Archive for the ‘emotions’ Category

Unless We Control Our Affairs By a Guiding Purpose

October 26, 2021

Lay’s Potato Chips once had an advertising challenge—“Bet you can’t eat just one.”

When we find something pleasurable, we cannot stop at some sensible place. We rush headlong into overindulgence—or, as the ancient philosopher Seneca put it, “the abyss of sorrow.”

I could take that Lay’s challenge—sort of. I could eat just one. One bag full, that is. No matter the size of that bag. And then I would get on the scale the next morning and read the results right there between my feet in large, black, unforgiving numbers!

Seneca pointed out how hard to keep something pleasurable within bounds. Food, drink, sex, games, whatever. He told us “there are only a few who control themselves and their affairs by a guiding purpose; the rest do not proceed; they are merely swept along, like objects afloat in a river.

We can read the Hebrew Proverbs learning the difference between the wise person and the fool. Or the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Or the teachings of his brother James in the Christian Scriptures. Here and many other places we are taught about that guiding principle that keeps us from going overboard with our freedom to pursue pleasure being swept away by the currents.

Bet you can’t eat just one!

Anger

October 13, 2021

It happens sometimes that someone disappoints me. A low-level anger grows within my gut. Not rage. But my emotions are aroused.

It happens sometimes that I react with an email promptly.

That is always a mistake. I know better. Walk away. Let the new situation digest. Then I can respond from a recognition of the new situation.

Time. Allow for understanding. Readjust thinking. Now response comes more calmly and constructively.

For example, a referee calls and says, “Sorry, but I cannot do that game tomorrow that I promised I would.”

Anger does not help. The new reality is that I must find a replacement. My thinking must quickly move toward accepting the new reality and devising solutions. That requires calm.

Sometimes the anger may be deeper. Politics can stir deep and lasting emotions. Injustice in the world. Someone in the workplace or within the organization beats me out of a position and I lose status and money.

We cannot let the anger grow and control us. What is the situation? What can we do? If we can do nothing (like politics in Washington other than vote every couple of years), then we have to accept our limitations and work where we can provide solutions.

Maybe I can’t solve world hunger (I worked for an organization once that tried that.) But we can feed the hungry family down the street or send money to an orphanage to help feed the kids. I can let the anger provide energy for useful responses.

Once we go that far, then as we rest daily with God in the spirit of meditation in our daily disciplines, we can let the spirit of God guide our responses now that we’ve calmed enough to accept it. When anger is in control, we can’t listen. When we decide to recognize this new situation, we can listen for God’s guidance. This channels our life into more useful responses.

Finding A Heart

October 1, 2021

The New Testament, as well as more ancient advice and modern spiritual explorers, teaches us to be aware and be careful of being ruled by our passions.

This can be as mild as foolishly spending money on unnecessary things. Or choosing to spend time with the wrong people.

It can be as bad as letting fear, lust, anger, greed, pride, and the rest rule our lives.

On the other hand, a coldly rational outlook following the rules and inhibiting relationship fuels a life alone and unsatisfying.

A TV series from Belgium explores some of these themes with deep probing and gentle understanding. Professor T features the struggles of a genius criminologist professor who assists a former student now detective inspector in solving murders. Along the way the writers probe the struggles and growth of perhaps 10 other characters.

The acting is superb. The soundtrack outstanding. The spoken language is Flemish (with some French—it is Belgium, so both languages are spoken—and English). We found it on Amazon Prime. I realize there are people reading this in countries where you may not be able to find this program. But if you can, it’s worth it. It was recorded in 2015, 2016, and 2018. Three seasons of 13 episodes. We’ve watched it over the past month. I’m going to miss the characters.

There is an English version, as in performed in England in English. We have seen this one. Not as good. There are also versions in German and French. We have not seen those. Watch the Belgian one. I cried at the end.

Overcoming passions keys a sound life. But as a preacher I used to listen to said, “Jesus was the first cardiologist. He was concerned with the condition of our heart.”

Unless your heart is in the right condition, overcoming passions will leave you cold.

Become the Master Over Anger and Lust

September 30, 2021

Evagrius teaches us, “The man who strives after true prayer must learn to master not only anger and his lust, but must free himself from every thought that is colored by passion.”

Evagrius was writing to monks in the 4th Century–to those who chose to separate from society in order to deeply seek after the spirit of God. True prayer meant that deep meditation where ones soul meets with the spirit of God and becomes transformed.

I’m not writing to male monks in the desert. You all are from different cultures and countries and religious backgrounds. But we all, American or Chinese or European, male and female, young and old, business people or technologists or retired, we all have in common the desire for God’s spirit to infuse and change us.

Some people in America think not wearing a surgical mask to protect themselves and others is true freedom. That is not what Paul was describing in his letter to the Galatians when he attempted to describe true freedom that comes from letting Jesus lead us into the kingdom of heaven.

True freedom is for those who live with-God and together master the turbulence of unmastered passions.

The Spirit Becomes Dull

September 27, 2021

Why do demons wish to commit acts of gluttony, impurity, avarice, wrath, resentment, and the other evil passions in us? Here is the reason–that the spirit in this way should become dull and consequently rendered unfit to pray. For when man’s irrational passions are thriving he is not free to pray and to seek the word of God.

Evagrius

These passions suck your energy. And what have you to offer other than your energy?

These passions have invaded me at times. And God has shown me what more I am capable of. When these visit me at my times of meditation or working, my energy is diverted and squandered.

You rise from the desk to get a handful of peanuts or almonds for energy (and no subsequent weight gain) and your eye goes to the pantry’s snack food shelf. And one potato chip or cookie turns into a continual reaching for more, just what the food scientists working for those companies predict. Thank you gluttony for destroying my day, dulling my senses, increasing my waistline.

While researching something on the Web, you see one picture. The demons (as Evagrius calls them, we call them impulses) grab your imagination and all energy is diverted down an unhealthy path.

The comedian Flip Wilson (popular in the 60s) portrayed a character whose phrase was, “Get behind me Satan!” Actually, good advice.

  • Awareness of the approaching passion/emotion;
  • Intentionally push back;
  • Focus again on the task at hand;
  • Regain energy after a momentary diversion.

Equanimity

September 3, 2021

The community here in illinois where I now live has not one, but two, Facebook pages. That’s overkill. I grace at them every other day or so just in case there may be some interesting news–like the expansion of the local ice cream shop.

There are about five women posting daily recently feeding on each other’s complaining. One starts, another chimes in with something worse, and so it goes. Lately it’s all about the lawn care provided by the Home Owners Association.

I thought, how easily we get caught up in a cycle of complaining, negativity, anger. It builds into even actual hate.

Equanimity came up on today’s podcast. The ability to stay calm, even tempered.

Equanimity can be learned. Not intellectually, but deep within the soul. Usually it comes gradually. Best if inculcated intentionally. It took years of meditation and practice.

A new soccer referee wrote the other day. We are in the second week of the high school season. I’m the assignor. He had made one of those “controversial” calls. Tough call for a foul that the coach objected to loudly. That got the parents riled. Lots of yelling. He figured I’d be getting a call from the school. I told him not to worry. I have many years of experience defusing situations, but that mostly people forget after the game.

He will learn to develop equanimity, or else he will not last.

And those women on Facebook? I know that people exist who get joy from being negative. But a little equanimity might make life better for them and those around them.

And every day I must practice breathing intentionally. Maintaining equanimity is not “one and done.” It requires a lifetime of practice.

Frustration

September 1, 2021

Frustration grows within us when things just don’t conform to our will. Or people don’t conform to our will. The bottle cap doesn’t screw on right away. You flip a switch and nothing turns on. You tell your kid to do something and they don’t.

Or life just doesn’t work out. You want to go to the store like you did a couple of years ago. Without putting on a mask. But now you’ll either spread a virus or catch a virus. Whether you believe in the reality of the virus or not. It doesn’t care, because it is. Or whether you think you are invincible or not–you’re not.

Frustrations often play out at sporting events. Especially those involving our kids.

We are half-way through the second week of the high school soccer season in Ohio. We already have three incidents of ejecting groups of spectators from games for unruly behavior.

Frustration. Leads to anger. Leads to behavior we’ll live to regret.

It’s hard to take that deep breath. Pause. Remember that life does not bend to your will. You must respond to life.

It reminds me of the first paper on philosophy I wrote as a college sophomore. Henrik Ibsen’s concept of truth as described through Peer Gynt. He called it a creative response to life.

I think Jesus would be happy with that idea. He certainly responded to life creatively, with great stories and teachings, and with how he lived (and died, and lived…).

Perhaps we could learn the hard lesson. It definitely isn’t easy. But give it a try.

Anger

August 31, 2021

Shake a can of Coke or beer. Hand it to someone at a picnic. Watch and laugh as they pop it open and are sprayed as the contents spew forth. Adolescent practical joke usually perpetrated by 20-something men. Metaphor for anger.

Sometimes we hold anger inside. And it gurgles, and bubbles, and ferments, and builds pressure.

Until…

It must explode either in acts of verbal or physical violence or your body gives way with a stroke or heart attack.

Sometimes just a perceived slight from someone can build and build until inner peace is destroyed.

We must deal with this. There must be a safe outlet. But first we must recognize its presence. Then its cause. A good reason why Jesus told us to go make things right with the other person before offering a gift to God. John Climacus taught us anger is a disturbance of the heart that prevents the presence of the Spirit.

More than breathing exercises, which may help bring down the boiling point, we must also search for humility and then reconciliation in order to return to stability.

Running From and To

July 29, 2021

We often run toward solitude and away from people when our soul suffers provocation. Rather than confront and resolve, we run and hide. We wallow in self-pity fanning the flames of anger, jealousy.

When our soul is stirred by lust, rather than flee we run to groups of people. Perhaps we seek the solace of another body or encouragement in the pursuit of that which we lust for.

Famous people have observed that we are drawn to do that which we know we don’t want to do or don’t do that which we know we should.

How much better to run toward reconciliation to quell harsh emotions and to flee quickly that which draws us into doing what we know harms us.

[Thoughts upon reading from Evagrius Ponticus, The Praktikos.]

Speaking Your Mind

March 4, 2021

Saying whatever comes to mind without an interposing filter–describes every two-year-old everywhere.

Also most sixteen-year-olds who have learned much, but whose brains are not yet fully developed.

I knew a person who would often find trouble with the bosses by always “speaking the truth.” Unfortunately, that version of the truth was always negative, tearing down the reputation of companies and people.

Many people today wan to say whatever they want (true or not) whenever they wish without regard for consequences. If perpetuating lies forwards my perceived best interests, then fine.

These feelings are not modern.

The Apostle James wrote in the first Century about the dangers of speaking without thinking. The tongue, he said, is a tiny organ that can cause great trouble.

Saint Gregory of Nyssa said, “Divinity is purity, it is liberation from the passions and the removal of every evil: if all these things are in you, God is truly in you.”

He also said [pronouns changed to include us all], “You must always examine your own thoughts, your own words, and your own actions in the innermost depths to see whether they are oriented to Christ or are drifting away from him.”

I like those words “oriented” and “drifting away.” I could probably write an entire book just on the meaning of those.