23 October 2007

Rationality and Emotion

If you love rational thought and are attached to ideas and perceptions, then you tend to despise the emotions. You can notice this tendency if, when you start to feel emotions, you say, ‘I’m going to shut this out. I don’t want to feel those things.’ You don’t like to be feeling anything because you can get into a kind of high from the purity of intelligence and the pleasure of rational thinking. The mind relishes the way it is logical and controllable, the way it makes sense. It is just so clean and neat and precise like mathematics - but the emotions are all over the place aren’t they? They are not precise, they are not neat and they can easily get out of control.

So the emotional nature is often despised. We are frightened of it. For example, men often feel very frightened of emotions because we are brought up to believe that men do not cry. As a little boy, at least in my generation, we were taught that boys do not cry so we’d try to live up to the standards of what boys are supposed to be. They would say, ‘You are a boy’, and so we’d try to be what our parents said we should be. The ideas of the society affect our minds, and because of that, we find emotions embarrassing. Here in England, people generally find emotions very embarrassing; if you get a little too emotional, they assume that you must be Italian or some other nationality.

If you are very rational and you have figured everything out, then you don’t know what to do when people get emotional. If somebody starts crying, you think, ‘What am I supposed to do?’ Maybe you say, ‘Cheer up; it’s all right, dear. It’ll be all right, there’s nothing to cry about.’ If you are very attached to rational thoughts, then you just tend to dismiss it with logic, but emotions do not respond to logic. Often they react to logic, but they do not respond. Emotion is a very sensitive thing and it works in a way that we sometimes do not comprehend. If we have never really studied or tried to understand what it is to feel life, and really opened and allowed ourselves to be sensitive, then emotional things are very frightening and embarrassing to us. We don’t know what they are all about because we have rejected that side of ourselves.

On my thirtieth birthday, I realised that I was an emotionally undeveloped man. It was an important birthday for me. I realised that I was a full grown, mature man - I no longer considered myself a youth, but emotionally, I think I was about six years old some of the time. I really had not developed on that level very much. Even though I could maintain the kind of poise and presence of a mature man in society, I did not always feel that way. I still had very strong unresolved feelings and fears in my mind. It became apparent that I had to do something about that, as the thought that I might have to spend the rest of my life at the emotional age of six was quite a dreary prospect.

This is where many of us in our society get stuck. For example, American society does not allow you to develop emotionally, to mature. It does not understand that need at all, so it does not provide any rites of passage for men. The society does not provide that kind of introduction into a mature world; you are expected to be immature your whole life. You are supposed to act mature, but you are not expected to be mature. Therefore, very few people are. Emotions are not really understood or resolved - their childish tendencies are merely suppressed rather than developed into maturity.

What meditation does is to offer a chance to mature on the emotional plane. Perfect emotional maturity would be samma vayama, samma sati and samma samadhi. This is a reflection; you will not find this in any book - it is for you to contemplate. Perfect emotional maturity comprises Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration. It is present when one is not caught in fluctuations and vicissitudes, where one has balance and clarity and is able to be receptive and sensitive.
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