Tag Archives: emotions

On Healing, Dreams, and Emotions

I am struggling today. I woke this morning from a dream I can’t remember still somehow feeling sad and melancholy about it. This has been happening to me a lot lately. One of the side effects of the sleep medication I take (a must, if I hope to actually get a restful night’s sleep) is that I very rarely ever remember the dreams I have — which is a pity, because as a creative type I’ve been known to have some truly remarkable dreams. Unfortunately, said medication does not prevent me from experiencing the emotions that remain once the last tatters of the dream are blown away.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve dreamed. A lot. And vividly. Dreams that inspire rich, soul-quaking emotion. But always, almost without exception, the memories of those dreams flee the moment I open my eyes, leaving only the ghosts of their emotions to linger in my heart and mind a while longer. I’m nearly certain that most of these dreams are attempts of my sleeping mind to process the pain of my daily, waking life. Sometimes I’m able to conjure an image here, an impression there that give context to the emotions I’m experiencing. But as often as not, all I’m left with is pain without cause, loss without substance.

I hope as time passes, as my new medication becomes suffused throughout my system, as my therapy and support group sessions become more regular, that my wistful dreaming will become less frequent. I’m working hard at developing a new mental image of myself and who I am — and I feel like I’ve made some small amount of progress in that regard already this past week. I hope new understanding will begin to supplant the uncertainty and fear and despair I have felt for so long.

I have more hope now than I’ve had in quite some time and an awareness of a much broader and more diverse support network than I ever knew was available. Thank you, so much, to all of you who have lit candles and come alongside to help me through the dark. It means so much more to me than I can ever say with words.

Rational/Emotional Logic

A friend “wrote an entry”:http://fadingdust.wordpress.com/2007/02/01/its-all-in-your-head yesterday that got me thinking – the natural state of so-called ‘rational thinkers’ is, at best, skepticism and, at worst, out-right cynicism and condescension. The rational thinker realizes that there is always something more to learn, something more to know. He realizes that never in his life will he be able to get his mind around everything there is to know and experience; he realizes that any conclusion he comes to is going to be prone to error. Every fact and tidbit is subject to revision as more data is received, processed, and catalogued. Doubt and uncertainty become, to some extent, a way of life because everything the rationalist knows is subject to change, given the right sort of revelations (usually involving new things coming from the scientific community).

So it’s ironic, then, that the more knowledge one possesses, the less rational that person can become. Human beings are, by their very natures, emotional creatures. Everything we do and think involves an emotional factor, an _irrational_ reaction that rationality by itself often cannot predict or counter. Because everything the rationalist knows can be called into question, can be subject to revision, there is an inherent emotional stressor (called doubt) present that often goes unidentified, one that, if left unchecked, can actually undermine the very process of rational thought.

The rationalist attempts to logically work his way through a problem area, using critical thinking as his primary tool. He works from a set of “presuppositions”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/2007/01/26/presuppositionalism-science-and-faith/ based on those bits of knowledge he already possesses and has been able to fit together, leaving any of them open to revision in the event he finds that the new information he has just gleaned sheds some new light on any of those beliefs. He neglects, however, to account for the seemingly random emotional factor, disregarding it as unimportant exactly _because_ it is not ‘rational.’ So, when he is faced with a confrontational factor during this rational process, he is frequently unable to deal with it and locks down his rational system, ultimately by walling himself behind those things he already believes and sees as ‘safe’ and solid because those are the things he has already worked through and believes to be true. As a result any information that was presented in a confrontational manner is disregarded as illogical and irrational – whether or not it actually is – because it evoked an adverse, stressful emotional response. This decision is typically reinforced when it is philosophical in nature, when it is something that rational science cannot itself examine directly.

The presupposed way of thinking is, therefore, reinforced – it’s safe and does not make the rational thinker _feel_ stressed or upset. It is ordered, structured, logical and is thus deemed to be the better conclusion of the two.

Sometimes, then, rational thinking can, in fact, be an emotional reaction and therefore be the more irrational of the two. True rational thought should recognize the presence of emotion and not only prevent it from ruling the thought process but should take it into account and even integrate it.

Emotional Reactions to Stories

Either I have a cold, cynical heart, or I have a more (ahem) refined literary palette than most people. The reason I say this is because I frequently find myself puzzled at reader reactions to a lot of stories. For example, I’ll read through a given story and then be like, ‘Ok, that was nice. What’s next?’ I’ll appreciate the effort and art that went into writing that story and weaving that tale, but ultimately I’ll have decided that it was, for me, a bit of a yawner. Then I’ll read comments that people have written, comments raving about how good this story was, how exotic the imagery was, etc. And that is what leaves me feeling puzzled because I didn’t think it was _that_ good of a story.

Now, there _are_ stories that I love so much that I’ll rave about them for days. Just ask my wife. When I stumble upon a truly good one, I’ll go on about it at length for quite some time and usually come back and re-read it again later. ((Sometimes several times over.)) So, I can’t decide if a story leaves me unfazed because I can’t relate to it on an emotional level or because I simply have very different tastes in literature than a lot of people.

Honestly, I suspect it’s probably the latter because when I read a good story that really draws me in to the characters and events, it _does_ affect me on an emotional and intellectual level. The good ones leave me feeling thoughtful and introspective. I also suspect that a story’s impact on a reader is directly related to how relevant it is to that reader’s life experience, i.e. how close to home it gets. A story that deals with a topic about which the reader has little knowledge or experience is probably going to have less impact than one that speaks heavily to a reader’s background.

I will probably always be somewhat puzzled about why the vast majority of readers respond so enthusiastically to certain stories when said story barely causes a twitch from me. I’ve never been one to just gush over every story I read, and there’s only a handful of books in my own personal library that I’ve felt were good enough to read more than once.

Has anyone else had this experience, finding that a yawner of a story for you received rave reviews from nearly everyone else that read it? What was your reaction to that observation?

Nothing More Than Feelings

“Follow your heart.”
“Do what feels right.”
“If it feels good, how can it be bad?”

Do any of these sound familiar? And this one may _seem_ like it’s different from the three above, but it’s not:

“You have to do what’s right for you.”

These are some of the most common phrases heard in our culture today. Postmodernism has infiltrated just about every aspect of our lives. Truth is no longer conceived of in absolute terms, so people are free to determine truth for themselves. ((Do you see the irony in that statement?)) Ultimately, what happens is that people use themselves for their reference point, since in a relative-truth world there _can_ be no other reference point than one’s own experience. More specifically, people end up using their own feelings and emotions to guide them because feelings are powerful, salient, and readily available.

There are two major problems with this system. The first is that feelings are inherently self-serving. This is not necessarily a problem all the time, since our feelings are a prime motivator for protecting our hearts from emotional harm at the hands of another. Where the problem comes in is when following our feelings causes us to pursue our own wants and desires, everyone else be damned. I have seen many people hurt because someone else ‘followed their heart’, making decisions that were ultimately detrimental to other people around them.

The second problem leads logically from the first. Feelings are not always accurate reflections on reality. In essence, just because I happen to feel a certain way does not necessarily mean that the situation at hand fits well with that feeling. For instance, I can feel supremely confident about my ability to handle Situation B because I feel great about the way I handled Situation A (which is, in my mind, similar or related to Situation B). But I quickly find, upon taking on the tasks of Situation B, that I do not, in fact, have the ability to handle Situation B at all, thus I fail. The mistake here is in trusting my feelings to guide me because they were not giving me an accurate picture of the situation.

We live in such an individualistic society that pursuing our own needs, wants, and desires before those of others is simply a matter of course. It’s so natural and instinctive that we do it without even thinking about it. So, it’s logical that our philosophies have changed to more easily allow us to do this. Now, we justify our selfishness and self-involvement by urging each other to follow our hearts and to do what feels right, even when what feels right really isn’t. We are quickly losing any sense of what is true and good and right, except for what we determine for ourselves. Yet, somehow, we have failed to see that people are themselves flawed and prone to mistakes. So, how can people who make mistakes somehow determine what is true and right based upon their own flawed feelings? Yet we do so every day.

Feelings do compliment the decision-making process quite well. Yet, feelings are also unruly and fickle, changing almost at the drop of a hat. Feelings make terrific servants but horrible masters, and as such, they must be governed and controlled as best as possible. No decision should _ever_ be made exclusively at the behest of the emotions. Such a thing is risky because the emotions can, and will, deceive. Logic and rationality must win out when making decisions. They can, however, consult the emotions, but the message of the emotions must be taken with a grain of salt. That niggling sense of fear could tell you that something is wrong about your decision, that maybe there are other factors that need to be considered; or that fear could simply be the fear of stepping into a new situation. Emotions can provide indicators of what _might_ be, but they should not be relied upon to tell you what _is_.

Keep a short leash on those feelings. And whenever someone tells you to just do what feels right, remind them that there is a better way. Engage that brain and push the heart to the background. Letting your heart rule over your mind is surefire way to get yourself into deep trouble. ((By the way, following one’s heart can be good when pursuing one’s dreams. Just make sure that in doing so, you aren’t stepping on everyone around you, that you are considering more than just your own personal needs and desires.))

Roller Coaster Writing

It’s always wonderful to get the chance to work on writing some of my fiction, since I don’t always get the opportunity to write every day. Last night, I pounded out another 1200-word section of a story idea and watched as about two hours just melted away. I had fun, and the time just flew by. It was such a high, getting a new idea written out, seeing the mental image I’ve been carrying with me for most of the week play out in actual written words.

Of course, on the flip side of the high is the almost inevitable low that accompanies it. I’ve “written”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/?p=195 about the sympathetic/parasympathetic relationship before, and its influence is felt in my writing, as well. I don’t always feel low and discouraged right after writing, but it does happen with enough frequency to make me notice. In this case, I finished up my little bit of writing, printed it off for my wife to read, and headed to the kitchen to find something to eat.

In the few short steps it took me to reach the kitchen, I felt exhausted and discouraged, filled with self-doubt. Who was I kidding? What made me think I could ever hope to write as well as any of the great authors? What made me think I’d ever be any more than a hack writer, pretending to write great works of fiction, when in reality it was just garbage that no one in their right minds would read? Where did I ever get the idea that I would be able to actually _sell_ a story, let alone _finish_ one? And on and on and on it went.

It’s true what they say about writers having fragile egos that need stroking. When we write, we write from our hearts. We essentially put ourselves on display for the whole world to see, bare our inner secrets, make ourselves vulnerable is very frightening ways. It’s hard to do, sometimes, and I know that for myself, it makes me doubt my ability to write anything of any quality. The sympathetic system kicks in when I’m writing, giving me that creative high that keeps the mental juices flowing, that keeps me writing with feverish intensity, that makes me think this just may be the best work of literature yet. Then the parasympathetic kicks in and annihilates that high, and I am filled with self-doubt and discouragement.

Of course, after a night of sleep, I feel at least marginally better, and while my writing may not be the best ever, I’m sure it’s not the worst, either. I know that if I keep plugging away, eventually I will finish one of my stories and, Lord willing, actually be able to sell it. Only time will tell the whole tale…

Living On the Fringes

It is the extremists of any major religion that end up giving the whole a bad reputation. Bad news travels more quickly than good news does, and poor behavior is more easily remembered and available to memory than is good behavior. So what typically ends up happening is that the whole organization gets placed under the banner of those who make the most noise, even though they are not necessarily a representative sample of that population. Christians are often perceived as hateful, unforgiving bigots because there are many who are exactly that. Note, however, that I did not say ‘majority’ or ‘most’ because it has been my own experience that, in general, those who call themselves Christian do strive to live up to the compassionate, forgiving ideals of the Bible and of Christ’s teachings. The same goes, as I understand it, for those of the Muslim faith. The vast majority are a peace-loving people, and those who perform heinous acts of murder and bombing are the fringe extremists, just as are those Christians who bomb abortion clinics, twisting the ideals of their religion into a perverted distortion of the actual. In the process they give the entire faith a black eye, and the world sees the whole as being just like the extremists.

So, the question becomes then, what underlies these fringe, extreme groups? What drives them to justify horrible acts and behaviors that are counter to the basic tenets of belief that define the faith they claim to espouse? Ultimately, I can only conclude that they are flawed people, just like the rest of us, who, whether through willful disobedience or through genuine ignorance, misunderstand the teachings of their religious system in such a way as to justify hatred and murder. They are the people who lack the personal discipline to control their emotional impulses, who act on their base desires, rather than striving to live up to a higher ideal of morality. They are the people who pick and choose which parts of their canon to abide by, rather than understanding that the bits they follow are parts of a whole and cannot be separated from it without ending up, by definition, with a completely different set of beliefs. They are the people who were already angry and bitter, who found a system of belief that was attractive to them and fit at least somewhat with their own preconceived notions of how the world should operate. They are the people who then twisted the system of belief to fit their own ideals, rather then reshaping their own ideals to fit the system. In so doing they found justification and an outlet for the violence already in their hearts, and by acting upon that violence, then sullied the name and reputation of the group they claimed to be a part of. Christians who bomb abortion clinics or express hatred, bigotry, and superiority to those not like them are Christian only in name; they are not Christian in actuality because anyone who truly understands the teachings of the Bible would not perform the sorts of behaviors that these extremists tend toward. Similarly, Muslims who fly planes into buildings and strap bombs to themselves and blow up a group of children, and who decapitate innocent victims are Muslim in name only; they do not represent the Muslim faith at large or the teaching of the Qu’ran and do more harm to people of that faith than good. These extremists cannot and should not be called Christian or Muslim, even though they call themselves that. They should be called murderers and hatemongers and should be separated, both in name and in deed, from the whole of the groups that they claim to be part of. Yet, perhaps because it is convenient to do so, they continue to be categorized into the group by the population at large, thereby stereotyping the whole by the deeds of the few. Unfair? You bet. But stereotyping is easy and convenient, even if it is at times unfair and makes it harder for those with the true ideals of their beliefs to communicate them. It is a challenge, no doubt, and that is why unity of the whole is necessary in order to overcome the misdeeds of the few.

Open Up!

I ran alone tonight, first time since starting this new exercise regime. As it turns out, that was for the best because I opened up. Or at least I opened up to the possibility of opening up.

As part of shutting down to God and to Christian life, I shut down my heart. I have long been a proponent of the fact that the heart makes a great servant but a terrible master, and I have advised many over the years to not let their heart and emotions make decisions for them. I have always believed (and still do) that the mind and logic should reign over the heart and emotions, all the while consulting the emotions, since they do play a critical role in making
wise decisions. Unfortunately, in shutting down my heart to God, and ultimately to myself, my wife, and everyone else, I also shut down a major part of myself and became less than the man I should be. During my run tonight, I began to pray with a great deal of honesty, something I have not done in quite some time, and I realized that one of the first things I have needed to do is allow my heart to be opened again and to make contact with that painful emotional center of my being. Life has been dully colored for me these past couple of years, and I expect that it will now take on a vibrance I have all but forgotten.

This heart-opening involves a six-fold process, the results of which I hope to see with some satisfaction in the coming days and weeks:

1. I had to open my heart up to God.

A man cannot live life fully or experience God completely without an open heart. Any relationship has a significant emotional element. No less with God. To hear His voice, to know His will, to experience Him deeply requires a mental knowledge of Him, yes, but it also requires a heart knowledge and an emotional connection, much the same way it does with a flesh-and-blood human being. So, I had to open up my heart to God again.

2. I had to open my heart up to myself.

In order to be honest and open with other people, I have to first be honest and open with myself. This requires me to open up to myself, to allow myself to experience those emotions that come with daily living, however pleasurable or painful they may be. It is true that there is a place where a person needs to follow their heart (though again I emphasize a rational pre-eminence over that).

3. I had to open my heart up to my wife.

My next obligation is to my wife, and so I have to open up my heart to her. We walked and talked for quite a while in a local state park yesterday, and it was both painful and refreshing for me. I was forced to admit to a number of things to myself and to her, and while little was resolved in my heart and mind then, it served as the catalyst for what has happened this evening. It is the start of what I hope will be a fresh and new and vibrant relationship with the
woman I married.

4. I had to open my heart up to my family.

I admit it — I have not been all that considerate of my family, both biological and legal, lately. I have been neglectful and impatient and intolerant and a host of other despicable things. Yet, part of opening up my heart to God requires that I open up to my family and extend compassion and mercy and grace as Christ would.

5. I had to open my heart up to my friends.

There was a time when I was sought out by a number of individuals to provide guidance and advice and wisdom. That has not happened in a long time, and I suspect, or rather I know
that is due to the fact that I closed up shop in my heart. I shut down emotionally and spiritually, exercising foolishness and folly rather than wisdom and understanding. My friends stopped coming to me, and I have been regretful of that. In opening up to God and allowing Him to wash over me, I pray for His wisdom to pour into me and flow into others. I want to be a blessing to others again, rather than a burden.

6. I had to open my heart up to the world.

Part of living the Christian life involves serving others, and serving others can only be done right when the heart is fully engaged and involved. There is great pain in service, but there is also great joy. You cannot have one without the other. It’s scary and hard, but it is also vastly rewarding and rich.

This is going to be hard, and I know I will still mess up. God hasn’t granted me perfection – yet. But I hope to stay the path and be the sort of man God really wants me to be. I have failed
many people over the past couple of years (not least of which is my wife), and I have failed God, moreover. Yet, I hope that God will still use me, and that He will continue to teach me, and through me, others. I share these things with you so you might learn and be reminded and renewed and refreshed and encouraged.

Mark 12:30
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.

Attitude Change At the Flip of a Switch

Ever feel like you’re trapped in a particular mood or attitude and can’t get out of it? Well, sometimes I think it’s all in your head. Literally. For instance, this evening I found myself feeling irritable and cranky (still do, in fact). It was getting to the point where I was starting to get snippy with my wife, and I knew I didn’t want to do that. I walked out of the room for a moment to get a grip over myself before coming back and trying to act civilly. I even forced myself to make a joke. And the funniest thing happened — I found myself mood actually changing for the better. I had made the decision to behave better, I forced myself to actually do so (even though I didn’t feel like it), and ultimately I found my mood shifting to match the behavior.

And of course, now I’m reminded of the social psychology principle that states that people’s attitudes tend to actually shift toward their behaviors and not the other way around. In my own Christian walk, I have often forced myself to do those things that I knew I was supposed to do, even when I didn’t feel like it. And 99% of the time, I quickly found my attitude shifting to match. (That last 1% of the time was when I was just bound and determined to
rebel.)

Moral of the story: If you want to get out of that slump, try doing what you’re supposed to do anyway. I’ll bet you’ll be surprised at the result.

Is It Wrong to Be Right?

“Everyone who is consumed with being right and a little too uptight about being exact and so on shoudl take heed of my little girl’s quote: “‘R’ is for ‘Bunny'” was her response when we were doing flashcards the other night. The letter R was on one side and a picture of a rabbit on
the other.”

In this postmodern society, it is less important for an individual to be right than it is to make sure that no one’s feelings get hurt, that the social relationship is preserved and without conflict. It is more important to avoid offending anyone, to avoid telling anyone that they are wrong, than it is to make sure that the information you have and believe is true and accurate. The unspoken rule now is that it might just be wrong to be right because it might hurt someone’s ego or damage their self-esteem.

The trouble is that this approach is dangerous. I think it may be a part of why so many of our generation are unable to articulate what they believe, why their worldviews and values and standards waffle and waver so much. No one is allowed to be right, at least not obviously so, because of the effect that being right might have on others. There are countless examples in our society where what is right and true and correct is passed over in favor of what looks and
feels best. In the end the final result is shallow and meaningless, leaving everyone without guidance and direction.

Biblically, I believe we are called to seek out that which is right and true, to know what you believe and to know it so well that you can defend it to any who would attack it. Certainty and confidence are powerful allies and can set your course straight and honest. All things have a right and a wrong, but often it requires experience and wisdom to discern the difference, and wisdom is so dearly lacking in our society. How can there be wisdom when one is not allowed
to be right? How can there be wisdom when one is not allowed to speak his mind and give voice to truth and discernment? So, we must try everything, sifting it carefully, using wisdom and the
guidance of the Holy Spirit to determine that which is right, setting it in a place of prominence so that it may gleam forth and draw others toward God.

Love Is More Than A Feeling

There is a common misconception in our culture that love is a feeling, that it happens automatically, and that the lover has no control over its coming and its going. This is readily apparent in the high divorce rate, in the apathy and carelessness of ‘casual sex’, and in the shamelessness of the media (probably the loudest promoter of this myth). Part of this is probably due to the fact that physical and romantic attractions do encompass a great deal of feeling and emotion, both of which tend to be very salient and thus more easily recognized and, to an extent, more easily defined and demonstrated. And so long as these feelings and emotions continue, love is easy to extend.

The trouble is that love, while inherently very emotional, is really a decision made by the lover on behalf of the loved. It is a definitive commitment, made at a specific point, by the lover that says, “No matter what happens and no matter how my feelings may fluctuate and change, I will love this individual.” Because feelings do shift and change over time, across every topic and issue. That is part of human nature. But what should not change is the commitment to go on loving someone once that love has been extended.

Christ tells His people to love with heart, mind, soul, and strength. Paul encourages husbands to love their wives as themselves and as Christ loved the Church. Conscious decisions. And you know Christ didn’t perform his most magnificent work of love because of feeling. No, indeed, He made a conscious decision, submitting his will to the Father, even though His own emotions were encouraging him otherwise.

So, while you may feel an attraction toward someone, even have a ‘crush’ on them, you cannot say that you are ‘in love’ until you have made that decision to do so. Feelings are tremendous facilitators to love, but all too often they deceive and betray, leaving a trail of broken hearts and broken relationships, when they are placed in the driver’s seat of love and relationships.

Feelings make better servants than masters.