OUR EMOTIONS are our mental reactions to certain stimuli which may come either from without or from within the mind itself. They seem to be quite simple affairs, but they may be very complex, in that a major emotion may arouse many secondary states, so that a chain or group of feelings and actions is the result. For this reason a strict analysis of the emotions is difficult. But the part that they play in our everyday life is so very large that we should know some of the facts concerning them.
Ordinarily the impulse that starts an emotion comes through the senses. We see a beautiful flower and respond with a feeling of admiration; we look at a person dear to us and feel the reaction that we call love; or we witness an accident and give way to pity, fear, or horror, as the circumstances impress us. A pleasant odor gives a sensation of delight, while an unpleasant one causes a feeling of repulsion. We hear beautiful, well-harmonized music, and our feelings respond in kind. The overture to “Lohengrin” raises our thoughts to the high realm of Spirit, and awakens a feeling of devotion, which is quite in accord with the thought of the composer, for the theme of the opera is divine protection. On the other hand, the “Valse Triste” evokes sadness, even though we may not know the story around which the music was written.
We say that the stimulus arouses the emotion. What really happens is that this stimulus gives rise to an idea, and it is the outworking of this idea in the mind that we call the emotion. If stimulation of one of the senses fails to call forth an idea, nothing further will happen.
Emotions may also be started by inner stimuli. Either the memory or the imagination can do this. We do not actually remember the emotion of long ago, but when we recall the event that caused it the reaction repeats itself. We cannot imagine an emotion, but by visualizing ourselves in some particular situation, pleasant or disagreeable, the corresponding emotion will arise. A person may make himself happy by imagining that he is with one whom he loves, or he may really frighten himself by picturing himself in a dangerous situation.
Emotions go much further than the simple working out of an idea in the mind; they have pronounced effects upon the body and upon the behavior. If you have any lingering doubt regarding the effect of an idea upon the body, observe the outward working of an emotion. Notice the effect of fear upon the face, the skin, the pulse rate, and the muscles. Then observe the change that takes place when it is found that the fear is groundless. The external response is very marked in this transition. The effects of the change from the idea of fear to that of safety are shown in every part of the body.
We speak of thoughts and ideas as being positive or negative. Emotions, since they are the working of ideas, are also positive and stimulating, or negative and depressing. Fear, with all its secondary emotions hatred, dislike, intolerance, and the like is depressing; and this is meant literally. Negative emotions really do depress the vital forces of the body. A fear need not be a real fright; any slight dread held continually in the mind, such as the fear of indigestion, interferes with the activity of some one or more of the organs in this case the stomach and trouble ensues. To maintain a state of health means the keeping of all the vital forces at maximum effectiveness. Anything that lowers the vitality drags down the level of health; consequently we can see why negative emotions cause sickness, and why they should be avoided.
Faith in the power of the good, and resultant hope, joy, courage, and the like, are stimulating emotions. They raise the vitality to a high level, and therefore have real healing power. A short time ago I had occasion to observe this in a very marked way, when I was called to see a patient not a Truth student whom I found in bed, apparently very ill. When I told her that the affliction was only a passing trouble and that she would be entirely well in a few days, the change in her was marvelous. The drawn, hopeless expression on her face gave way to a smile, her voice became stronger, and her pulse actually grew fuller and steadier; such is the power of hope. Before I left she was sitting up in bed demanding something to eat.
This power of positive ideas has been noted by many observers. A person in a state of worry feels cold and has very little desire for food. If some-thing that gives him happiness comes to pass, the chilliness leaves him, because the circulation is re-stored to normal. He then soon begins to feel hungry. It has been found that real fear stops digestion, therefore it is no wonder that the slight fear that is indicated by worry upsets the gastric process.
Now that we have an idea concerning the nature and power of emotions, we see that they may work for either good or evil in us according to our method of dealing with them. We should know how to use them to the best advantage, instead of letting them use us. In the first place, let us speak of the common methods of handling emotions, which are exactly the wrong ways, and should be avoided. These are: to let the emotions work off without restraint, to repress them, or to suppress them.
Many people simply give full sway to the emotions; in fact, they give themselves up to these reactions, and are ruled by them. Some are continually cultivating emotions of all kinds, through use of the imagination or the memory, because of the reaction that they get. Such people are called emotional, but, owing to the continual mental conflicts to which they subject themselves, they are really in a state of partial hysteria. One never knows what these people will do next, for they do every-thing according to their moods. This continual giving way to the emotions leads, in time, to true hysteria or to neurasthenia.
Many years ago some good people, who saw the bad effect of allowing too free play to the emotions, jumped to the other extreme and taught that these mental forces must be suppressed, or at least re-pressed, if a state of perfection was to be attained. They practiced this teaching themselves and trained their children to do the same thing. Now we are discovering that these methods may cause more trouble than does the power that is allowed to work itself off. When an emotion is repressed the energy accumulates in the nervous system, just as the pressure increases in a boiler if a hot fire is kept burning and no steam is used. The result is similar. Finally there is an explosion, perhaps an attack of hysteria, melancholia, or some physical disease. If the emotions are suppressed they do not die, but sink into the subconsciousness. There they form centers of their own from which, without the victim’s knowing it, they exert power over the whole body.
During the last few years we have been investigating the mind more systematically, and we have found that many cases of chronic ill-health, bad disposition, failure in life, or the use of drugs and liquor may be due to some emotion repressed or suppressed years before, perhaps during childhood. The man with the bitter outlook on life may be pining subconsciously to express the love that he was taught to choke off during childhood, and that he is now holding down by maintaining habitually a disagreeable exterior. His cynical personality may be only a mask used to hide his true feelings.
Now, how should an emotion be dealt with? If it is a stimulating, constructive emotion, let it work naturally, but do not waste the valuable energy that you are setting free. Turn it to some useful purpose instead. Apply it to the task before you. It is remarkable how much work can be easily accomplished under the influence of happiness, and how difficult a small job seems when one is gloomy. In the latter case there seems to be a real lack of energy, and everything drags. Use a positive emotion to build yourself up, to make living easier and bet-ter. Do not let it simply spend itself unprofitably.
If the emotions are negative and depressing they must not be allowed to work out in that way, for mental or physical trouble will surely follow such a course. On the other hand, they must not be either repressed or suppressed, for if they are they will rise like ghosts to haunt you at some future time. There are two methods of handling undesirable emotions, both of which are good. These are substitution and sublimation. Make it a point to apply these methods, and negative ideas cannot trouble you.
In the first method, we replace the negative emotion by one that is so strongly positive that the negative one is literally destroyed; for example, consider the most common negative emotion, and the one that most frequently gives trouble fear. I do not mean real terror, but any one of the little worries that hold so many people in bondage, such as the fear of sickness, the fear of poverty, the fear of an accident while crossing the street, or any other misgiving of this kind. If a person afflicted with fear will meditate on a simple statement of Truth that emphasizes the opposite state of mind, his fears will give way and there will be a great change in his manner of thinking. A wonderful improvement in his condition will naturally ensue. Such a statement might be “God is love, therefore there is nothing to fear.” Any affirmation that will impress the mind with the feeling of love and joy will sup-plant these worries, no matter what they may be. “Perfect love casteth out fear” gives the correct technique of the process of substitution. This method of handling an emotion is more applicable to fear than is sublimation, which can well be used for the other emotions, particularly that of anger.
Sublimation consists in turning the energy of a destructive emotion into constructive channels, or working it off in a harmless way. A woman whom I once knew discovered this method for herself. She was much given to fits of temper. When she felt that she was really getting angry she would seize a broom and work vigorously. As she swept the dust out of her house, she swept the anger from her mind. Digging in the garden will do the same thing; so will beating a carpet, or even taking a long, rapid walk. Instead of letting the anger, hatred, or what not affect the nervous system, or pushing it back into the subconscious to cause future trouble, we can transmute it into muscular energy and use it.
But we must remember that it is not the negative emotions alone that can cause trouble. A positive emotion, if misused, overused, or repressed, can itself be just as mischievous. Love is considered to be our greatest and noblest emotion. So it is if it is recognized and allowed to work in its pure form, that of the perfect love mentioned in the Bible, which is free from all feeling of selfishness. In this form love has been the motive power behind the greatest works of man in every field whether of literature, of art, of music, of architecture, or of invention. Under its influence men have performed the most heroic deeds.
On the other hand, selfish love, or unenlightened passion, has been the cause of great crimes and terrible wars. Homer recounts a very destructive war that was caused by the selfish love of Paris for Helen. Nero became a tyrant because of his unrestrained self love. In fact, the real difference between a great genius and a notorious criminal may lie only in the way in which each uses this one emotion. One sublimates it into something for the use or benefit of mankind, while the other drags it through the mire of selfishness.
If we are to live the full life we must use all our powers in the best way possible; this includes the emotions. To repeat, the emotions must not be re-pressed or suppressed, but we must use the methods of substitution or of sublimation in dealing with them. In order to do this, self-control is absolutely necessary. So-called emotional people and hysterical subjects seem to be badly lacking in self-control, at least, they never seem to use it.
If you wish to govern your emotions you must maintain control over your thoughts; there is no other way. Even the bad method of repression re-quires great self-control, but self-control is thus used in the wrong way. It is only by holding your thoughts under firm control that you substitute love for fear, or use the energy of anger in the form of useful work. When you have developed to the point where your thoughts are obedient to your will, you can train them so that you will have no further trouble. This does not mean that you must suppress the unwanted emotions at the start, but that you will establish the habit of substituting or sublimating an emotion the instant you perceive its stimulus. When you see something alarming, in-stead of giving way to fear you will automatically say, “God is my protection; there is nothing to fear.” Eventually you will reach the point where you will realize that nothing adverse can have any effect upon you. Then you will not be troubled by negative emotions. Fill your mind with love, and the negative cannot enter. It is far easier to keep it out than to try to dislodge it when it has taken possession.
Control of thought that is the key to obtaining all good. It is the first thing to learn and the one thing to practice continually. Without it man is the victim of every circumstance, every condition, and every passing emotion. With the knowledge of self that gives him control over his thoughts, man faces the possibility of being master of all conditions, and when he applies this power, which is his by divine right, the possibility becomes a fact. Is it not worth the effort?
“He whose spirit is without restraint Is like a city that is broken down and without walls,”
“He that ruleth his spirit [is better], than he that taketh a city.”