pattern of behavior.
The feeling of high self-esteem is pride and can be positive or negative. Feeling proud of our positive qualities helps us to develop and maintain them. We are motivated to attain a high standard we set for ourselves because of our pride. We can also feel proud of others if we believe we are partly responsible for their success or if we identify with them, as with our country or social group. Pride is individual and collective.
Problems arise when we compare ourselves to others. If we feel superior, then we place them in a lesser position, violating the principles of equality and justice. We can evaluate qualities and particular characteristics, but to generalize them into an opinion of the whole person that is derogatory is unfair. They say, “Pride goes before a fall.” The feeling of pride can cause us to have a higher opinion of ourselves than we merit, and in comparison we may also believe others are lower than they deserve. These biases eventually will have their consequences when justice finally balances everything. Pride arises naturally out of self-interest and the self-assurance that feeling proud tries to give us. It often is caused by insecurity of our self-esteem in an attempt to compensate for the disparity between this lack and our desire to feel good about ourselves by feeling successful and worthy.
The negative side of this compensation is to try to feel superior by looking at others as inferior in some way. Thus we rationalize why others are not as good as us and treat them with contempt and disdain. We believe that if we feel superior and act superior, then somehow we will be superior. However, in truth the opposite occurs because by treating other human beings as inferior to us we make ourselves morally inferior. We rarely fool anyone but ourselves, although the self-deception of collective pride, as in nationalism, can go on for a long time clashing with other nations. To treat any individual or group as less than the divine souls that they are is to violate spiritual principles and to cause karma for oneself. Justice will eventually balance the equation.
Vanity is excessive self-admiration and narcissism. Love and concern usually felt toward others are turned back toward oneself. The vain person wants to be loved and admired by others but is too wrapped up in himself or herself to really love and care for others.
To act on our proud feelings and their misjudgments is to demonstrate arrogance. This can even lead to physical violence of the bully (person, group, or nation) who feels bigger, stronger, and better, therefore justified in forcing their will on others. Arrogance is often combined with social positions of authority which may give a person some of the power of the collective in carrying out the tasks of a public or corporate office. Individuals identifying with this larger entity may feel protected and safe in using this power with a pride expanded to include this social group. Others may feel insolent and rebel against a social entity, arrogating power and authority to themselves personally.
The remedies for disdain, contempt, and arrogance are greater self-knowledge, love and respect for others, empathy and compassion, and the humble recognition that as souls we are all equal before God no matter what the circumstances.
When we have a low opinion about ourselves and place ourselves below others, then we feel humble. Humility may reflect our interpretation of our outward situation. If we are not in a position of command, authority, or prestige we tend to feel humble. We may feel proud of our own work yet humble in relation to others. If our excessive pride is cut down to size through experience, we may feel humiliated and attempt to find our proper balance. Often the reward for overweening pride is a banquet of “humble pie.” The insecure ego can fluctuate between pride and humility depending on the circumstances, feeling proud in safe situations with those considered inferior but humble and subservient before those considered superior. Such people reflect the authoritarian personality because they only feel secure either in taking orders or in giving them, being basically afraid of freedom and equality.
False humility is often a ruse of pride when a person who really feels superior and proud tries to pretend to be humble and modest, often because we consider pride a fault and humility a virtue. True humility does not brag about being humble.
Rather the humble person tends to be timid and shy. Inhibitions and fears of putting oneself forward often keep a person in a humble position. Shyness is based on feelings of fear, doubt, caution, and lack of self-confidence. In extreme cases shyness can paralyze people in social situations or cause them to avoid social interaction as much as possible. Personal expression and experience with people and situations where we feel comfortable can help to overcome the inhibitions of shyness.
Modesty is a reluctance to reveal oneself to others either physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. A modest person does not necessarily feel inferior or superior but rather private. Inhibitions against exposing oneself can also prevent sharing and communication. Yet often modesty is a sense of dignity and self-worth which can extend into exclusivism and elitism. Everyone has a right to privacy, and when not extreme, modesty is usually respected. On the other hand, the lack of all modesty in exhibitionism usually indicates vanity or the desire to shock. Generally modesty is moderation and balance in social expression based on accepted inhibitions. With such feelings people attempt to maintain public decorum and agreed upon styles of behavior.
Desire is not only a basic motivation but a powerful emotion as well. Like love, desire is an active feeling that moves us to act—love to give and desire to get something. Desire is like hunger, a feeling of wanting or needing something, implying that we feel incomplete, unbalanced, or not yet whole. Desire is the mother of sorrow. Although one desire may be fulfilled, enjoyed, and temporarily satisfied, it tends to reappear or be replaced by another desire. Desire by its nature always looks forward to the future and is therefore felt as a lack of fulfillment, even though a particular desire may be temporarily eradicated while the object of desire is being enjoyed. Until desires are satisfied or if they are not, we experience a feeling of discontent. Thus spiritual teachings have often emphasized the letting go of desires, not being emotionally attached to objects by desire, although we may enjoy experiences that are desirable in a free and detached consciousness. The trick is enjoying pleasures in the present without craving them beforehand or suffering from their loss afterward. This requires discipline over our mental-emotional craving to break the habits of indulging ourselves in the anticipation of desire. Once we are detached, then we spontaneously enjoy the present and when appropriate can mentally and imaginatively plan the future without letting our emotions get wrapped up in desire.
Desires tell us what we want and value with the various parts of our being. Yet we can evaluate our desires by projecting their probable consequences, analyzing their implied values, and exploring constructive modes of behavior that could enable us to fulfill the ones we choose to pursue. Desire itself is not wrong; it is merely an urging within us which we must learn to handle in one way or another.
Eagerness is an enthusiasm that anticipates the fulfillment of a desire. Thus joy is experienced solely because of expectation. Young people tend to be more eager because they have less experience but more energy and desire. The excitement of eagerness can cause impatience and, if the pleasure anticipated is delayed, consternation. Yet somehow the joy in eagerness prevents it from being sorrowful.
The more continuous desire of longing is more likely to become an aching sorrow. Longing implies a deep discontent and a desire for something less attainable. The very word implies that it has been felt for a long time or that the object of desire is a long way off. Nevertheless the longing for a high ideal can give us a bittersweet feeling that can help to motivate us in the pursuit of our lofty goal.
Excessive or uncontrolled desire leads to lust, gluttony, and greed. Any of these can be obsessive if they become psychological habits. Everyone naturally feels the desire for sexual expression, the need to eat and drink, and the usefulness of acquiring possessions. Only when these desires become out of balance do they become a problem. Lust is a craving that exceeds the expression of a harmonious relationship; the imbalance of gluttony is pointed out by weight scales; and greed is a dissatisfaction that urges us to continually seek more wealth, power, or desired things. These cravings are caused by a sense of emptiness inside, insecurity, and a felt need to somehow fill that emptiness with a sexual partner, food, or material things. These feelings become habitual because satisfaction temporarily relieves the craving by stuffing the void. However, having been reinforced by this reward, the craving soon returns to pester us until we give in again. For most people, to go to the opposite extreme in asceticism rarely works because few are content with that type of balance. With lust, gluttony, and greed, a practiced and self-disciplined moderation usually works best. It is a question of the conscious self taking control and monitoring the urges of the natural self rather than being enslaved by giving in to them. Moderation is required here because sex, food, and possessions are basic needs. However, tobacco, alcohol, and drugs can be given up altogether, which is usually the best approach for someone suffering from an addiction.
A commercial society constantly promotes greed and envy in the process of trying to sell products. Thus these feelings can be very common and socially approved. Nonetheless they can cause discontent and even ruthless competition. Greed is a feeling of never being satisfied with what we have but always wanting more. Envy is the desire to have what someone else has. Often because of insecurity in our own self-esteem, we want to be like others so that we can fit in socially. “Keeping up with the Jones” or getting ahead of them is often ambition for social prestige. Too often people want to be admired for their personal possessions rather than their spiritual qualities. Also people seek comfort, pleasure, and an easy life. Ironically, we often end up working “like dogs” in the “rat race” so that we can have all these things which are supposed to make our life easier but actually take up our time and energy in maintaining them. Thus greed may come in to try to find an easier way of attaining them; or we envy what other people have and try to satisfy ourselves with fantasy.
Avarice is based on the insecurity that fears losing what we have. Therefore the avaricious try to hold on to what they have while trying to accumulate more; thus they are never satisfied and always worried. Because of their fear they are unable to share and trust in other people and the future. Greed, envy, and avarice are usually the result of placing more emphasis on material values than on spiritual values. By increasing our love and trust in personal relationships, responsibility, and personal integrity, we can alleviate these insecurities and unnecessary desire patterns. The treasures we seek on earth will soon pass away, but the spiritual qualities we develop will always be with us.
When we are caught unaware by a sudden intrusion, we are often startled, which is an instinctive response of fear that alerts us to possible danger. However, when something unexpected strikes us as new or different, we are surprised. Surprise has a way of immediately opening up our consciousness to new possibilities. The response that follows surprise may be joy, sadness, fear, anger, or any other emotion, depending on the new situation we perceive and our interpretation of it.
Surprise is exciting, and some people take delight in surprising others, usually in joyful ways. Sedate personalities may not like surprise because they do not want to be flustered. Exceptional surprises can astonish or astound us, indicating a strong impact on our consciousness because of being so contrary to our expectations. If the astonishment endures or continues to resonate in our consciousness, then we feel amazed.
Deeper and more mysterious is the feeling of wonder which implies innocence, openness, freshness, sublime or aesthetic pleasure, admiration, and curiosity. Wonder can be an ethereal or other-worldly experience of enchantment and subtle delights. Wonder often comes with adventurousness, eagerness to explore the unknown, love of living, openness to new experiences, and deep appreciation for creation.
Awe is experienced when we are overwhelmed emotionally by something that is majestic, inspiring, grand, powerful, terrifying, amazing, or anything that greatly surpasses our expectations or imagination. Awe can have fear in it and sometimes a sense of reverence. The current vogue of the term “awesome” indicates a subtle pleasure that is found in this feeling. The experience of awe extends from the profound religious emotions felt toward an infinite God to the huge fear and terror that can be felt in contemplating the destructive power of thermonuclear weapons. We feel small and powerless in the face of these things, but somehow our awe helps us to connect our consciousness to these overwhelming powers so that we can begin to understand them.
LIFE AS A WHOLE:
II. The Individual