The key is that people mistake thoughts for feelings. And so rather than disciplining their thoughts, they try to discipline their feelings – force them into narrow band centred around happiness, bliss and contentment.
Sadness? Nope, don’t have time for that.
Grief? No way. I’m looking on the bright side of life.
Loneliness? Ha! Loneliness is for losers, so not on my watch!
And these people succeed… for a while. But by smothering their negative emotional responses, they smother all emotional responses, until all they leave themselves is a sort of numb, disassociated boredom.
And without ‘natural’ joy in their life, they then try to keep their mood elevated by constantly boosting it up artificially – with a constant stream of novelty and stimulation, or by just ‘forcing’ themselves to feel good.
But all this energetic effort takes its toll eventually. And eventually they just run out of puff, and sink back down into the emotionally retarded swamp they have created for themselves.
The lesson here is that weather control just doesn’t work.
The most common metaphor you hear when talking about emotions is ‘weather’. And it’s a good metaphor because our emotions do, just like the weather, come and go.
Sometimes we are bunkered down in a blizzard of self-doubt and anxiety. Other times we’re basking in the warm sunshine of self-confidence and the love of others.
But all emotions, and all weather pass.
But when we try and follow the path above and control our emotional experiences, we are trying to control the emotional weather. Through force of will, we refuse to let the dark clouds gather.
It’s a god-like effort… that we just can’t keep up forever.
So what’s the answer?
I think the answer is to allow space for, even welcome, all the emotional weathers that come your way. You’re going to feel all sorts of things. That’s what you came here to do. That’s the lot of being human. It’s actually what makes it awesome.
But the reality is also that some weathers are more pleasant and bearable than others. Some weathers are actually deadly if you’re unprepared.
So what can you do?
Build a house. Get a structure in place to carry you through each weather that comes.
A commitment to a physical practice to keep your energy up.
Daily spiritual practice if you are that way inclined.
Together, these practices give your life structure, and it’s that structure that will see you through those stormy emotional weathers and give you the capacity to revel in the joy of life’s sweet sunny days when they come.