Friday 28 June 2024

Emotions: can't live with them, can't live without them...

Because emotions are partly physical, we cannot lead a spiritually satisfactory mortal life

This statement sounds startling (or just plain false!) but it derives from the nature and properties of emotions; and their role in this mortal life. 

Emotions derive, significantly, from the state of our physical bodies - our body state (including especially the hormone and neural activity) as sensed and interpreted by our brains. This is not the whole story, but there is a sense in which we cannot get away from the physical when it comes to emotions. 

There have been many attempts through history to train people to become spiritually independent of the emotions - i.e. the tradition of religious asceticism. 

But all valid authorities agree that humans can never be wholly free of the passions: the spirit can never become independent of the body. The tyranny of emotions may be diminished, but this lessening is never more than a quantitative change; a reduction of the causative drive; but never an elimination of our subjection to emotion. 

Furthermore, when asceticism works and there is a successful diminution of the strength of emotions - this has bad effects as well as the desired good ones. There is some degree of demotivation, and of disengagement from life; because it is emotions that link us to the world, other people, other beings. 

For instance, the technical word for a person who lacks sympathy or empathy - which means the capacity to feel the emotions of another - is psychopath. A psychopath is one who lacks the automatic and innate response to resonate emotionally with others. 

It is this unemotionality which (to some degree) underpins cold, selfish cruelty without remorse.  

Thus on the one hand we are (to an extent) slaves to our emotions, hence our bodies - and bodies are subject to the entropic changes of degeneration, disease and death; and also to the temptations of evil. 

Yet if it was possible to reduce or eliminate emotionality; we would also thereby lessen vital aspects of our basic humanity. 

For me, this emphasizes that our mortal life is not the kind of thing that can be perfected; and that even the scope for improvement is limited, since there is a "swings and roundabouts" quality to many basic human changes. 

And, in turn, this brings me back to the fact that when Jesus offered Mankind the chance of resurrected eternal life in Heaven - a life in which we remain our-selves, and retain our emotional nature but perfected by love; He was offering the greatest gift that it was possible for us to receive - and exactly the best response to this fundamental problem of human existence. 



alex said...

This reminded me of one excerpt from Gibran I once saw floating around somewhere online:

I haven't actually ever read any book of his, this has just been sitting on my backlog for a while.

Mia said...

Another timely one for me. For a long time, I believed in the objectivity of emotions in a person who lived properly. But after 4 could I possibly kid myself? It's not my norm and it's not a regular thing but from time to time I have absolutely experienced sustained emotional states that are hormone driven that I cannot "see through" no matter how hard I try. They are totally real- they *are my reality*. And then they end and I look back and can't fathom *how* because they have no connection to (what I consider) my core being.

I like the "divers suit" bit in Letter from a Father. I've started to see hormonal influences as just another one of those things that is meant to keep us humble in this life.